Great News: College Football Playoff Will Expand to 12 Teams by 2026 Latest, 2024 Earliest

It’s official:

So the current contract expires in 2026, which is the latest the new expanded playoff would go into effect. But apparently, according to Heather Dinich, there is strong motivation to get things sorted out so that the new playoff can take effect as early as 2024:

I’m sure they’ll find a way to get out of the contract and get this thing implemented in 2024. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And there’s definitely a will, because there’s a ton of money at stake here. Currently, there are 3 College Football Playoff games–the two semifinal games and then the National Championship.

With a 12 team playoff field, there would be a total of 10 playoff games played–meaning if the big wigs wait until 2026 to expand, they would miss out on 7 additional games in 2024 and 7 additional games in 2025, totaling 14 games that never happen, and thus the big wigs can’t cash in on them. And we obviously cannot be leaving that kind of money on the table, can we?

The details:

So the four highest-ranked conference champions will receive first round byes, while the two lowest ranked conference Champions plus the 6 at-large bids will duke it out in the first round of the playoff.

Now, I am not sure if an at-large team can host a first-round playoff game against a conference Champion. I’m assuming so, right? Because there will be 6 conference champs, and there are only 5 Power Conferences (really just two now, the Big Ten and SEC, but officially it’s still 5), so that means a Group of 5 conference champ will make it every year.

But let’s say Alabama wins the SEC and is ranked #1, takes the top overall seed. Georgia loses to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game but gets in as an at-large team. They’re ranked like 3rd or something like that, but they still have to play a first round game because they are not one of the four highest-ranked conference champions.

Cincinnati then wins their conference and clinches an automatic bid, but they’re ranked like 20th or something like that. So would Cincinnati then host Georgia even though Georgia is ranked 3rd and Cincinnati is ranked 20th? I would assume it’s like the NFL playoffs, where the division winners all host playoff games regardless of record–so say a team wins their division at 9-8, but another team clinches a wild card berth at 12-5 because they play in an insanely tough division. That 9-8 team would still be the higher seed than the 12-5 team because the 9-8 team won its division, and thus the 9-8 team would host the playoff game and the 12-5 team would have to go on the road.

I’m wondering if the new CFP will work this way as well. It doesn’t really specify anything other than the four highest-ranked conference champs get first round byes. I don’t know if an at-large team can host a first round playoff game against a lower-ranked conference champ, is what I’m trying to say here.

Whatever. It’ll all be figured out in due time.

The important thing is that we officially have an expanded playoff, and I’m whole-heartedly in favor. I’ll give a few reasons why:

  1. Automatic bids. This is my biggest thing. Take the committee–in other words, opinion, bias, human error, subjectivity–out of the equation as much as possible. Because automatic bids for winning your conference mean teams now not only have no downsides for scheduling tough out of conference games, they are actually incentivized to do so, because winning those games can bolster your resume for an at-large bid if you fail to win your conference. This means all those great out of conference rivalries that have gone to the wayside lately (like Pitt/West Virginia) can continue to be played regularly. There’s no reason for those teams not to schedule that game yearly.
  2. Greater parity (hopefully). Because you just have to win your conference to get into the playoff, there is no longer an increased emphasis for recruits on going to SEC or Big Ten schools. Top recruits want to play on the biggest stage and go to the NFL. With the 4-team playoff, the way it now works is that unless you’re in the SEC or Big Ten, you have a very slim chance of making it into the playoff, and so these schools have begun to monopolize the top recruits, who know that in a given year, two SEC teams and one Big Ten team will probably make up 3 of the 4 playoff spots. Conferences like the Pac-12 and the Big 12 have fallen to the wayside because recruits want to go play in conferences where they have a realistic shot at making the playoff. Now you can make the playoff no matter what conference you play in–as long as you win your conference, you’re in. That’s the way it should be.
  3. I’m not saying the expanded playoff will for sure bring about greater parity. I hope it will, but I’m not certain it will. However, what I can say is that the 4-team playoff most certainly did not bring about greater parity. If anything, parity decreased since the 4-team playoff was implemented, and the sport suffered greatly. And that’s my big thing: the sport is not in a good place right now with the 4-team playoff. With the recent realignment and conference shifting, we are now in a place where basically only two conferences matter. If the 4-team playoff was allowed to stick around, it would be completely dominated by the SEC and Big Ten. There would be no room for anyone else. The sport has become increasingly top-heavy since the 4-team playoff was implemented. The 12-team playoff has a chance at changing that. And that’s really all we can ask for: a chance. Because there is absolutely no chance the sport gets more parity remaining at 4 teams.
  4. Fairness. This goes along the lines of greater parity, but now that there are automatic bids, teams are at the mercy of the All Powerful Committee far less. If the Committee absolutely despises you and thinks you’re garbage, it only matters as far as seeding goes. You can still make the playoffs as long as you win your conference. And now, every team in the FBS knows going into the season that if they win all of their games, they will be National Champions. Previously, there were dozens and dozens of teams that went into the season knowing that even if they went 12-0 and won their conference, they still would probably not get a chance to play for a National Championship. They could still easily get left out of the playoff. Now, I’m not saying the new playoff format makes it so that we’ll see a G5 team win the National Championship some day. That’s almost certainly not going to happen, still. But the important thing is that there is now a clear and defined path for every team in the FBS to win a National Championship: simply win all of your games. Just like every team in the NFL has a chance to win the Super Bowl every season, now every team in the FBS technically has a chance to win the National Championship. Win your conference, win your playoff games, and you are the National Champion. Simple as that. All 130 teams can win it now.
  5. More opportunity. We no longer have to worry about the “best team vs. most deserving” debate. Last year, Cincinnati deserved a playoff spot because they went 12-0. Were they one of the four best teams in the country? Probably not. But they got in to the playoff because it would have been unfair to exclude them, even though it probably meant a better team got excluded from the playoff–say, Ohio State for example. Or Baylor, or Notre Dame, or Oklahoma State, or Utah. Now that’s a thing of the past. Cincinnati, if they go 12-0, gets in no matter what because they were among the 6 highest-ranked conference champions. Plus, a team like Ohio State would’ve gotten in as an at-large bid. And Utah would’ve gotten in as a conference champion. And Baylor would’ve gotten in as a conference champion.

