Another year of March Madness has come and gone, and there was no shortage of madness this time around. Fans love the upsets and Cinderella teams coming out of nowhere to shine on the nation’s biggest stage for a few weeks. It was hard to find someone who wasn’t rooting for St. Peter’s. Chaos fueled excitement as three out of four #1 seeds couldn’t make it to the second weekend of the tournament. The upsets and unpredictability make for constant must-see TV throughout the tournament, even if a traditional blue-blood ends up winning in the end. That is what people love about the NCAA Tournament. That is what many people would like to see emulated in the College Football Playoff. However, it is the very thing that is keeping the powers that be from signing off on a plan for playoff expansion.
Why March Madness Works
The NCAA Tournament is able to work in large part because of how the field of play is set up. With 68 teams in the tournament, the format can satisfy both big and small schools. For starters, every conference champion automatically qualifies, so small schools can dream of having a shot because they actually have a shot. And having a shot doesn’t necessarily mean winning the championship. Instead, it is about having a chance to win a big game, pull off an upset, and make a name for themselves. The tournament is often not about who is the best team but who is the best team that gets on a roll at the right time. Teams can make an improbably run by playing the right game at the right time.
Case in point, 2022. It will always be known, at least in part, as the tournament when St. Peter’s made their miraculous run. The Peacocks will be linked with this year, and it’s not because they won it all. Instead, it’s because they played memorable games. Beating a two-seed and a few blue-bloods along the way towards becoming the first fifteen-seed to make the elite eight. College football has those stories, but not in their playoff.
In short, March Madness works because it leads to more unpredictability. Any team can win a game at any given time. And the element
How CFP Expansion Could Work
Google a college football expansion article, and you can read about every option and discussion involving potential playoff options. But going with the playoff model that was close to being approved, it was 12 teams with six conference champs and six at-large teams. This was seen as a compromise of interests because it guaranteed that a Group of 5 champion would make the playoffs. In fact, the way things were worded, it was the six highest-ranked championships, meaning, in theory, the conference champions did not have to be the Power 5 champs plus a G5 champ. This was received very well by most people, but not all. This is why it ended up falling through when it was time to vote.
Still, the proposed model would accomplish the goal of introducing the possibility of a Cinderella team entering the fold. Again, the point isn’t even for an underdog team to win the tournament. It’s more important that an underdog team could win the tournament. In many ways, being there and pulling off an upset or two proves teams belong. Because it’s often difficult for the best team to win it all, winning a game or two is a huge accomplishment no matter what team it is. Winning in the playoffs is hard.
No one is naive enough to believe this is going to prevent Alabama or Georgia, or other powerhouse teams from making the playoff every year. They already do more often than not. Instead, it’s about a memorable slate of playoff games and not another forgettable championship. This past playoff mattered because Cincinnati was in it. It didn’t matter if they won or not; they were the talk of the playoff before they even took the field. Almost every team would have lost to Bama, but they deserved to be there and deserved to have a chance. So do other teams, and it’s time to allow them that chance on an annual basis.
Why Some People Don’t Want It to Work
There are a few different arguments, but most of them boil down to the same thing: the people in control don’t want to give up any control. Being in control provides a lot of things—prestige, better recruits, and of course, money. Control is good. Control is needed.
The issue for the traditional blue bloods is this: if other schools are getting more attention, control, and money, it means the traditional power schools are getting less attention, control, and money. So the status quo remains the same, and they benefit. If it doesn’t, they will try to change the rules, so it benefits them once again.
The SEC will only sign off on a model where they have a chance to get half of the playoff spots. Currently, they routinely get two out of four, and They were one of the biggest pushes for twelve teams with six at large spots, knowing they can get at least four spots and have a great chance to get six some years. The point being no matter what happens, they will still have control and the best chance to win. Likewise, the B1G has enough power and influence to throw their weight around to get what they want. And they will usually help out their buddy, the PAC-12. Somehow the ACC and Big 12 have enough power to steer things, or at least align themselves with those who do.
For those fans clamoring for a 10, 11, or 12 seed to pull off an upset on the gridiron in a playoff game, you will have to wait at least a few more years, if not more. And it is because the powers that be don’t want it to happen. And it is robbing us of memorable upsets and legendary playoff games.