Here's why there will not be an eight-team College Football Playoff anytime soon
'Too many games' is one but far from the lone reason the CFP will not be expanding
Hate to de-program half the sports talk shows in the country, but we aren't going to an eight-team College Football Playoff.
Not now. Not for a while. In fact, the only "eight" involved in this discussion is the eight years remaining on the CFP contract.
The subject came up again in thewhich really shouldn't have been much of one.
It's amazing people have to be told/reminded of this year after year, but here's why the playoff can't be expanded …
1. ESPN isn't exactly in a spending mood: The Worldwide Leader just laid off 150 more people. It is losing cable subscribers by the boatload. It (and Fox)last year so as to not be on the hook for a $1 billion codicil in the existing rights contract. In what universe would ESPN be interested in doubling the size of the playoff, thus increasing its $7 billion payout to the CFP?
There's not much in it for the network except more headaches. Remember, it hustles every day to sell enough ads and get high enough ratings to get their return on the dollar in the current deal. Long ago, a TV consultant told me adding another layer of playoff games would cause ratings to slump. Imagine Cincinnati playing Wisconsin in a quarterfinal game in mid-December. School's out, it's cold and the matchup on its face doesn't rise to the level of a nonconference September game. Oh, and by the way: So far, the CFP is a success -- for ESPN, for advertisers, for fans.
2. Health concerns: At last check, the NCAA was fighting scores of head trauma-related lawsuits. Last year, the Chicago Tribune predicted at least 40 were forthcoming. Mix that in with the fact an eight-team playoff would guarantee the two finalists would be playing 16 games. That's an NFL regular season for young adult bodies with brains that aren't fully developed by their mid-20s.
Adding games adds more chance for injury. The more chance for injury, the more schools and the NCAA are liable. The NCAA is deeply involved in head trauma research with the Department of Defense. As part of a lawsuit settlement, it is in the middle of paying $70 million to set up a medical monitoring plan over the next 50 years, after paying $75 million to that class. The NCAA Oversight Committee is looking at ways to reduce injury risk, including a general conversation about eliminating kickoffs. More football is not the answer. Health is probably the biggest hurdle to expand the playoff.
3. The FCS argument: Teams in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) play up to five playoff games, 16 total. If FCS (and Division II) can do it, why can't the big boys? Those divisions play only 11 regular-season games. To do that, FBS not only would have to eliminate conference championship games (fat chance) but a regular-season game (fatter chance). Plus, FBS athletes in general are just different, better, more elite. Pro careers would be at stake. And with the rising awareness of player welfare, there would be some group or another organizing against FBS playoff expansion. Remember how Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette skipped their bowl games last year? Just sayin'.
4. An eight-team playoff doesn't necessarily solve anything: It has to be the seven best teams plus an automatic spot for the best of the Group of Five. It cannot be five Power Five conference winners plus three at-large for the same reason the CFP doesn't automatically pick conference winners. You don't want your 8-4 division winner beating a 12-0 division winner and knocking your best team out of the playoff. Plus, expansion would introduce another layer of mediocrity. Do we really want a three-loss team winning a national championship? That might be the case this season if you consider Auburn (10-3) might have had entree into this year's eight-team field.
Using this year's rankings, the top six seeds in an eight-team field are fairly obvious -- Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Wisconsin and whoa, whoa, whoa … who's next? Auburn, which played teams ranked No. 1 at some point this season four times? Southern California as Pac-12 champion? ACC-runner up Miami? In that scenario, Alabama and Ohio State -- claiming a combined 24 national championships -- would meet in the first round.
Then there is the case of the Group of Five getting an auto bid with a shot at a national championship bid. Currently, that qualifier (Central Florida this season) gets only a New Year's Six Bowl, not a playoff spot. College football does not like Cinderella. Let's say UCF gets hot as a No. 8 seed and knocks off Clemson and Georgia. Nothing against the Knights, but do the college football stakeholders really want UCF playing for a national championship? History, tradition and the commissioners who created this exclusive club say no.
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