PHOENIX -- How soon 'til they go to eight?
That's not me asking for a playoff bracket expansion. That's a person with close connections to the College Football Playoff wondering out loud this week at conference spring meetings in the desert. If a CFP-related person is asking, then the question must be out there more than we think:
How soon until the four-team CFP expands to eight?
OK, now that's me asking. But it's obvious after spending the week working the halls at the Arizona Biltmore, pressure on the system is already being felt.
TCU's Gary Patterson -- always ready with an opinion -- suggested the quarterfinals begin in place of the conference championship games on that first Saturday in December.
"If you're going to an eight-team playoff, you're going to take the [conference] championship away," he said. "And they'll be OK with it because with eight teams that's going to make up [financially] for the championship game anyway."
Per Patterson's suggestion, four quarterfinal games would be played (this year) on Saturday, Dec. 5. That would give coaches time to recruit and for players to take finals. The semifinals would then commence as they are now in that Dec. 31 - Jan. 1 window.
"You have to play the quarters early," Patterson said. "Everybody has finals, everybody has stuff that is going on. If you have an early signing date, you've got to play it then."
That early signing date, if approved for this year, would commence on Dec. 16 and last for 72 hours.
With so much talk about conference championship games, it's interesting to suggest they could just be done away with. While the SEC Championship is a staple in that conference, would anybody shed a tear if the Big Ten and Pac-12 games went away?
Just pick the champion by regular-season standings. The Big 12 did it this week, finally instituting a tiebreaker.
In a twist that I hadn't heard yet, Patterson also suggested those four quarterfinal losers then go on to play bowl games.
"Ask Wisconsin," he said. "They get blown out in the Big Ten title game and then beat Auburn in the bowl game."
The Dec. 21 solution: The template already is in place to go to eight teams.
Play the quarterfinals on the first day of the bowl season. Last year, that was Dec. 21. Any argument over missed class time or finals, etc. is hypocritical. Last year, eight teams -- Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas-El Paso, South Alabama, Bowling Green, Nevada, Utah State, Western Michigan and Air Force -- all played football games on the same day quarterfinals could begin.
The first-round winners would then have 11 or 12 days to get ready for the semifinals. The championship game doesn't have to be pushed back.
Six-team playoff: Last year, Oregon and Ohio State played 15 games. Amazingly, there was hardly any outcry over student-athlete welfare, one of the top NCAA initiatives these days.
Concussions. Lawsuits. Catastrophic insurance. All of it. Somehow, the fact uncompensated athletes were laying their bodies out there for a season that fell one game short of the NFL regular season didn't seem to matter much.
Those extra games are going to be a huge hurdle in any playoff expansion discussion. In an eight-team playoff, four teams would be playing 15 games. Two would be playing 16.
A six-team playoff might lessen the inevitable outcry over player welfare. One source suggested a bracket where the top two teams get a bye. Teams seeded No. 3 through No. 6 would play first-round games. That still means two teams could -- but not always -- play 16 games. If the top two seeds win, they would play only 15.
Using last year's rankings, No. 3 Florida State would have played No. 6 TCU in one first-round game. The other would've been No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Baylor. The FSU-TCU winner would have played Alabama, while the Ohio State-Baylor winner would have played No. 2 Oregon.
Pressure from within: This is probably the most logical scenario for an expansion to eight.
The system itself implodes.
The Big 12 went nuts when the conference was left out of the CFP. Imagine the outcry for eight if, say, the Big Ten was left out for three years. Or if the SEC was left out in any given year.
Strength Everywhere Conference Fan would spit up bourbon around the tailgate from here to Biloxi if that ever happened. The reality is, it could easily happen.
May we refer you to the 2007 SEC standings where each team lost at least two games. Parity can be a witch.
Iron-clad contract: We've been told all along there is no interest in expanding because the playoff contract is the playoff contract. Twelve years, no look-in clause.
Trust me, there's always a look-in clause. Such language for adjusting a media rights deal is almost boilerplate. Such a look-in proposal was why some CFP bowls balked at signing initial contracts.
A look-in allows for both sides to revisit the structure of a deal at some point. The CFP is currently worth $6 billion to $7 billion over the 12-year term of the deal.
An expanded bracket would be worth more. That's why there's always room to look in.