Stadium’s Brett McMurphy put out a couple of articles this week talking about how College Football Playoff expansion is gaining real traction, so I thought I would revisit my recent series on what might have happened over the past six years if the College Football Playoff was already a 24-team venture like what FCS currently plays.
I think McMurphy is tossing a bit of hyperbole to call the apparent momentum towards playoff expansion a shocking revelation – this has been readily apparent ever since the playoff did the minimal possible expansion and improved little about the disparities in national championship hopes that existed with the BCS.
Generally speaking, fans of Power Five conferences think the current system is just fine. This makes sense because the only Power Five teams who have no real shot at the playoff are teams like Kansas and Vanderbilt who frequently aren’t good enough to make the playoff no matter how big it is.
For the fans of the 50% of teams who fall into the Group of Five, and whose season starts with a 0.0% chance at a national title unless they’ve gone two straight years without a loss, the perspective is different. A change is needed.
You cannot sustain the current level of access and not cause a mutiny at some point. You would also be a complete buffoon to look in the face of obvious piles of revenue that could be generated by playoff games and go “nah, we’re cool.”
These amounts are upwards of $400 million dollars just for the most conservative estimates of the most conservative expansion.
The only thing left to determine would be exactly how much expansion would be too much, so we decided to run some basic simulations of a full 24-team FCS-style playoff for every single season of the CFP to date.
This would give us an idea of the competitive opportunities created by the most aggressive expansion, and then we could discuss walking backward from there if need be.
Once more with feeling, here were the criteria for our 24-team playoff:
- If you win your conference, you are in
- If you’re a Power Five team, winning your conference also means a first-round bye
- Highest-ranked G5 team gets a first-round home game
- Without a conference title, you don’t get into the top 25 without at least nine wins
In the end, this was the conclusion I reached:
We want to increase both revenue and access across college football. The big name programs won’t lose any revenue, and might even gain from having multiple postseason home games like the pros do.
The smaller schools might just be increasing their odds of adding an ugly money game to their schedule, but there would at least be more money to share in and the slimmest chance of a victory that could do far more good than harm for the future of their program.
I think that there is really no such thing as “watering down” the regular season or the postseason via a playoff expansion, but I’d want to do far more simulations before deciding if the point of diminishing returns sits at 16 teams or if 24 teams is truly the sweet spot going forward, especially since the FCS level already provides a blueprint for how to make the 24-team model work.
Overall, Group of Five teams went 8-34 across all six playoffs, and a record of 6-32 if you remove G5 vs G5 games.
That’s a poor record that would do little other than change who the lower Power Five teams had to beat before they got a P5 road game the next round, but 2015 Western Kentucky and 2017 UCF both came *thisclose* to pulling an upset that would have gotten them another P5 road game worth of street cred and revenue to add to their ledger.
I continue to believe that expansion is already an inevitability. If you want a six-team playoff, you can get out of my face; there is no way that making the smallest expansion possible again would solve anything.
If you want an eight-team playoff I’ll talk but we’re still unlikely to gain G5 access unless an auto-bid is included. A 24 team playoff could be challenging despite the FCS giving us a years-long blueprint for how to do it, so I could easily be talked down to 16 teams.
If you’re not cool with that, you’ve got some explaining to do.