On Monday, for the first time in its 150-year history, college football crowned a legitimate and undisputable champion. By nearly every account, the freshly instituted college football playoff was a smashing success and there cannot, nor should there be, any dispute that Ohio State is a deserving champion.
For years, fans, coaches, players and pundits alike clamored for a playoff to replace the controversial Bowl Championship System, and now that the wish has finally been granted, it is time to expand; having four teams in the playoff was a start, but eight is a necessary improvement.
There are only two teams — Texas Christian University and Baylor — that can be bitter about the playoff selection. Both Big 12 teams finished with identical records, but the Big 12 presented the two teams as co-champions for the playoff selection committee to consider. After neither cracked the top four in the committee’s final poll to determine the playoff participants, the conference applied Baylor’s head-to-head victory over TCU to officially make Baylor conference champion. Meanwhile, the four champions of the nation’s other Power 5 conferences, the ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Pac-12, qualified for the playoff.
The situation that unfolded out of the Big 12 has two easy solutions. First, conferences should simply be forced to declare a champion. There is good reason to believe that if Big 12 officials had designated Baylor or TCU as the conference champion, that champion would have been in the playoff because Ohio State, the fourth seed, leapfrogged No. 5 TCU in the committee’s final poll. Before the season began, the playoff committee made it explicitly clear that it valued conference championships, meaning that the Big 12 has no one but itself to blame for what unfolded.
The second solution is even simpler: expansion, which would be easy to implement and would produce several benefits. First, adding four more teams to the playoff picture would allow for each Power 5 conference champion to have a guaranteed spot in the playoff. Next, the remaining three slots essentially become wild-card slots that could be claimed by anyone. College football could even go a step further and reserve one spot for the highest ranking non-Power 5 team to provide more access to high-achieving programs like Boise State or Notre Dame. Such a guarantee would ease some of the current recruiting disadvantages many non-Power 5 schools face because they cannot realistically talk about competing for a national championship due to their present exclusion.
Fans and athletes would also benefit from an expansion to eight teams. For the players it’s simple — more teams in the playoff means having a greater chance to compete for a national championship. This year proved how important every single week of the season truly is, and doubling the size of the playoff will do nothing to diminish the games’ importance. For the fans, not only do the odds of their favorite teams making the playoff increase when eight additional schools are eligible for the playoff, but the playoff committee’s emphasis on the strength of each team’s schedule will continue to incentivize schools to beef up their out-of-conference schedule with high-quality opponents. If top teams play each other during non-conference play in the regular season, the playoff committee will be more readily able to make direct comparisons among every team’s record, which would make determining the playoff teams much easier.
Players could also benefit from the increased revenue that additional games would generate. While paying college athletes is a completely separate issue, the NCAA has slowly approved changes that allow schools and conferences to provide more for athletes, including benefits like guaranteed scholarships due to the costs of injury and unlimited meals.
Forbes estimates that an eight-team playoff would generate between $250 and 300 million more than the current four-team model. More revenue for the event means more money going to conferences and schools. Instead of hiking tuition, forcing students to buy athletic tickets or cutting classes and departments, this additional revenue could ease the financial burdens of many schools and stop the pain from trickling down to the students they are ultimately supposed to serve.
Monday marked the beginning of a bright new era for college football, but expanding the playoff to eight teams could ensure a golden age for decades to come.