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Peak Perspective: What does Playoff Expansion mean for the Mountain West?

Everyone is a winner with the new model, and the Group of 5 conferences are finally on the same playing field.

NCAA Football: 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When the 12-team college football playoff model gained traction last year, we covered the knowns and unknowns in a previous column. Most of the things covered there are still known and still unknown, and they are outlined here in the 11 points (one for each of the 11 games in the new playoff format?) released in the announcement. Today’s post will examine each of the points, highlight what still needs to be planned, and discuss what this means for the Mountain West.

1) The 12 teams will be the six conference champions ranked the highest by the selection committee (no minimum ranking requirement), plus the six highest-ranked teams not included among the six highest-ranked conference champions.

This is the big one, and it’s remarkable the wording stayed the way it did. Honestly, it’s the best of both worlds for conferences. Since it is the six highest-ranked conference champs, the five mid-major conferences (let’s end the term Group of 5) are guaranteed a playoff bid, something that has never happened before in college football history. And while most years figure to be the five power conferences and one mid-major school, it doesn’t need to be. If a conference has the PAC has a terrible season, two mid-major conferences could send teams to the playoffs. That is a huge win.

On the other side of things, the six at-large bids ensure that conferences like the SEC and Big Ten can pack the playoffs with multiple teams. It’s an excellent compromise for every conference.

2) The ranking of the teams will continue to be done by a selection committee whose size, composition, and method of selection will remain substantially unchanged. The Management Committee will modify the selection protocol as required by the change to the playoff structure.

This comes with no surprise. Undoubtedly, the committee has its fair share of flaws, but it’s gotten the teams right more often than not. They will be scrutinized more now with additional teams. However, they have at least earned an opportunity to continue.

3) The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded one through four, and each will receive a first-round bye.

It’s clear the new model puts a significant emphasis on winning your conference. This has long been a requirement for Group of 5 teams (the NY6 access is reserved for the highest ranked G5 conference champ) but has not always been the case for the rest of the nation. Again, every team now has the same expectation and goal, win your conference to secure an automatic bid. The emphasis on winning one’s conference also makes games after losses continue to matter and puts focus on the regular season. Playing for a first-round bye is important, and getting an extra home game has benefits both on and off the field.

4) The other eight teams will play in the first round, with the higher seeds hosting the lower seeds either on campus or at other sites designated by the higher-seeded institution (No. 12 at No. 5, No. 11 at No. 6, No 10 at No. 7, and No. 9 at No. 8).

This aspect has been well-received by the general public. Extra home games (or neutral site games if the home team chooses) reward teams for making the playoffs by letting their fans come to one last home game to celebrate their team. Also, the team gets another game’s worth of revenue, boosting their bottom line as well. The seeding matchups make sense, of course; nothing special there.

5) The model allows for first-round games to be played on either the second or third weekend in December in a way that best accommodates the format and the participating teams, with at least 12 days between the conference championship game and the first-round games. The Management Committee would make the final determination of the calendar.

While it would make more sense to have first-round games the week after championship weekend, two weeks isn’t the worth thing in the world. It is smart to allow enough time to allow players to rest/recover and coaches to prepare, as the goal is to have the best games possible. However, it would not be a surprise to see the timeline continue to be tweaked as the years go on.

6) Subject to reaching agreement with bowls, the four quarterfinal games and two Playoff Semifinal games would be played in bowls on a rotating basis.

While the bowls don’t necessarily need to rotate, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Personally, I kind of like the idea of the Peach, Cotton, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls always being a quarterfinal game, with the Rose and Sugar always being semifinal games. But I would imagine the people running those bowls would not want that. A rotation is the fairest, even if it’s unnecessary.

7) The national championship game will continue to be played at a neutral site.

No surprises here. No complaints here. Let the bids begin.

8) Subject to reaching agreement with bowls, the four highest-ranked conference champions will be assigned to quarterfinals bowls on selection day in ranking order, and in consideration of current contract bowl relationships if those bowls are selected for the rotation. For example, if the Pac-12 champion were ranked #1, the Big Ten champion were ranked #3, and the Rose Bowl were a quarterfinal site, the Pac-12 champion would be assigned to the Rose Bowl, and the Big Ten champion would be assigned elsewhere.

