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You’re Nuts: What is the ideal College Football Playoff size?

Should the field be expanded to 8 or 12 teams, or maybe not at all?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: What is the ideal CFP size?

Josh’s take:

The College Football Playoff could soon expand and become a better alternative than the current system. 130 teams participate each season, and exactly four get a chance to compete in the playoffs. That equates to three percent! Three percent of FBS teams are represented in the current CFP, and the other 126 have become increasingly disinterested in postseason play. Something needs to change in order for players, coaches, and programs to remain engaged and incentivized.

My fear is that without expansion, we would continue to see schools dodge tough opponents, more players forfeit remaining eligibility, and increased musical chairs in the transfer portal. Fortunately, it looks like we are heading towards expansion — just not with the perfect number of teams.

An eight-team playoff would open it up to non-bluebloods, while still being a reward given only to the elite teams for that season. The biggest argument against college football’s current system is its exclusivity. It should be exclusive. Nearly 50 percent of NFL teams make the playoffs, but parity at the professional level is leaps and bounds beyond what exists in the college game. The WAC is simply not the SEC. Sorry, not sorry.

Most teams that finish second in their Power 5 conference (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC) don’t belong either… I’m looking at you, Texas A&M. By doubling the field, my preferred format would provide opportunity for the UCF’s and Cincinnati’s of the world when they have a truly great season. Same goes for the second place P5 team with a non-cupcake schedule and whose only loss was a close battle against another playoff team.

The G5, Group of Five, or non-Power 5 programs absolutely deserve a shot at the playoff, and have been overlooked since the inception of the CFP. This is my biggest argument for expansion to eight teams. While a conference title should not equal an automatic bid, a transcendent team from a “lesser” conference should be recognized and rewarded. 2017 UCF is the best example.

The Knights went undefeated during the regular season, beat six bowl-eligible teams, and took down Auburn in the Peach Bowl — big boy P5 Auburn, a team with victories over Alabama and Georgia that year. However, they were not seriously considered for the CFP, and would not have even made it in an eight-team scenario. They were voted 12th in the final rankings. Their finish was likely lower than it should have been because the committee didn’t have to take them seriously. With a four-team playoff, only six or seven teams are under real consideration. Once the committee determined UCF was not worthy of such consideration, they likely slid further as an afterthought.

If eight teams are involved, you are now looking at 15-20 teams in the conversation. Small conference champs factor into the equation. Not increasing the number beyond eight would keep the CFP limited to the elite of the elite. I believe that if/when 12 or 16 teams are on the table, it will become an excuse to include more traditional powerhouse programs. Florida, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, and USC are just a few of the arguably deserving teams left out in years past. Those teams have huge followings and draw huge crowds. They bring in more of the almighty dollar, which is one of the NCAA’s primary concerns (if not THE primary concern). That does not make them worthy of a spot in the year-end tournament.

Similar to winning a conference championship, having a large fan base should not be a prerequisite for playoff inclusion. The main objective is to make the CFP better — not bigger. Making the CFP more inclusive, while maintaining integrity and good competition, is the right call. A spot in the playoff should remain difficult to achieve… difficult should not secretly mean impossible. The current format does make it nearly impossible for most programs, and that is just a fact.

Expanding to eight teams would create hope for more teams, regardless of conference affiliation, historical success, or national following. It would also get rid of some of the yearly frustration experienced by fans who know that 11-1 likely eliminates their team from the playoff conversation. Lastly, an eight-team proposal keeps an emphasis on the regular season. Every game would still matter for seeding, and frankly, inclusion. Two losses would greatly diminish your chances of hoisting the trophy — just as it does today.

On the other hand, teams with one loss and a roster full of star players would still have everything to play for. Programs might even schedule more difficult opponents outside of their conference, knowing there is increased margin for error.

The CFP needs to expand for the betterment of college football. Expansion will make the sport more competitive, whereas the current four-team system discourages it. Schools schedule inferior opponents outside the conference, because a loss could remove them from the national conversation. Players are opting out of seasons and skipping bowl games because they lost a single game and have no interest in playing out the string. Open it up, adapt like the NCAA did during its transition from the BCS to a CFP, and make championship dreams more attainable for more people. Eight teams is ideal.

Gene’s take:

While I like the idea of an eight or 12-team playoff in theory, and I do think that some form of expansion is coming whether you like it or not, I'm going to play devil’s advocate here and say that the College Football Playoff should remain at four teams.

There are a couple reasons why someone may wish that the current system remains the way it is, but I think first and foremost it comes down to competitive balance. College football as it currently stands does not have much of any parity. There are three clear programs that are a full tier above the rest of the pack — Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. Every College Football Playoff since its inception has featured at least two of these teams, and every winner over the seven-year period the bracket has been in place has come from that group other than LSU as an outlier in 2019.

There is nothing that can really be done to make life any harder for this trio of college football powerhouses. Under a 12-team system, these three programs would have make the College Football Playoff every single season since its inception besides Clemson in 2014 — before they really became the national presence they are now. A 12-team playoff means that Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State can virtually punch their ticket to the postseason before the campaign even begins. However, while this may devalue the seasons of these three programs a bit, that isn’t even the biggest issue when it comes to competitive balance.

There have been 21 total College Football Playoff games including semifinal matchups and championship games. Of those 21 games, only six have been one-score games, and only seven have even finished with a margin of 14 points or less. There have really only been one or two truly dominant teams each given year the CFP has been around, and it has resulted in the vast majority of the games becoming blowouts. Even the National Championship Game, which is supposed to pit the country’s two best teams against one another, has only been a one-score game three out of the seven times. The closest margin of victory over the last three national title games has been 17 points.

Adding more teams to the College Football Playoff isn’t going to create less blowouts. Sure, the games between the No. 6 and the No. 11 seed could get interesting and the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game should be exciting, but what happens when a No. 10 seed or lower winds up having to face the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country? Even in the current system, the No. 4 seed has only beaten the No. 1 seed twice in seven tries (when the No. 4 seed was Ohio State or Alabama), and the average margin over victory for the top seed in the other five games has been 20 points. Is a double-digit seed that isn't one of the big dogs going to have any better luck?

My other issue with an expanded College Football Playoff is the number of games it will require teams to play. In the current system you have to play 14 games to win the national title. Expanding the playoff to eight, 12 or even 16 teams would now require some teams to play up to 16 games to win it all — which is basically a full NFL regular season schedule. It is tough to justify putting these kids through that many games of unpaid labor, especially when the extra wear and tear will play a direct role in how much money they will make in the league if they make it there down the line.

I think an expanded CFP is a good idea in theory. More teams have a chance to make the playoff, which makes the regular season matter much more for a vast majority of fanbases. However, there are a ton of issues that crop up upon making these changes, and the competitive balance issues and number of games are just two of the things that must be addressed if we are indeed heading in the direction of expansion.


Who got it right?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Josh: Eight teams
    (8 votes)
  • 12%
    Gene: Four teams
    (3 votes)
  • 56%
    Neither: 12 teams or more
    (14 votes)
25 votes total Vote Now