College Football Playoff doesn't need expansion – it needs reform

Dan WetzelColumnist

College football will waste its time this weekend with the relic that is “Conference Championship Weekend” because the powers that be in the sport are old and unimaginative.

To call Saturday an exercise in nonsense and futility doesn’t even describe the inanity of it. It makes no sense. None. Not competitively. Not in terms of entertainment. Not even in generating revenue.

The only reason this is even accepted is that college football fans suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and gladly accept the insanity that’s been repeatedly sold to them.

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Start with this very simple lesson: You don’t need to expand the current College Football Playoff. You just need to reform the postseason into something that looks like it was designed by someone with a functioning brain.

In actuality, conference championship weekend – this weekend – is Week One of the college football playoff. That’s the key deal here. Week One.

College football has chosen conference championship weekend as the de facto first round of its playoff. Doing so means that, with justification, it can argue against playoff expansion because it would mean there are too many games for the players.

But what if they scrapped the conference championships and, instead, started an eight-team playoff this weekend?

This is the slate of games (rankings are projected) for the “opening round” of the current postseason:

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Georgia: Alabama only has to not lose by, say, 50 points and they advance. Georgia either has to win, or maybe just lose by a couple points, to advance.

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 22 Pitt: Clemson just has to not lose by more than, say, 21 points and they advance. Pitt can’t advance.

No. 3 Notre Dame. Idle. They advance.

No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Texas: Oklahoma needs to win, Georgia needs to lose and then they need to win a debate with Ohio State (or have Ohio State lose) to advance. Texas can’t advance.

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 18 Northwestern: Ohio State needs to win, Georgia to lose and then they need to win a debate with Oklahoma (or have Oklahoma lose) to advance. Northwestern can’t advance.

No. 7 UCF vs. unranked Memphis: Game is meaningless.

No. 13 Washington vs. No. 16 Utah: Game is meaningless.

Alabama likely just needs to show up Saturday against Georgia to guarantee itself a spot in the College Football Playoff. (Getty)
Alabama likely just needs to show up Saturday against Georgia to guarantee itself a spot in the College Football Playoff. (Getty)

If the conference championships were scrapped, here’s what we could have instead, using five automatic bids for the major conferences, three at-large bids and home sites for the first round:

No. 8 Washington at No. 1 Alabama, yes, in Tuscaloosa.

No. 7 UCF at No. 2 Clemson, yes, in Clemson.

No. 6 Ohio State at No. 3 Notre Dame, yes, in South Bend.

No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 4 Georgia, yes, between the hedges.

Which set of games would you choose to be the first round of your postseason/playoff? This is not a trick question.

If you answer the former over the latter, you’re either a bowl director terrified of the playoff being staged in electric and historic on-campus stadiums (while generating economic activity for the towns that support the sport all year long) because people might realize there’s no need to give the bowls the semifinals, either, or you’re an asleep-at-the-wheel conference commissioner.

You can have eight teams with legitimate claims for a playoff spot play each other, or you can have Clemson vs. Pitt.

And forget that we have to determine who won the conferences. There is only one (sort of) conference championship that is in doubt heading into “conference championship weekend.” One.

Alabama won the SEC. Clemson won the ACC. Oklahoma won the Big 12. Washington won the Pac 12. There is no debate here. Check the records. It was settled on the field.

Technically, Ohio State and Northwestern are both tied in the Big Ten with 8-1 league records, but this is a product of severe scheduling imbalance based on geography. It’s map-based welfare. Northwestern lost all three of its non-conference games, including to Akron. It played a weaker schedule. There are 100 ways to break such a tie. Ohio State would win them all. This isn’t hard.

(An aside: If we got rid of conference championship games we could also get rid of the artificial construct of divisions, particularly ones based on direction. Then the schedules would balance out and the actual regular season would improve, too.)

Instead, we get this bastardized version of the sport because the commissioners created it to make money. OK, fine. Conference title games, like basketball conference tournaments, make some money. No one is against making money.

You know what would make even more money? That first round of an eight-team playoff, which would generate massive (and far greater) television contracts, not to mention more ticket sales (bigger stadiums) at higher prices (more demand). And a lot of that money would stay in the places that care about college football – not far-off NFL towns.

For two seats on the aisle for an Ohio State at Notre Dame playoff game, ticket brokers could demand a kidney and a half and then watch a bidding war drive up the price.

The atmosphere for on-campus playoff games would be unreal. No one has ever attended an NFL playoff game in Lambeau or Heinz Field or Mile High or anywhere in America, surveyed the pre-kick frenzy, and thought, “Boy, I wish we got to spend $1,500 on travel so this could take place at some far-away dome or whatever-they-are-calling-that-place-now in Miami.”

If Clemson or Alabama got a slightly easier game against a weaker team, well, that’s the reward for a high seed and why each regular season game would still matter. So, too, would the home-field advantage.

Every game doesn’t matter now, despite what the marketing slogan says. There is virtually no difference between being the No. 1 seed and the No. 4 seed in the current playoff. It’s why ‘Bama has no playoff-related incentive to win Saturday. Or last Saturday for that matter.

Who says no to OSU at ND but yes to Ohio State-Northwestern in Lucas Oil, which doesn’t guarantee the winner makes the playoff but does guarantee Buckeye fans screaming about the selection committee on talk radio all week?

College football doesn’t need an expanded playoff. Repeat: NO expansion. It needs postseason reform. It needs some thought put into this. The conference title game has outlasted its usefulness. The games don’t matter anymore. Losers can get in. Winners can get left out. In each of the last two years, teams that didn’t even make the conference title game got into the playoff. Some major conferences (yes, you Pac-12) are repeatedly marginalized.

In this year’s first round of the playoff, four teams (including Georgia) can either not play or lose by a respectable score and still advance to the semifinals. Nine teams can win and not advance.

This is the system? Yes, this is the actual system.

At least there is a quick fix available.

Get rid of the useless games that generate less excitement, less money and less meaning and replace them with awesome games that generate more excitement, more money and more meaning. It’s simple.

How is anyone against this?


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