Keeping the 800-pound gorilla happy

I know some of you think playoff expansion is motivated by making the postseason more encompassing of the goal to determine college football’s best team.  I think you know my belief is that the primary motivation for bracket creep is the chase for the almighty dollar.

No disrespect intended, but if I’m right, what ESPN wants matters a whole lot more than what Joe Fan wants — which makes this of interest.

ESPN expense: Three years ago, ratings for weeknight New Year’s Eve semifinal games dropped 36 percent. The CFP quickly found out The Worldwide Leader isn’t in the business of losing money. That was the end of weeknight semifinals; they were moved to weekends. So far, no one has asked ESPN how it would feel about essentially doubling its investment in the playoff if it goes from four teams to eight. (A high-ranking ESPN official would not comment.) Any expansion would have to be worthwhile to ESPN.

Early on, according to one source, school presidents said “not only said no, but hell no” to quarterfinal games on campus in an eight-team format. A TV consultant told CBS Sports all those quarterfinal games wouldn’t necessarily be a ratings winner. UCF as a No. 8 seed playing at No. 1 Alabama might be sexy this year, but what happens when that Group of Five team is a 10-2 Marshall or an 8-4 Central Michigan?

The expense for any entity that bids on the CFP will be significant. Another round of conference realignment may be on the horizon. Plenty of other sports properties will be up for bid as well (NASCAR, NFL and ‘Monday Night Football,’ MLB all by 2024 at the latest). Any streaming/broadcast/cable company must choose wisely on how to spend its money.

CBS Sports reported in 2016 that the Big 12 could earn an extra $1 billion by expanding by as many as four teams. The Big 12 eventually decided there were no desirable teams for expansion. It also decided it didn’t want to antagonize its TV partner.

For all the breathless analysis of why the playoffs should expand to an eight-team format, there’s an essential truth that generally gets brushed over.  There are almost never any seasons where eight teams deserve to be in a legitimate conversation about national titles.  Hell, most years there aren’t even five.

So, Dodd’s point about a mediocre mid-major grabbing a guaranteed spot is a legitimate one.  But ESPN’s concern probably goes farther than that.  What happens when, say, a four-loss Northwestern team pulls the upset in a conference championship game and makes the playoff field?

This is the problem you have with determining participants through a hybrid of subjective/objective criteria coupled with P5 conference championship games.  The inevitable result is there will be teams left out that are clearly better than some of those admitted, with the attendant grumbling about the unfairness of the system.

Sort of what some like to pretend exists now.  The thing is, the ones complaining aren’t paying for the privilege of doing so.  (Not to mention currently there is no risk of a mediocre team crashing the semis.)

So, back to Dodd’s point.  What if ESPN isn’t convinced bigger is better/more valuable?  Sure, maybe the commissioners can talk another broadcast source into bellying up to the bar, but now you’re answering to another master and who knows what new considerations will go into that partnership?  Further, if you’re Greg Sankey and you’re being asked to toss aside your conference’s lucrative championship game for the greater good, how do you know that the math will work out?

This is not to make predictions.  But if money talks in the way I believe it does and Mickey is reluctant, what do you honestly think happens with expansion?  Remember, there are always limits, as occurred when the last round of proposed expansion for the men’s basketball tourney turned to dust as nobody would step up to pay the NCAA for it.



Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil

29 responses to “Keeping the 800-pound gorilla happy

  1. 81Dog

    The Big 10, particularly, seems to demand a format that they think guarantees them a slot in the NC discussion. They figured the BCS would, and were wrong. They demanded a 4 team playoff wrong again. They cover a lot of TV eyeballs in their footprint, and are used to tv execs saluting when they belch. This assumes tv only makes money when they are in the picture.

    The suits at Disney are the most bloodless, cash register for a heart automatons on the planet. Football games are a bridge for ads to them. All the rah rah? Just a way to maneuver you into the gift shop where they hoover cash from your wallet by playing on your emotions.

    If an 8 team playoff isn’t a clear winner, moneywise, Jim Delaney can grump and rumble all he wants. The Big 10 is like the British Empire: maybe it was the greatest some time last century, but it’s looking tattered and quaintly out of date today. The true, new powers don’t fear them, and the grubby nouveau powers on the rise don’t respect them.

    Sic transit gloria, Jim.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Delany wants 8 because his champion has been on the outside looking in the last 2 years. He’s blaming the system when he should be blaming Khaki Pants for laying 2 eggs at ND and OSU and Corch for the face plant at Purdue.

    The call for 8 is being fueled by Georgia at 5 (which I still don’t understand why the committee releases a ranking beyond 4) and SEC bias is a fig leaf for the fact that ND took a spot from a conference champion by going undefeated.

    If Mickey thought there was tons of money to be made going to 8, they would have done it when the playoff format was announced. No one wants to watch a #1 baby seal clubbing of a Gof5 champion. No one remotely thinks that the Pac 12 champion of the last couple of years deserves a shot at the title.


