Should the College Football Playoff expand to six teams? Barry Alvarez is convinced
The Wisconsin athletic director was an inaugural member of the CFP Selection Committee
MADISON, Wisc. -- Count Barry Alvarez among the converted.
The powerful Wisconsin athletic director told CBS Sports he would like to see the College Football Playoff expanded to six teams. That is doubly significant because Alvarez served as a member of the first CFP Selection Committee from 2014-16.
This makes him one of the highest-profile figures close to the decision-making process to advocate for expansion of the bracket. Alvarez, 71, has been in the room for three out of the four years the CFP has been in existence picking the teams for the four-team field.
"I would now be open to six," Alvarez told CBS Sports. "Two byes [for the top two teams]. … Maybe give one spot to the … [Group of Five champion]."
Alvarez was referring to the assumption that a six-team bracket would necessitate giving first-round byes to the two highest- ranked teams. Any six-team bracket would almost certainly have to include an automatic spot for the best Group of Five champion. Last year, that was UCF.
Boasting a 12-0 record at the time of playoff selection, the Knights were placed No. 12 in the CFP Rankings. Western Michigan was 13-0 when the field was selected in 2016 and came in ranked 15th.
"There are probably six teams that can win," Alvarez said. "Some of those schools -- that have years like that -- should have a chance. They could fit it in."
"I'm thinking more open-minded to six, personally," he added. "I never thought we'd want to."
Applying a six-team bracket to the 2017 season, the likely first-round matchups would have been:
CFP executive director Bill Hancock has consistently said that the four-team playoff works and there are no plans to expand the field. The fifth year of the CFP commences Dec. 29 with semifinals set for the Orange and Cotton Bowls. The CFP National Championship will be decided on Jan. 7, 2019, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
"I haven't talked to Barry about this, so I shouldn't comment expect to say there is no talk among the presidents or the commissioners about expanding the playoff," Hancock said, "because they like the focus of the regular season that we get from the four-team event."
Alvarez said his mind began to change last year after his Badgers stood as the last undefeated Power Five team heading into the Big Ten Championship Game.
Wisconsin, then 12-0, slipped from fourth to sixth and out of the playoff after a six-point loss to Ohio State in the league title game. The Big Ten was therefore left out of the CFP for the first time as Ohio State didn't make the top four even as conference champion.
"I knew one commissioner who wasn't very happy," Alvarez said in reference to the Big Ten's Jim Delany.
Alvarez added that the margin of Ohio State's second loss of the season -- 55-24 to Iowa on Nov. 4 – should not have mattered.
"The score of wins is not supposed to make any difference," he said. "It was stated [in the criteria]."
The CFP's Selection Committee Protocol states if teams are close, the outcomes against common opponents should be considered, "without incenting margin of victory."
Wisconsin was criticized in some circles for a weak schedule. Because of the Big Ten schedule rotation, the West-residing Badgers missed Penn State and Ohio State from the East Division. Its nonconference opponents in 2017 were Utah State, FAU and BYU.
Ohio State and Wisconsin had six common opponents in the regular season last year – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska. Ohio State went 5-1 against that group. Wisconsin was 6-0.
"I can't speak for anyone else [on the committee]; I'm telling you one of the most important things is strength of schedule," Alvarez said. "That's one of the things they look at first.
"Washington got in [the 2016 playoff] with no strength of schedule. That's what pissed me off last year. We still played nine conference games. You can tell me Nebraska didn't have that good a record, [but] you go into Lincoln, Nebraska, at night and they pull out every stop there was. A good football team had to win that game."
Wisconsin won its most games in history last season (13-1) despite playing four ranked teams, all after the first week of November. That did not include a 38-17 win at Nebraska on Oct. 7. It finished with the 23rd-toughest schedule last season, according to NCAA statistics. Among the playoff teams, Georgia was No. 2, Alabama was No. 7, Clemson was No. 8 and Oklahoma was No. 44. Ohio State finished with the sixth-toughest schedule.
Alvarez added that the committee "screwed up" in 2014, the first year of the playoff. Baylor and TCU tied for the Big 12 title, each at 8-1, without a championship game to boost the resume of a potential victor.
TCU dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the CFP Rankings despite winning its final game by 52 points over Iowa State. Baylor went from No. 6 to No. 5 after beating No. 9 Kansas State. Meanwhile, Ohio State slipped into the playoff ahead of TCU on the strength of a Big Ten Championship Game blowout of Wisconsin.
"That last week, [I asked], 'Guys why would we do this? Baylor and TCU sitting there like that," Alvarez said. "It's going to be hard to explain.'"
In his 15th year as Wisconsin AD, Alvarez nursed a knee replacement recently while reminiscing about his time on the committee.
"I don't miss that grind," he said. "That was a good group of people."
The CFP management committee (the commissioners) cannot begin addressing a larger field until 2023, sources told CBS Sports.
That's three years before the current contract expires.
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