I really believe a 12-team playoff will remove this sort of bottleneck that exists at the top of college football that continually funnels players to Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, while marginalizing every other program in the country. Top recruits currently feel like if they don’t go to one of those four schools, their chances of getting to the playoff are slim. So the way it’s set up now is that the rich just continually get richer.

But now, you can make the playoff from anywhere in the FBS. I think that’s great for the sport, and I think it will, over time, have a decentralizing effect–a “spread the wealth around” effect. Recruits know that if they go to a school like Washington or Baylor, they still have a chance to make the playoff. Now, obviously the greater parity won’t happen immediately, but over time, I think the 12-team playoff will result in greater parity and a more decentralized college football landscape.

And for the people who say it will render the college football regular season useless, I’m not in agreement with that at all. I think it will make the regular season far more entertaining and meaningful.

Right now, when it gets to the end of the season, there are really only a handful of teams that are alive for the playoff, meaning only a handful of games are being played at the end of the season, by definition.

Right? Because if you’re not alive for the playoff, then the games you’re playing aren’t meaningful.

But with a 12-team playoff, pretty much every team in the top-25 is playing meaningful football at the end of the season. Because as long as you’re in contention for your division, then you’re alive for the playoff. You win your division, you get a spot in your conference title game. You win that game, you get a spot in the playoff. And then every team that isn’t alive in its division title hunt is still looking to win and win impressively in order to move up the rankings to get as close as possible to that top-12 range.

So this idea that the 12-team playoff will ruin the regular season–it’s just silly, in my book. The NFL has 14 teams make the playoff. Is the NFL regular season junk? No, of course not. It’s exciting and dramatic and compelling. And that’s how college football will be with a 12-team playoff: more teams in playoff contention means more meaningful games. It’s really that simple.

Now, if I were taking the pessimistic approach here I’d probably say, “More teams alive for what, though? To get buzz-sawed by Alabama in the playoff? Come on. Expanding the playoff won’t result in a different champion. Bama will still win it every year.”

To that I would respond: maybe so. But I’d rather at least see them earn it on the field rather than a committee just tell us “You don’t need to see Bama play Oklahoma State in the playoff; we know Bama would win, so we’re putting Bama in the 4-team playoff and leaving Oklahoma State out.”

Because that’s how the current system works. It’s the committee saying, “We know who the four best teams are. Nobody else outside the top-4 is worth a damn. Screw them, they don’t matter.”

It may be that the committee gets it 100% right every year. But let’s allow the actual games to decide who’s the best, not the committee. If Bama ends up buzz-sawing everyone in the playoff, then fine. They’re the better team. They earned it. But let’s not just assume we know they will.

There will be upsets in this 12-team playoff. Big upsets. They’ll happen because they now have the chance to happen, because those games where upsets can happen will actually be played, unlike now.

Bama loses games to inferior SEC teams almost every year. There was a brief stretch in the mid-2010s where Ole Miss had Bama’s number and beat them a few times in a row.

Bama lost to A&M last year. They should’ve lost to Auburn. Florida could’ve beaten them early in the year. LSU almost got them. Arkansas even came pretty close. Bama was very beatable last year. They had FIVE conference games last season that were decided by one possession or less, including their loss to Texas A&M. There are years where Bama is not so invincible. They were only up 17-6 on Cincinnati going into the 4th quarter of that playoff game.

You really don’t think that once every 5-10 years some underdog will pull off a monumental upset and beat Bama, or Georgia, or Ohio State? That’s nonsense. Upsets will happen.

