Mark Emmert doesn't have control over the College Football Playoff format -- the NCAA doesn't run the Football Bowl Subdivision postseason and would graciously like to remind you of that -- but if he did, he'd expand it to eight teams.
And so would roughly half of college football-loving America.
Speaking Wednesday at the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, Emmert said he prefers an eight-team format that includes automatic bids for champions of each Power Five conference.
NCAA President Mark Emmert says he would prefer an 8-team CFB Playoff so all Power 5 conference champions are... https://t.co/f8GPQdvctn— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 7, 2016
However, as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany noted on Wednesday, the field selection this year did not provide any movement toward an eight-team playoff.
The tires have been kicked on an eight-team playoff, casually or otherwise, even before major college football had a four-team playoff. With the three-year-old postseason format paying out hefty sums of money, one can venture to guess expansion is coming at some point in the future.
The question is whether that expansion is good or not.
The case for expansion
For the first two years of the playoff, one thing looked abundantly clear: Winning your conference championship was important. It wasn't a prerequisite for inclusion, but it did matter. All eight playoff teams in those two years were conference champs.
Then Penn State won the Big Ten. Suddenly, the qualifying statements perpetuated by the CYA mission of selecting the "four best teams" began pouring in.
The resumes between Penn State and Ohio State weren't close enough.
Divisions aligned by geography have watered down championship games.
To be clear, this isn't to say those statements are wrong. In many ways they're right. But can anyone remember this much dismissing of conference titles last year? How about the year before? Funny how it emerges when it's the team no one expects winning the conference.
The macro point here is that the first three seasons of the playoff have been filled with inconsistencies. Fans see this on a week-to-week basis with the mock rankings selection show. "Body clocks" is a pass one week and "game control" is a criterion the next. Flexibility is the beauty of having a human committee. It's also what makes it extraordinarily frustrating. Having the Power Five conference champions as automatic bids absolutely takes away the drama, but it also takes away a lot of the frustration.
Additionally, two things fans love about March Madness take effect. There's the Cinderella story, which would have been Western Michigan this year, and the team with the hot hand. No one denies that early-season losses by Oklahoma and USC matter, but it's also true they aren't the same teams now as they were in September. Expanding to eight at least allows for greater consideration of this.
The case against expansion
What do you want to reward? The best team in tournament play at the time of the tournament, or the best team in the land?
In the modern era of college football, championships have been won by teams with superior talent and excellent coaching. Each year, you could make an argument that only about 13-16 teams in the country will fit that description at the beginning of the year, and many of those teams will fall from title contention because of injuries or ill-timed poor play. If the playoff is expanded, you gain the element of postseason drama but risk losing a worthy champion because of a bad break. Let's leave the "Cinderella story" to college basketball and let college football crown its king with the four best teams in the country.
I also think expanding the playoff would require increasing the scholarship limit or cutting back on the number of regular-season games. Expanding the playoff would also decrease the urgency for conference championship weekend for teams that were "locks," like Ohio State was heading into Selection Sunday this season.
I'm not great at math but scholarships cost money, cutting regular season or conference title games means less money, and there isn't enough impetus for this current crop of conference commissioners to go through the headache or reworking the letter of the law without knowing more regarding the future of finances (media rights) in college football.