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Roundtable: To expand or not to expand?

In which Team Gabey & Andrew and Team Brad fight to the death over the FBS postseason.

Washington v UCLA Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In honor of the fact that, with it being a bye week and all, we don’t have all those previews etc. to catch up on, we figured this would be a good time to throw out some of our writers’ group discussions.

This time, with Andrew, Brad, Chris, Kirk, and myself in the mix, Lucas posed the following question:

“If you were tasked with the sole power to remake the college football playoff, what would you do? Keep it as is? Expand to six? Eight?”

Needless to say, we were prepared for a feisty, profanity-laced session of verbal fisticuffs that left no less than three of us in tears.

Andrew Berg: Ooh, I have strong feelings about this one.

Gabey Lucas: I’m terrified what Andrew’s gonna say, because so do I.

As such: Keep it as is. Eight is way too much and devalues the other checkpoints in college football — beating the shit out of your rival(s), winning the conference, winning a good bowl game against a good opponent... The more the playoff is expanded in some sort of pseudo-“democratization” of college football (which it still isn’t), the less 98% of teams actually have to play for because it puts more and more weight on the National Championship at the expense of everything else.

Let’s say it expands to eight teams, or whatever. Then what? Let’s say last year is eight teams, so along with Oklahoma, Bama, Georgia, and Clemson: OSU, USC, UCF, and what, Wisconsin, maybe get in. Great, they got what they always wanted and were included in the playoff! Woo! Barring some extreme event, every single one of those teams wouldn’t’ve gotten past the first round anyway — save maybe UCF if they were paired against Oklahoma — and say they did, they definitely wouldn’t’ve gotten into the championship game. At that point, what makes the eight team playoff so desirable for those teams anyway? Just to say you got in to a playoff? Which, in those 5-8 seeds, is no more of an accomplishment than making it into the equivalent corresponding NY6 bowls as we have now? Having the playoff expanded just to watch Bama beat the crap out of an eight seed before they move on doesn’t sound all that much of a win for any parties involved.

Say, in an eight team scenario, UW were to win out and win the Pac-12 and subsequently make the playoff as probably a seven or eight seed. So they can then get pummeled by the eventual national champion? Simply put, every year there really is very few teams that have everything put together enough to compete that highly, and if they can’t prove it during the regular season, they almost certainly won’t all the sudden put it all together against Bama or the equivalent. It’s like when people go “Hey, should so-and-so be in consideration for the Heisman/Cy Young/Jeopardy GOAT?” Because if you have to ask “Should they be in consideration?”, then the answer is no because they haven’t proved they’re good enough anyway. In this hypothetical situation, UW (or pick whatever comparable fringe team) has already shown they don’t play at that level, so why mock the whole thing by giving these teams a “chance”?

College football isn’t the NFL. The layers of winning and achievement is integral to what makes it fun and, even if that weren’t the case, the eight team playoff would almost certainly never lead to different results anyway.

Plus, for all the talk we like to do about “someone’s always gonna be left out and it’s not fair whine whine whine,” the musical chairs that happens with having at least one P5 team left out is super hilariously fun. Don’t like that your team got left out? Fine, go beat the shit out of Iowa 72-3 to make everyone else look silly (Hi, 2015 Stanford). Then do better next year.

tl;dr: Expanding the playoff devalues the point of winning for winning’s sake while not actually providing any greater opportunities for more teams to become National Champions.

Also, something tells me we’re gonna be fightin’ today. Thanks Lucas GAHD.

Brad Johnson: The FCS model. 24 teams, first round byes, play-in games, at-large bids, cinderella runs, bracket busters, the works. A month of college football playoffs would be the greatest invention in sports history. An eight team playoff is virtually no different than four, so it’s not worth the effort. 16 is getting closer. 32 would be great. But I like the first round bye, because it makes winning a conference important. After that, I just want to watch as many big, meaningful college football games as I can. The Rubicon has been crossed, so if we’re actually going to try to convince ourselves that a playoff is about determining a “true champion,” then lets do it right. Bring me your Sun Belt champion, bring me Central Florida on a #4 line in the North Region. Bring me third-place B14G Michigan. Bring them all to me as I melt into my couch and ignore my family on consecutive Saturdays throughout December. Give it ALL to me.

Gabey: Oh my God my eyes are burning.

Although tbf I prefer Brad’s suggestion to eight teams. But I also still hate it and want it to die a fiery death.

Andrew: There are very few things about which I am certain. One of those things is that the entire playoff system is bad for college football. Four team, eight team, CFP, BCS. It’s all bad. College football had it right in the early ‘90s and every change to the postseason system since then has made the sport worse.

The main problem with playoffs or a title game is that they compromise the beauty of the bowl system. Before the playoffs, the highest goal for UW was to reach the Rose Bowl — an ambitious, yet attainable objective. If they didn’t make the Rose Bowl, there was a clear hierarchy of bowl prestige and almost all of the games mattered in some way. Now, if they don’t reach the CFP, the entire season is considered a bust. Disagree? Look at how many fans were upset with a Fiesta Bowl berth last year.

