Possible expansion of the four-team College Football Playoff has been a topic of conversation since the postseason format arrived in the 2014-15 season.
It is now finally becoming reality.
The CFP will expand to 12 teams beginning in the 2024-25 season. The four highest-ranked conference champions will receive first-round byes. The next two highest-ranked league champions and six at-large bids will then play in the first round with the higher seed hosting games on campus. Then come the quarterfinals followed by the semifinals and national title game, all at neutral sites.
So now we will have more playoff football at the college level. And more football is always better, right?
More relevant football is always better. And the expansion of the playoff is introducing the opposite and diminishing the value of the most important regular season in all of sports.
The reason why the college game is loved is because of the high stakes in the regular season. We’ve seen Super Bowl winners with five-plus regular-season losses, but how many college programs with similar winning percentages have won the national championship?
One loss in the college football regular season could end any playoff hopes for the remainder of the year. Just look at Texas A&M, who entered the season No. 6 in the AP Top 25 only to lose to Appalachian State in Week 2 and see its postseason aspirations crumble.
There are no mulligans at the college level. Every single regular-season game is crucial. There’s a reason why three of the teams in the current playoff ranking – No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan, and No. 3 TCU – are undefeated, while No. 4 USC has just one loss.
With the new format, however, it seems we’re allowing programs to still compete for a title even if the record isn’t up to title standards. If the season were to end today with the future 12-team format, two-loss Washington would make it. So would Utah and Kansas State, both currently 9-3.
The competitiveness of the college football regular season is what drives the ratings. As we said, one loss can always ruin a season — the expansion of the College Football Playoff ruins that concept though. It allows for bad weeks; it allows for goose eggs, something the competitiveness of the college game has never tolerated.
So for those who think more football is better (as if the USFL is a major ratings driver or the AAF didn’t fold after eight weeks), rejoice. For those who want to see Group of Five programs get their chance (even after Cincinnati lost by three touchdowns to Alabama in last year’s playoff), rejoice.
But the bottom line is the expansion comes at a significant cost: the true competitiveness, importance, and value of the regular season. Which are the reasons why college football is so beloved in the first place.