The new all-encompassing 12-team College Football Playoff works at all levels
The college football playoffs will expand to 12 teams, and this model will be adopted no later than the 2026 season.
It’s a good step for college football to move forward with the second chapter of the CFP era. The college football playoff board, along with the university’s presidents and chancellors, voted unanimously to expand the four-team playoff to 12 teams on Friday.
“This is a historic day for college football,” CFP CEO Bill Hancock said on a conference call. “A great day to extend the playoffs to 12 teams.”
According to The Associated Press“The Presidents approved the original 12-team proposal, which called for the six-ranking conference champions and six at-large picks, as determined by a selection committee, to make the playoffs.”
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What does this mean for college football? How is the inclusive model better for college football? What about the realignment? Will the regular season still matter? Let’s count the paths.
time for inclusion
Sporting News broke down the pros and cons of the 12-team model when it was first proposed on June 8, 2021.
The greatest pro is simple. The four-team playoff has become a monopoly. Six schools — Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame — have partnered for 25 of the 32 CFP appearances. That’s 78.1 percent of the berths, and all six schools are in the top 10 this season, with the Sooners being the lowest-ranked team at No. 9.
This is the ninth year of the four-team model, and that sequence has played out often enough. LSU was the only school outside of that group to win a national championship in 2019 with Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
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Now ask yourself this question: Was it easier for Burrow to break that monopoly at LSU or lead the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl XLVI last season? Believe it or not, the answer is probably LSU.
Only six schools have won multiple CFP games in eight years. Six NFL teams win wild card games in the first weekend. It’s a more exciting model with more teams involved, and we’re finally getting college football postseason games on campus.
One of the obstacles to the expansion model was the number of conference champions and the number of automatic qualifiers.
So the top six conference champions mean that the 10 FBS conferences will survive. The pecking order has changed with the realignment moves, and it’s a good bet that the SEC and Big Ten will get a conference champion every season. The ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 would be the next tier, followed by the Group of 5 (AAC, MWC, Sun Belt, Conference-USA, MAC). While the Power 5 fans might have some dismay at a group of 5 schools being included, there should be no complaints about the addition of a 13th or 14th team at this point. A dozen is more than enough.
The automatic qualifiers will, of course, weigh heavily on the Notre Dame, SEC and Big Ten schools. Both of these conferences would have historically dominated a hypothetical 12-team format, and they will continue to do so, be it 2024 or later.
This format might have been approved earlier if the SEC hadn’t added Texas and Oklahoma in 2021. Of course, the Big Ten responded by adding USC and UCLA. These are the only 16-team conferences in the Power 5, but this new playoff model could slow the wheel of rebalancing.
There’s no incentive for Notre Dame to go into the Big Ten. The five-game ACC arrangement is preferable. The Big 12 and Pac-12 can survive in this format, too, and they won’t argue. The Pac-12 has not had a CFP team since 2016. The Big 12 has yet to win a CFP game. You will get more cracks in this format.
The group of 5 is a winner. With six conference championships, they get a Cinderella team every season. Cincinnati paved the way for 2021. The Bearcats may be heading to the Big 12, but it’s the same model that Utah and TCU followed in the BCS era. Another program will be based on this model.
The regular season is still important
Yes, the regular season will still matter, even if there will be a sliding definition of what makes a successful season. Three-loss teams from Power 5 conferences will advance to the 12-team college football playoff, which will seem diluted knowing that no two-loss teams have advanced to the four-team college football playoff.
“Other teams will be in the running to be selected for the playoffs later in the season,” Hancock said. “It will improve the November part of the season as well as September.”
There will be scenarios where Ohio State and Michigan make the college football playoffs. The same applies to Alabama and Auburn, Texas and Oklahoma as well as Notre Dame and USC.
The games will also be important. Did you see Thursday’s Backyard Brawl? Pitt and West Virginia had not played in 11 years. Maybe they can make up for that by playing twice in one season.
Put simply, it’s better
College football is a sport that has relied on exclusivity since the polls era and has seen divided national championships and controversy during the BCS and CFP eras.
The same fans who own that exclusivity—”We’re number 1!”—so dear are the same ones who mocked the format. Why wasn’t there a playoff? Why did BCS have computers? Who are these in the CFP Committee? The more teams you add, the fewer questions there should be. Evolution is better than elitism, but you can still be #1.
Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame will still get those CFP appearances, and at this point, the majority of those first-round byes. That’s the reward for the regular season – a reduced one, but it’s still important.
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In an inclusive 12-team format, there will be no national champion debate. That’s the key trump card for why this can work, even if it takes some time to establish the intended parity.
Don’t worry. The sport that thrives on debate will still have that. Strength of the schedule, strength of the conference and the decisions of the CFP Committee. We can still argue about these things, and they will not be scarce. This is college football.
But the money generated from the new CFP will help the sport grow from the stale postseason it now has. If it’s their first time on campus for a playoff game, the intensity will rival the NFL. remember now
So bring 12 teams to the table in 2026. If it’s earlier – like 2024 – even better.