Today, only three bowl games matter, the two semi-finals and the championship game. The rest of the bowl system is incompatible with the CFP. It’s a shame to lose the bowls, too, because their history, unique characteristics, and conference affiliations were the types of oddities that differentiated college football and made it great. The Playoff undermined the brilliant bowl scheduling that made New Year’s Day the greatest sports day of the year. Now, the only three meaningful games are scattered helter-skelter across assorted time-slots with no significance beyond Nielson ratings. While we’re at it, let’s cut the number of bowls in half and require teams to have a winning conference record to qualify.

Another problem with the Playoff is that it seeks to solve an unsolvable problem. The idea is to determine the “best” team of the season, but the committee uses an opaque and inconsistent methodology. Teams don’t play balanced schedules; they don’t even play remotely comparable schedules. Yet the outcomes of those unequal games are stacked up against each other to decide CFP eligibility. If the idea is to find the best team at the end of the season, then any team with significant injuries should be kept out of the playoff and early season losses shouldn’t matter much. If the goal is to find the team with the best resume, then what’s the point of the Playoff? Judge the resume on its merits and do it in a way that is most friendly to fans (hint: it’s bowls). The bottom line is that the system is inherently imprecise, so trying to make it more precise is a fool’s errand.

College football is a regional sport. Teams play in regional conferences and feed off of regional rivalries. I don’t have strong feelings about a Georgia vs. Florida game, and trying to work up an emotional investment is insincere because I don’t have a relationship to either school or program. Individual games should matter in their own. We want to beat Oregon because it’s important to beat our rivals, not because it will help our tournament resume.

If you’re obsessed with the Sisyphean pursuit of the “best” team, you can keep your CFP committee and have them bunker down after January 1 to pick the best resume to crown that team as the National Champion. I will concede that it would probably be a better determinant than the AP or Coaches’ Poll. But the important part is that we start by re-legitimizing the bowls and working backward from there to make regular season games stand on their own again.

Next up: Why instant replay has to go.


While I don’t know if I agree that there has ever been a “good” way of determining national champion (like you say the early 90s and before), I completely agree with this principle.

Although I disagree with your one sentence take on instant replay, but that’s another topic.

Andrew: I’ll agree that there hasn’t ever been a great way to determine a national champion. My point is that, since no system is great at it, then we have to go with the system that makes the games the most enjoyable, and that’s the bowl system.

That last sentence is an absolute grammatical disaster and I stand by it.

Chris Landon: We don’t need to trash the entirety of regular season football just to be able to proclaim one team the disputed undisputed champion. Four works for me.

Gabey: I’m surprised we all seem to agree on this, the rest of the internet from what I’ve seen feels strongly in the opposite direction. Although it could just be a case of everyone who doesn’t want the playoff to expand is less vocal since they already have more what we want.

Kirk Degrasse: Well, not everyone. Pretty sure Brad argued for a big playoff system.

Gabey: Yah but he doesn’t count — he’s not people.

Andrew: I enjoy the FCS format for FCS, but their structure is more transient and they don’t have the sentimentality around bowls anyway. They also hold the title game in suburban Dallas at an MLS stadium every year, which is its own funny tradition.

Gabey: Yah exactly Andrew. It’s great for the FCS but not FBS. Different strokes for different sports leagues, ya know?

Brad: Arguments about tradition with regards to college football postseason make me chuckle a little. What tradition? Whose tradition? My grandpa’s tradition was that the Rose Bowl pitted a team from the west coast against one from the east, which is why teams like Brown, Penn, Harvard, and Notre Dame were there prior to most teams from current Pac 12. My dad’s tradition of bowls is that you weren’t going to the Rose, you were done in November with the conclusion of the regular season. For me, bowls are basically participation awards. Get close enough to .500, and you get one. YAY!! Define tradition, please, and then we can preserve it. But really, the only tradition is change, from the teams that play to the number and importance of the bowls. The Fiesta Bowl’s glorious history dates back to the early 60’s with WAC teams, until it bought its way into big-time status 20 years later. The only thing that is certain is that we aren’t going backward. Given that, it’s tough to argue that the BCS and the playoffs so far haven’t given us some really good football games to watch. I can’t understand why anyone living in reality isn’t arguing for more of that.

Andrew: That’s a pure strawman. Nobody suggested that bowls are better due to tradition.

Gabey: What Andrew said. I agree with you Brad in general about people being completely resistant to change based solely on a “tradition” argument that doesn’t actually hold up as some eternal constant, but that’s not what our arguments have been.

Andrew: Brad, here’s where I disagree with you:

I’m not arguing for the tradition of bowl games. I’m saying that the CFP de-emphasizes rivalry games, undermines conference titles, cuts the number of meaningful/interesting bowl games from about 8-12 to exactly 3, and focuses on an insincere, impossible version of objectivity. Sure, there have been great CFP games, but more than there were great BCS or bowl games historically? I am far from convinced of that.

Also, you rejected the argument, “let’s cut the number of bowls in half and require teams to have a winning conference record to qualify” by saying, “bowls are basically participation awards. Get close enough to .500, and you get one. YAY!!” Ok.

And then we got distracted by Browning being benched at Cal.

Anyhoo... Surely this will only result in completely civil and mellow comments from our faithful readers who are not at all emotionally invested in their answer and won’t start calling those with dissenting opinions rude names like “total ugg-o” and “fart faced cretin.”

Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.