So, they went and did it, and rather quickly, at that. There was no particular crisis, manufactured or otherwise, that forced the hand of college football’s powers that be to expand the playoffs. (Remember The Rematch? Hell, wasn’t that a quaint concern. There’s a possibility now of, say, Alabama and Georgia facing off three times in a season. Good times, for sure.) There was just what there always has been.
For all the talk about student-athlete experience, the “sanctity” of the bowls and collaboration on Thursday, Tranghese summed up exactly why the playoff has expanded as if suddenly in a time warp. He quoted some wisdom from his old boss, the late great Dave Gavitt.
“Just follow the money,” Tranghese said, “and you’re going to find out what’s going to happen.”
What that lacks in profundity it makes up for in accuracy.
Anyway, it’s done, at least for now (more on that in a bit). Here are some random takes on what strikes me as the most significant postseason decision in college football’s history.
They’ve embraced the hybrid. I posted this a couple of weeks ago:
What the geniuses who run college football are about to do is foist a hybrid subjective/objective set up on us that’s going to set up a negative feedback loop guaranteed to bring even more expansion. What I mean by that is an eight-team playoff field comprised of the five P5 conference champs, the top rated G5 team, plus two more at-large teams (in most seasons, one of those will be Notre Dame) is going to give us the worst of both worlds in that we’re bound to get some conference champs that are worse teams than some of the teams passed over because there aren’t enough at-large spots to accommodate them.
Lost in the excitement of yesterday’s announcement is that the move to twelve doesn’t eliminate that possibility.
Most energy is focused on how the new system will reward the Big Ten and SEC with more playoff spots – and they will – but also consider that the new eligibility will allow the six “highest-ranked conference champions.”
This matters because several Power 5 teams in the top 12 would be bumped from the playoff because the sixth-highest ranked conference champion would have to be selected, even if they are ranked below the No. 12 team. Four Power 5 teams ranked in the top 12 over the last seven years would have not been included in the College Football Playoff.
This would have eliminated No. 12 Georgia Tech in 2014, No. 12 LSU in 2015, No. 12 Oklahoma State in 2016 and No. 12 Auburn, which defeated No. 5 Alabama, in 2019 to make room for Group of 5 schools.
There are going to be a lot of upset Power 5 programs when No. 17 Memphis, for example, wins its conference.
That instability will be a root motivation for further expansion. As I noted before, that’s a feature, not a bug, of the new arrangement — at least as long as there’s somebody out there who will pay for it. Sixteen will come about as quickly as twelve did, I suspect.
Notre Dame’s gonna be just fine, y’all. There was a lot of glee expressed yesterday about Notre Dame’s supposed predicament over being locked out of a bye week because of its independent status. It’s funny, though, that ND’s athletic director didn’t seem particularly gloomy about it.
Don’t cry for me, South Bend. Why should he be gloomy? If the Irish qualify as one of the top eight teams at the end of the regular season, they’ll host a home playoff game. And, because of their independent status, they don’t play in a conference championship game, meaning they’ve got a bye week in December, anyway. Notre Dame is pretty close to an annual lock in a 12-team field. They’re doing alright, thanks for asking.
We’re one of college football’s four best teams and all we got was this lousy bye week. As that last paragraph indicates, one of the quirks with the new arrangement is that the top four teams get byes, while the next four get to host the first round of the playoffs in their home stadiums, where they’ll get to charge their faithful fans playoff level ticket prices. That’s some sweet cash that the Alabamas and Clemsons of the college football world will be expected to forego, all for the greater good. Sure, they could let the quarterfinals be played on campus, too, but for now, it seems the suits want to make sure the bowls get their piece of the action. If the hybrid nature of the playoffs is Reason 1A for further expansion, I expect this will be Reason 1B.
Wither the bowls? There’s some give and take here. As I just mentioned, there’s clearly some sentiment for the bowls being the host for two rounds of the playoffs. But…
Complicating matters is that the working group doesn’t call the shots about the bowls entirely on its own. ESPN will have considerable say in the matter, considering its financial stake in the bowl system. Honestly, I’m not sure how that plays out yet.
Greg Sankey is a happy man. It’s unlikely that the SEC will have less than two participants in a 12-team field. In some years, it’ll have more.
The conference would have placed four teams in the 12-team field in 2018 but only one in 2016, and 2019 would have included three, though the argument could have been made for four (more on how a top-12 SEC team would have been left out of the playoff below).
Since the creation of the playoff in 2014, the SEC would have been represented an average of 2.7 times per year. (The SEC has averaged 1.1 teams per year, with two slotted in the four-team playoff in 2017).
I expect that the first time it has three or even four, there will be some gnashing of teeth about sharing postseason shares equally across conferences. I expect that Sankey will smile and ignore that.
What will suck is all the air going out of the SECCG most seasons, when all that will be at stake is a higher seed in the payoffs.
It’s a mirage. Yeah, there’s opportunity. And “playoff” on a coach’s resume looks good. But the reality is that we know what’s gonna happen when a G5 squad rolls into Athens to play in the first round of the CFP and it won’t be pretty. The people responsible for the new setup know it, too. The cringiest admission of the day:
Yeah, they know.
Fan friendly, my ass. What to say to fans expected to pony up to watch their schools play three or four rounds of postseason football, most of which will involve significant travel and expense? Well ($$)…
Asked about whether the working group was ignorant of the pressures on fans who would be asked to potentially travel three times if their team makes the national title game, Bowlsby’s answer was “I would suggest that there is a pretty good alternative.” So, basically … They can watch it on TV.
These are the same folks who spent years fretting over how they can keep their fan bases coming to games. Welcome to the new math, people.
The death of regional passion. Mickey’s won. ESPN is getting what it wants, a shift from emphasizing the sport’s regional roots, which have always been part of its unique character, to a more homogeneous national focus like every other sport, which is what it’s used to promoting. This isn’t exactly new, either, but rather a culmination of what was put in play when they elected to go to the four-team field.
More than anything, that’s why I think this is such a fundamental change in the sport we cherish. No, I’m not going to make any over the top pronouncements of this being the death of college football or anything silly like that. But, I’ve got the feeling college football is devolving into just another sport for me now.
I’m not going to deny that I expect a slow, steady diminishing of enthusiasm on my part. It’ll be piecemeal, something I’ll feel every time I’m expected to shell out for an event that has less import than it once did. And at some point, I’ll probably find myself wondering why I care all that much. I expect college football will make out just fine without me. We’ll see.