And when they do happen, chaos will ensue. If someone upsets Bama one year, the whole playoff field becomes wide open.

Okay, so how would the 12-team playoff have worked if it were in place for the 2021 season? Let’s go over it now. The final CFP rankings after conference championship weekend were as follows, with Conference Champions in bold:

  1. Alabama (SEC)
  2. Michigan (Big Ten)
  3. Georgia
  4. Cincinnati (AAC)
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Ohio State
  7. Baylor (Big 12)
  8. Ole Miss
  9. Oklahoma State
  10. Michigan State
  11. Utah (Pac 12)
  12. Pittsburgh (ACC)

So your automatic bids would be Bama, Michigan, Cincy, Baylor, Utah and Pittsburgh. Bama, Michigan, Cincy and Baylor would get first-round byes as the four highest-ranked conference champs.

Your at-large bids would be the following teams: Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Michigan State.

Now, I am going to assume that once the first-round byes are handed out, the remaining 8 seeds are all decided by ranking–meaning whether you won a conference championship or not doesn’t matter. Like, Utah and Pittsburgh wouldn’t be higher seeds than Georgia just because they won their conferences and Georgia didn’t; Georgia would get the higher seed because they were ranked higher. But Georgia would not be able to jump Cincinnati and Baylor, because they qualified for byes.

In other words, Georgia would be the 5-seed in my scenario. I am not sure if this is how it’s going to work or if it’ll be like the NFL playoffs, where a division champ will always get a higher seed than a wild card team even if the wild card team has a better ranking. But I’m assuming it’s not going to work like the NFL, and so Georgia will get the 5-seed as the highest-ranked team that didn’t qualify for a bye. (Update: I was just watching ESPN and they had a mock bracket based on 2021 with a 12-team playoff, and this was how it looked–Georgia got the 5 seed even though they didn’t win their conference):

So we’d have (12) Pitt @ (5) Georgia, (11) Utah @ (6) Notre Dame, (10) Michigan State @ (7) Ohio State, and (9) Oklahoma State @ (8) Ole Miss. Those would be our opening round playoff games.

These would be playoff games taking place on campus. Just think about that for a second. Think of how electrifying and exciting those games will be. Imagine one year if an SEC team has to go up and play a Big Ten team in the upper midwest in December. Yeah, home field advantage is going to matter a whole hell of a lot–as will the byes, obviously. So don’t give me this nonsense about how the regular season will be worthless when the difference between winning and losing could mean the difference between Georgia getting a home playoff game or having to go up to the Big House in mid-December.

The 12-team playoff is going to be great. When we get the 12-team playoff, it means that most power five teams will be playing meaningful football for most of the year. As long as you are alive for your division title, you are alive for the playoff, which means you’re technically in contention for the National Championship. So many more teams now than just the Bamas, Georgias, Ohio States and Clemsons will get that exposure on the big stage, and will have the chance to make names for themselves.

Overall, I just love the fact that with a 12-team playoff, all 130 teams in FBS are technically alive for the National Championship at the beginning of each season. Everyone will be playing meaningful games, not just the Bamas, Ohio States and Georgias of the world.

I don’t understand how anyone could look at that as a bad thing. I really don’t.

There’s naysayers all over social media and the message boards saying stuff like, “9-3 teams don’t deserve to make it! They’ll never win anything!”

Says who? How do you know that for sure?

So many college football fans have been pushed into this mindset where they “just know” what teams can and can’t win it all, because that’s the system we’ve had for so long–the committee tells us which teams can win a championship and which teams can’t, and we just accept it.

Maybe a 9-3 team will never win a Natty. That’s fine! But I’d at least like to see that proven on the field. I’d rather see 100 9-3 teams try to win a National Championship and fail 100 times than simply have the committee tell me no 9-3 team ever deserves a shot at a Natty.

I’m out on this elitist mindset where people think they “just know” which teams can win it all and which teams have no shot. Let it be proven on the field.

Imagine if you never did anything that you didn’t think you could do. Imagine if you never went against all odds–that’s just a stupid and boring way to live life. You never ask out that girl that you think is out of your league, because of course she’ll say no. Well, what if she doesn’t? You never apply for that dream job because you think there’s a really low chance you’ll get it. But what if you do get it?

I just hate this mindset that because it’s unlikely a non-blueblood team wins a Natty, we shouldn’t even give the non-bluebloods a chance at all. To me, that is so stupid, and so boring.

No other sport operates like college football. They all have playoffs. March Madness has 68 teams that make it and we eat that shit up every single year!

College football fans who are against playoff expansion really have been brainwashed or something. It feels like they have Stockholm Syndrome, where they’ve come to love their abuser. I really don’t understand how you can think less inclusivity and less parity are preferable.

The expanded 12-team playoff is going to be a good thing. At the very least, it can’t be worse than what we have right now.

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