Waves were made two weeks ago when news broke that the college football playoff was going to expand. Although expansion was the foregone conclusion, it wasn’t clear how it would look. The last update was that the CFP committee considered 63 different models, which we humorously covered back in April. As far as a serious commentary on what expansion could and arguably should look like, we tackled that one back in December. With actual plans in place, this post will evaluate the decisions made so far and address the remaining questions that will need to be answered between now and September, when the vote is scheduled to occur.
12 Teams Make the Playoff
Conventional wisdom, and most voices on the internet, were clamoring for eight teams, five conference champions from the SEC, B1G, ACC, Big 12, and PAC 12, the highest-ranked champion from the five other conferences, and two at-large teams.
This seemed like the undisputable plan, but it sounds like the SEC would have none of that. Instead, the “superior” conference wanted to stack the deck as much as possible, getting as many teams as possible to make as much money as possible and have as many chances to win the championship as possible.
12 was a surprise, but there are no apparent flaws with the number of teams.
Top 6 conference champs and 6 at-large teams.
Half of the playoff teams receive automatic bids for being conference champions. There are ten FBS conferences, with five designated as the “Power” or “Autonomous” Five and the others known as the “Group of Five.” However, there are six auto-bids, meaning even if all five P5 teams get a spot, a team from the G5 automatically makes the playoffs.
In the most monumental aspect of the announcement, the rule states that the six highest-ranked conference champs receive the bids. This means that in theory, if two G5 conference champs are ranked higher than a conference champ from a P5 conference (the PAC-12, for example), then both G5 teams would get in.
Have a guaranteed spot for the Group of 5 is a huge win. Having the possibility for more than one Group of 5, however unlikely, is nothing short of a miracle for mid-majors—major props to whatever committee member fought for that phrase.
First-Round Games are at home.
This announcement was a positive surprise. It is unfortunate that bowl and playoff games are not in front of one team’s home fans. However, for at least four teams, they will play an extra home game, which seems well-deserved.
Two weeks after the conference championships.
The timing and pacing of the playoffs may end up an issue, but not in this first round. Giving a week off after championship week makes sense. If the committee is really smart, they should stack more of the non-playoff bowl games on this weekend to balance things out.
The top four teams receive a bye.
The bracket has to even out somehow, and the byes weren’t going to teams 9-12. Although it’s not just the top four teams, they also have to be conference champions themselves. It’s a nice move to place an emphasis on winning the conference. For a team like Notre Dame or BYU, they get hampered without being part of a conference.
Quarterfinals occur on New Year’s Day. The final three games are unknown.
Personally, the semifinal games would make more sense in this spot, like the current format. However, there is a way to have the playoffs without extending the season. Instead, it seems like the committee is opting to give teams more time off in between playoff games. While it isn’t the worst thing, it seems unnecessary.
The Playoff seeding follows the rankings.
No adjustments needed, even if it means rematches.
And no re-seeding.
These three are all grouped together because they can all be summarized in the same way. They are common sense rulings that are no official. Rankings happen for a reason, so playoff seeding should be off of the rankings. No one gets special treatment to avoid a rematch or any other reason. And a ranking is a ranking; there is no reason to re-seed each round.
Which Bowls will be absorbed into the playoff games.
There will be 11 games in the playoffs, so ten bowls need to be named, as the championship game is not affiliated with a traditional bowl.
It would make sense that the NY6 Bowls would continue, so factoring in the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach make 6.
Now the playoff committee has two options. They can either make the first four games (the ones played at home) part of the bowl structure or not. Since they will be home games, it doesn’t make sense to have them be bowl games. On the other hand, because they are part of the college playoff, it would be weird if they weren’t bowl games.
Let’s go with the Outback, Vegas, Citrus, and Gator Bowl if they do make those first four games bowls.
Traditional bowl matchups will occur when possible.
How will this work, and how often will it happen? The possibility of a B1G and PAC12 matchup more often than not to keep the Rose Ball as traditional as possible seems like a pipe dream. Now, one traditional conference team seems like a strong possibility. The committee, likely already planning for this, has said priority will be given to the higher seeded team. For example, if the Big Ten champ is ranked 4th and the PAC-12 champ is rated 9th, the Big Ten champ could likely play their game in the Rose Bowl, preserving half of the traditional matchup.
It’s fine as long as it isn’t forced, and it may be exciting for an ACC or Group of 5 team to get into a bowl such as the Sugar or Rose for the first time.
Which bowls will be quarter and semifinal games.
Is there a rotation, or is a game designated to a specific round permanently? Based on the above criteria, it would seem that bowl games would not be fixated and instead float year to year or even be decided after matchups are determined. Meaning the Sugar Bowl could be a quarterfinal or semifinal game depending on if one or both an SEC and Big 12 team have the potential to be matched up against one another. It sounds unnecessarily complicated, but bowls and teams do like their traditional matchups.
The easiest thing would be to have games be fixed year to year. The Outback, Vegas, Citrus, and Gator Bowl are always the first round. The Peach, Fiesta, Cotton, and Orange are always the quarterfinals, while the Rose and Sugar are always the semifinals (and they keep their New Year’s day slots.
While it may not matter in the long run, it certainly will to these bowl games who want to protect their tradition and prestige.
As can be seen above, there are still some minimal to moderate questions to figure out, but the heavy lifting has been done. Expect these questions and more to be answered by the time the season rolls around this fall.