  3. sanddawg

    I’m with you on playoff expansion talk. I have yet to see a year where one of the teams left out could make an argument for being the best in the country. Maybe they could make an argument for being number 4, but the point of the playoff is to find number 1, not 4.
    One thing I’ve thought about that might be a compromise is to give auto-bids to undefeated teams. This would keep out 8-4 Northwesterns and 10-2 Cincinnatis but also give a path to every team in the nation, provided they win every game in front of them. I don’t think you would have to expand to more than 6 to allow this. All undefeated plus at large teams until you get to 6. Just a random thought.


    • CB

      There are always teams that have arguments to be #1. UCF beat Auburn who beat Bama and Georgia, Georgia outplayed Bama for 4 quarters and got screwed by the refs (again). You may not agree with them (I don’t either most of the time) but they do exist.


      • sanddawg

        Yeah but we also got destroyed in Baton Rouge. We have an argument for top 4, but only other Georgia fans would argue for number one. You’re right, some people think UCF had an argument for number one last year. UCF was a great team last year and I wasn’t surprised when they beat Auburn. They would’ve given anyone a hell of a game last year. I still think on the whole Alabama was the best team last year and most agree. But UCF would’ve been in a hypothetical playoff with undefeated teams getting an auto bid.


        • CB

          Yeah, you can argue both ways. My point is, there are teams outside the top 4 with an argument. It’s all completely subjective no matter how sure of your reasoning you are, at the end of the day it’s just an opinion.


    • Mark

      “…auto-bids to undefeated teams”

      Cue the stampede to fill non-conference schedules with nothing but cupcakes. Goodbye, UGA vs Notre Dame, Goodbye UGA vs Clemson, etc.

      And what happens when the playoffs are filled with the UCFs of the world? You know, pretty good teams that play in bad conferences? Is it better to have a few UCFs in the playoff and a couple of one-loss champs of good conferences out of the playoffs?

      I think those are two consequences of auto-bids for undefeated teams that I’d rather avoid, personally.


  4. ASEF

    Alabama-Ohio State 2014 was a compelling semi. Georgia-Oklahoma 2017 was a compelling semi.

    The rest have been snoozers over by half time or shortly thereafter. Avg margin: 27 points. In half of the semis, the loser generated a combined total of 13 points.

    People expect an 8 format to produce these barnburner games and wild upsets. They never mention the volume of blowouts and snoozers necessary to generate those highlight games. Hint: it’s probably about the same ratio as the regular season.

    Is Disney going to double up for that?


  5. Bulldog Joe

    It’s not New Year’s Day, but good semifinal matchups and no NFL competition should help TV ratings.

    Three undefeated teams and a Heisman winner should be a good draw.

    If it is not, expect some changes.


  6. Macallanlover

    It isn’t about “the best”, it is about being exclusive while being inclusive. That is why 8 is the right number. For those who don’t want a Northwestern/Pitt type team getting an automatic seat among the eight (I don’t either) all they have to do is make a team with more than 2 losses that isn’t rated among the Top 10, or 12, ineligible for the automatic slot. Simply go to the next highest rated team not already qualified.

    Everyone always brings up the unlikely scenario to prevent this going the obvious direction. This isn’t a horror show we are talking about here. It is coming, just hope it gets expedited.


    • Chopdawg

      I like the conference championship games as a play-in to an 8-team national playoff, & wouldn’t be too worried if Northwestern had gotten in this year…in the Big 10’s championship game this year, if Northwestern had beaten Ohio State under that kind of pressure, maybe they deserve the playoff.

      Also I don’t think the group of 8 ought to automatically include a Group of 5 team. This year, yeah, put UCF in, but let the process for choosing the 8 teams be 5 conference champions and 3 at-large.

      But to answer the Senator’s question, I don’t think any of this happens without ESPN’s willful participation, at least not until the current contracts expire and then only if other networks want to throw some $$$ into the pot.


      • Macallanlover

        I do think the leading Group of 5 should be included, but would again put in a qualifier, maybe has to be rated in the Top 10, same as with a conference champ that doesn’t have the creds. I can see a Boise, or Houston, or Memphis type team having a special season occasionally. No need to put a roadblock up that excludes 50-60 teams from having hope. I just wouldn’t make it an automatic invite with no restrictions.

        With a guarantee that you would start with national geographical interest there will be increased ratings so I think the bids would be higher. Beginning with an additional round and more interest, Disney would have competition from other networks for the broadcast rights, if they wait until the current contract expires.


  7. CB

    Any word on why the presidents are so staunchly against on campus first round games?


  8. JCDawg83

    Go back to an 11 game regular season, have 8 conference champs in a three week playoff with the games played on campus at the 1-4 seeds stadiums for the first round. If a 4 loss Northwestern gets in, so be it, maybe the next year the “better” team will win the Big 10.

    If viewership falls off for the first round games, tough for Mickey, every game they broadcast during the regular season isn’t a ratings juggernaut, they can live with it in the playoff. If they can’t live with it; here’s a wild idea, don’t televise the first round or let smaller networks pick those games up. I haven’t seen anywhere in the constitution that guarantees tv coverage of every college football game.

