If only we had known to ask the Big Ten to blow up college sports sooner.
The College Football Playoff’s board of managers (school presidents and chancellors representing the 10 FBS leagues and Notre Dame) have voted to expand the CFP to 12 teams. The expansion is scheduled to occur in 2026 when the current television contract runs out. But there will reportedly be a push to expand upon the current four-team model as soon as 2024.
Most importantly, the field will consist of the top-6 ranked conference champions and six at-large bids. That means the ACC, Big 12, soon-to-be Pac-10 and the other conferences will be nationally relevant alongside the Big Ten and SEC.
It’s undoubtedly a good day for the health of college football. This should have happened a long time ago. But it still doesn’t go far enough. If the CFP can do 12 teams, it can do 16 and provide an automatic bid to all 10 conference champions. It’s really not that hard. And until that happens, it’s not a legitimate playoff. It’s just an invitational tournament.
Here is the six-step Kratch Plan:
The entire country starts in Week Zero. We are already moving in this direction anyway. Students are already on campus. People are ready for football. It makes sense regardless of the fact it helps open up much-needed calendar space.
Eliminate the 12th game. This is a safety measure. This is a time-saving measure. And it’s also a competitive measure. A programs 12th game is rarely compelling and the financial benefits get smaller and smaller as one-off buy rates skyrocket. Will this hurt FCS programs that use the payday games to fund their athletics departments? Yes. But there is a fix for that. The English soccer Premier League sends money down the pyramid for the good of the sport. The CFP can do the same. There would be 15 games in a 16-team format. If the television partners paid an additional $5 million per game, there would be enough to send a $500,000 check to all 130 FCS programs.
The regular season and conference title games are done before Thanksgiving. It has never made much sense for college football to play its most important non-postseason games — the rivalry games and the conference title games — when students are home for Thanksgiving or up to their necks in finals. Get them all done before things get topsy-turvy.
The playoff starts on Black Friday. Teams are seeded Nos. 1-16. The first three rounds are at home sites. The Final Four weekend (second Saturday in December) brings a tripleheader with one semifinal, then Army-Navy, then the second semifinal.
The bowl system still operates parallel to the playoff. Bowl games are just big TV shows. And people are not going to stop watching them. And with the national title game being locked in early in December, the other 14 playoff participants can still accept bowl bids if they want. We will even go a step further: Conferences are allowed to make their own bonus matchups (like Big Ten Champions Week) outside the bowl structure so that every team gets to play 12 games, regardless of record.
The Rose Bowl is the permanent national title game host, and the season ends on New Year’s Day. This is admittedly a pie-in-the-sky point. There is no way the CFP is going to turn down the opportunity to bid the game out to Dallas and Los Angeles and Las Vegas and rake in even more money. But the Rose Bowl is college football’s most sacred event. This is the way to protect it.
If this playoff/schedule format was implemented, a handful of teams would play 15-16 games and everyone else would be in the 11-14 range (which is already established). It would be more, but not that much more. And there would be ample room to spread the season out. The entire country would have something to play for, from the Big Ten and SEC to Conference-USA and the MAC. We wouldn’t get a lot of big upsets, but we would get more than we will with a 12-team format. And everyone would get even richer than they are already about to get. So get it done.
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