John Swofford’s in.
Who else agrees college football needs an eight-team playoff?
Swofford, the Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner, is by far the most influential figure in college sports to suggest eight is a more ideal number than four. He mentioned this at a sports club luncheon in North Carolina earlier this week.
“I don’t think all the controversy’s going to away,” Swofford said, according to The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C. “You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before, but whoever’s fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some conferences that won’t have a team in the playoff.”
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Preach, brother Swofford.
The math has been my problem with the College Football Playoff all along. Four spots, five power conferences. And if one conference lands multiple teams on the bracket, college football will have multiple conferences crying foul.
We’re spending too much time arguing the worthiness of teams and conferences, and that shouldn’t be the conversation.
If a spot was guaranteed for each conference champion, nobody, including the playoff committee, would have to be as concerned about how Mississippi State stacks up against Ohio State. Or how to separate Baylor and TCU. Or why undefeated Florida State can stand first in the polls but fall to third in the playoff ranking.
Five automatic qualifiers and three at-large teams would eliminate much of the guesswork that creates the pointless debates each week since the College Football Playoff committee started announcing their rankings.
Let the conferences figure out a way to determine their champion — keep a championship game or not. Play eight league games or nine or 10. It wouldn’t matter to a playoff committee. Identifying five of the eight spots on the bracket would be the sole responsibility of the power conferences, just as it is in Division I men’s basketball with 32 automatic bids for the 68-team field.
If winning the conference championship was the path to the bracket, there would be less reason to fret about an overall record, thus encouraging better non-conference scheduling.
Naturally, expansion creates issues. A four-team playoff was grounded in high ideals. College presidents didn’t want the season to run into the third week of January, after spring semester classes resumed, thus creating a two-semester sport.
They were concerned about an additional layer of competition and its impact on the health of athletes who would be generating more television inventory, more millions for conferences without additional benefits to them, not to mention another game to risk injury.
Worthy arguments all. There are other complications and there are no easy ways to satisfy everybody.
Some have suggested turning the conference championship weekend into the national quarterfinals. That would work, if the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC decided to surrender their league title games. But then how would the two-division conferences determine their champions?
Again, it’s not easy, and it’s probably unfair to even go here before the first College Football Playoff has completed its first venture. Maybe it will all work out. After the games of Dec. 6, four obvious teams could emerge and the bickering would be about seeding and not exclusion. In the Bowl Championship Series era, there were years when a four-team playoff would have been perfect.
But as somebody who was around when the BCS was launched in the late 1990s, the concerns heading into that new system were fewer than they are at the beginning of the playoff. The snags came later and the credibility was damaged when it appeared the BCS wasn’t getting the right teams in the final and kept adjusting its formula.
The College Football Playoff has signed up for a 12-year hitch, and the suggestion box is already active.