This is likely a compromise made with the bowls to preserve traditional conference ties when possible. Waiting to see what teams should play in what bowls is fine. Again, my personal preference would be to assign bowls to specific games (the Rose Bowl gets the #1 seed, the Sugar #2, and so on), but I understand that others want to keep traditions going. It’s not a big sticking point by any means.

9) With the four highest-ranked champions assigned to quarterfinal games in bowls, the opponent from first-round game winners will be assigned by the selection committee based on the bracket.

This is a no-brainer. The #1 seed would play the lowest remaining seed. Maybe that is #8 or #9, but it could also be #11 or #12. That simply makes sense. Also, it balances out the playing field, keeping the top four teams from being able to scout specific teams or games. No team will know who they are playing until all the games have been decided, and everyone can start preparing for the next game on the same day.

10) The higher seeds would receive preferential placement in the Playoff Semifinal games

A no-brainer. The better teams should get the better choice in what game they play in. Not only does it reward better teams, but it also is likely a nod to teams playing in their traditional bowls.

11) First-round games will not have title or presenting sponsors, and existing venue signage will remain in place. The CFP will control the video boards.

This is noteworthy as it is basically specifying that the first-round games are not bowl games. And the majority of the game-day atmosphere will reflect that, with the exception being the video boards. However, it does seem a bit odd that the initial round of the college football playoff will not be considered bowl games. First off, the college football post-season has been synonymous with bowl games for almost all of its existence. Also, to have half of the playoffs be considered bowl games while the other half are not doesn’t quite make sense. It doesn’t really matter, but it will be interesting to see if this isn’t changed at some point.

Remaining Logistics

The timeframe of each round

As mentioned above, creating a timeline of when each round of games needs to take place. The concerns would be that the season goes too long for the players playing the most games, as teams will play 13-16 games in a season. The other concern would be the recruiting calendar. If games extend too far into January, that will prohibit playoff teams from being able to focus on attending to their recruiting classes. Although maybe continuing to win is a good recruiting tool.

The Rose Bowl

This has long been a significant hurdle to any playoff expansion. The Rose Bowl refuses to move off of its standard date and time, and it is one of the best moments in sports. However, to remain relevant, there needs to be some compromise. If nothing else, expect the entire playoff calendar to be based on when New Year’s Day, and thus the Rose ball, falls each year.

Other Bowls

With extra games in the playoff, what comes of other bowls? Should all bowls continue, meaning eight additional teams will now get to compete in bowls every season? Or should some be discontinued in light of the expanded playoff? Regardless of how many bowls are played, they should be scheduled around the CFP as a way to lead into the day. For instance, having four games on a Saturday, with a bowl in the morning and early afternoon, a playoff game during primetime, and a west coast bowl at night would be a great schedule.

Revenue Distribution

Money is the big motivator in expanding the playoff, and how to divvy up the money will now be the big question. Especially if the estimate of $2.2 billion is accurate. Would they follow the March Madness model? Something else? This is undoubtedly the main task at hand before the new model can go into effect.

What this all means for the Mountain West?

Only good things.

Just as every team in the Mountain West enters the year with a chance to play in the conference championship game, they now all have equal access to the college football playoff to start the season. It’s not about how much of a chance they all have of making it; it’s about them having a chance at all.

This access should provide a boost to recruiting for mid-major teams. A mid-major can sway recruits with more playoff bids than at least half of the school from Power 5 conferences. In this case, it will be better to be a big fish in a small pond.

For the MWC specifically, that chance increases once AAC teams enter the Big 12. With the new playoff model, the strong programs that are remaining in the mid-major conferences arguably have a better chance of making the playoff than the teams who are leaving for P5 conferences.

The teams who stand to benefit from this model the most would be Memphis and SMU from the American and maybe Coastal Carolina from the Sun Belt. From the Mountain West, expect Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, and San Diego State to all reach the playoff at some point in this model.

Fans of the Mountain West should celebrate at this announcement and celebrate on the day the first MWC team is selected for the playoff.