Washington State is creeping their way into the College Football Playoff discussion thanks to an undefeated record that includes a win over USC, the preseason Pac-12 favorite. With the Cougars looking to continue their winning ways in the second half of the season with challenging Pac-12 North Division games to come against Stanford and Washington, Mike Leach is in a position now where stumping for playoff consideration is basically a requirement when addressing the media. And once Leach gets rolling, it can be difficult to slow him down.
Leach shared his thoughts about the College Football Playoff and went off on a wild stream of consciousness in mapping out how he would organize a 64-team playoff system which he feels would solve any number of issues the current four-team format for FBS football battles. Leach pointed out how the playoff format works in every other level of football and illustrated the shortcomings of the current College Football Playoff structure while wondering why the highest level of college football continues to struggle to organize a similar playoff format.
At one point, Leach confesses the 64-team playoff may be the most ideal for him but understands that a 16-team playoff would be more likely to be organized if and when it comes time to expand the playoff. And make no mistake, expansion of the College Football Playoff is going to happen one day in the future. It continues to baffle me why five power conferences would even agree to a four-team format when it guarantees at least one of those conferences will be left out on an annual basis, and the possibility of two conferences missing the playoff remaining a realistic scenario that should be a concern.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff (and essentially the voice and face of the postseason format) has said time and time again there will be no expansion of the College Football Playoff under the current 12-year contract with ESPN, which expires after the 2025 season.
“The only thing that happens after six years is determining whether the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach will remain in the rotation,” Hancock said in January, echoing the message he has relayed for the past three years every time the question is directed at him. “That has nothing to do with the format. The format is in place for the 12 years.”
Hancock is just doing his job, just as he did while serving as the executive director of the Bowl Championship Series prior to the College Football Playoff. Hancock is a nice guy (truly, he is one of the nicest guys in the game), but he is playing the company line for as long as he has to until the message changes.
“I don’t sense any groundswell from our leadership for a change, but it would require starting all over again with a new contract,” Hancock said in January, another popular response. But with another nine years on the contract to go, it feels unlikely those leaders would stand pat long enough to hold off inevitable expansion. And you just have to feel as though ESPN would be more than happy to oblige adding more playoff games to the programming schedule.
I have mapped out my own College Football Playoff expansion model in the past, and I will re-share it with you now. It may not be quite as elaborate as Leach’s proposal for a 16 or 64-team playoff format, but I feel it helps solve some of the issues facing the current four-team model. My eight-team plan is also designed to enhance the importance of the regular season and the conference championship games where they currently exist.
So as a refresher, here is my plan for an eight-team College Football Playoff:
Automatic qualifiers for power conference champions
Five spots in the College Football Playoff will be reserved for the conference champions determined by the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC. This ensures each power conference is represented by at least one team. No more Big 12 or Pac-12 teams missing out on the playoff. This also places more emphasis on the conference championship games as a guaranteed spot if the playoff is on the line.
One reserved spot for the highest-ranked Group of Five champion
Right now, there is one spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup set aside for the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion as determined by the selection committee. The selection committee will remain in play (I’ll get to that in a moment), and they will continue to determine the most deserving conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference, and Sun Belt Conference. That gives us six total reserved spots in the field. Which means…
Two at-large spots determined by selection committee
So you had a great season but you lost in the conference championship game? That puts you in the wild card running for one of the two at-large berths available. A selection committee will review all teams without a conference championship for consideration. This could also be opening the door for an undefeated or one-loss Group of Five conference champion that gets passed over in the previous section.
This actually enhances the importance of a conference championship because without it you are then hanging in the balance in hopes the selection committee will deem you worthy enough of one of the two at-large spots. Or, if you are a school like Notre Dame or BYU, this is your chance to enter the playoff if your regular season record is worthy of consideration.
Top Four Seeds Host First Round
Once the teams are selected, the selection committee will seed the eight teams one through eight. The top four seeds will receive a home game in the first round the week or two weeks after conference championship week. After the first round of games, the current College Football Playoff model works out just fine. Plus, you can have certain bowls reserved for bowl games by teams eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
The bottom line here is this. Leach is spot on in suggesting the current four-team model to determine a college football national champion is ridiculous. There are legitimate concerns about expansion to be taken into consideration like player safety, but College Football Playoff expansion feels like a near certainty at some point in the future, whether it is at the end of the 12-year contract in 2025 or before that once the powers that be start thinking to themselves that a four-team model is holding them back.