    Real playoffs that result in a legitimate football champion exist in every other level of organized football from high school to the NFL other than the top level of college football. It isn’t that hard to do.


    • junkyardawg41

      How would college’s make up lost revenue on the loss of a game?

      What is the financial benefit of the visiting team traveling to someone else’s campus vs a neutral site match up?

      In a campus mathup, what happens in a close 4v5 ranking — let’s ignore the 1 v 8 argument. Let’s say you have tOSU at 2 losses ranked at 5 and a OU team with 2 losses at 4. They are neck and neck in ratings. One is the winner of the home field and one is the loser — although their body of work is equal. I think that would cause problems as well.


      • JCDawg83

        How did colleges make it before the 12 game schedule. Some expenses may have to be cut, what a concept. I’m not overly concerned about a program losing a few million on the home game if they are in the playoff. They will get some tickets to sell for the playoff game and probably get some tv money for that. The teams that don’t make the playoff will have to deal with it. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, why not argue for a 14 game regular season? Teams would get even more money then.

        Visiting team is in playoff with a chance to win a legit NC. It seems to work at every other level of football. I don’t see any FCS teams pouting about being the visiting team in the playoffs and not participating.

        Close rank matchups would be good for the game. They would give fans something to talk about and increase interest. One team would be home the other would be the visitor, it’s life, it’s not completely fair, get over it or forfeit if you feel that strongly. Everyone would know the rules going in, if they didn’t like them they could drop down a division and get out of the system.


  9. DoubleDawg1318

    This is actually my hope for what saves college football. The playoffs won’t expand if ESPN’s appetite for college football is full. I see a lot of barriers to expansion right now that the moron AD’s haven’t thought about, namely the fact that an expanded playoff would be filled with blowouts that no one would watch. Even the semifinals have been mostly uncompetitve. That’s terrible for ratings.


  10. St. Johns Dawg

    Screw ESPN … At some point Amazon Prime, Netfllix, Hulu, or some other streaming service will get this done.


  11. Former Fan

    If a team loses it’s conference, how can it be considered the best in the country? If it can lose it’s conference game, but then win the playoff, then the award is for winning the “right” game. If you are not the best team in your conference, how can you be best in the nation?

    IMO, if we go to an 8 team playoff, the conference championships should be configured in such a way as to make them play-in games. But that likely won’t happen because conferences will want to try and get 2 of their teams into the playoffs.


    • JCDawg83

      This is why the 8 team format really only works with conference champs playing. The committee has to go away and let the teams earn it on the field, not in some secret room where a group decides who “looks the best”.


      • ASEF

        Except they’re still assigning seeds and picking the at larges. And people will gripe even more. More teams “getting screwed.”


  12. Union Jack

    Let’s see what happens with this edition of the playoffs. If the semis and final are compelling with good ratings, it might quell the expansion talk for a little bit.

    If the games are not compelling and ratings are down, the argument used will be that it doesn’t have enough national appeal and fatigue from having Clemson, Bama and Oklahoma as repeat particpants etc.

    The Big 10 has let their intentions be known so I do think expansion is inevitable. My guess is that the Pac12 will join in with them.

    The SEC will hold out and find a way to keep the SEC Championship game. I can see them even pushing for a system where the playoff committee publishes a whittled down list of potential playoff participants before the conference championship game. A list of the 10 or 12 teams that are the only ones eligible to be picked for the final 8 thus protecting a highly ranked team with a great regular season getting upset in the conference championship and a 4 loss team making the tournament on an automatic bid.

    But the number is going up it just will depend on 6 or 8 and when.


  13. Olde Dawg 78

    No automatic playoff berths. Dust Off the old BCS computers to pick the best four teams without any human biases during the selection process. Then let the games begin.


  14. GruvenDawg

    There are systemic issues with at least three of the powe 5 conferences (Big 12, Pac 12, and ACC). Five conferences keeps us trying to fit a square peg in a round hole of a 8 team playoff.

    If you dissolve the Big 12 and divide those teams ((minus 1) and Notre Dame into a “Super 4” 16 team conference structure the 8 team playoff puzzle gets a lot easier to solve. Eliminate divisions and go to four 4 team pods per conference to balance out the division disparity in conferences. The 8 team playoff then starts with the conference championship games. Conference championship representatives are decided by CFB playoff committee or BCS formula. All conferences get access then. Keep the current 4 game system which each conference champion getting the bid to the final 4. If you can’t win your conference then you aren’t getting in.

    Current conference divisions are what cause the “potential for a 8-5” team to get in. The two highest ranked teams in a conference should play for the conference championship. That way one of the best two teams in a conference are getting into a playoff, not some 8-4 team that got lucky


    • Trbodawg

      I’ve seen this argument before and my response is the same – if you want to watch the NFL, no one is stopping you. I prefer college because it IS different. it’s a feature not a bug, to me. YMMV

      Liked by 1 person