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Resist the Urge to Expand the CFB Playoff to 12 Teams

It’s tempting, oh so tempting. Those straight-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies are staring at you on the counter, and one just isn’t enough. The chocolate is gooey, your fingers deliciously sticky. The inside is warm, creating a tingle in your mouth. It feels like you can eat the whole tray. So you go for a second. Then a third. And before you know it you’ve eaten a half dozen, and you’re in chocolate chip heaven watching Toll House angels fly around you with trumpets. If the Heavenly Father of Desserts offered you an option in the afterlife to eat only these delectable morsels every meal for eternity? You’d take it. 

But it’s the wrong play. Because once you wake up every day and realize you’re not allowed to eat anything but cookies, it’s not all that appealing anymore. If you eat 50 chocolate chip cookies in a day, that first isn’t special anymore. If you eat 50 chocolate chip cookies every day, you might even look at it as labor. Too much of a good thing is just, ya know, too much. This is the quandary of expanding the college football playoff to 12 teams. For many of us who are fans of the sport and delight in the Final Four every January, more teams and more games feels like a huge victory. It’s not, however, because more is not always better. It’s just more. 

Not long ago the concept of a 12-team playoff was as likely as angels dropping chocolate chip cookies from the sky. The bowl system cartel had too much control, and the powers that be liked the sport the way it was. Traditional, inflexible and getting them all (relatively) rich. The constant drumbeat from fans and media forced them to concede a BCS National Championship Game. But for years in the ’80s and ’90s, even that seemed like an impossible dream. To have fast-forwarded so dramatically and actually have a four-team playoff is somewhat miraculous. If a time traveler had appeared at the 1991 Citrus Bowl and told Georgia Tech they wouldn’t have to share the title with Washington, because they’ll actually play the Huskies in an additional game, heads would explode. That evolution has been amazing for college football. 

The jump to a 12-team field though, is unnecessary. The CFB Playoff is great because we know the national champion is one of the best teams in the nation. The selectivity of just four schools guarantees it’s an elite program having an elite year. The 7-year history of the four-team field has given us all-time teams. Joe Burrow’s LSU machine. Deshaun Watson’s gloriously dramatic defeat of Alabama. Last year’s Crimson Tide sheer dominance. Yes, the same handful of schools are the only ones that win those glass trophies: Bama, Clemson, Ohio State, LSU. But that’s because the party-crashers pass out from their keg stands by 8p. 

Critics will point to the monopoly on titles by a few select schools as reason there needs to be change. Where is the opportunity for an undefeated Cincinnati last year? Or UCF four years ago? That’s understandable for the fans of those schools and others in smaller conferences. But it’s not like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU play each other in a round-robin every January. In ’16, #3 Michigan State got pounded by Alabama 38-0. The next year 12-1 Washington lost 24-7 to the Tide. Two years ago Notre Dame lost to Clemson 30-3, and the Irish got smacked again by the Tide last year 31-14. These are power schools from power conferences having sensational seasons that can’t pull off one upset, let alone two. They can’t even keep it a close game. 

So what’s the need for 12 teams? Let’s say the top four schools get byes, and then 5-12 play a first-round of games. Who thinks #12 Coastal Carolina or #10 Iowa State is going to win three games to take home a national championship? Access is the key here. The Group of 5 shouldn’t feel like they’re shut out before the season begins unless there’s a cataclysmic event and the entire SEC is swallowed by a sinkhole at Media Days. The CFB Committee should give more credit to non-traditional powers having wonderful seasons and comfortably place them in the top 5-6, allowing for the possibility of getting in.

An expansion to 6 teams, with the top two having byes, with more respect given to non-traditional powers would be a logical solution. But right now it’s hard to blame the committee if they’re simply looking for the best team in the nation. Washington, Michigan State and Notre Dame have been destroyed in the CFB Playoff and they’re recruiting waves of 5-star kids with future NFL players dotting the roster. 

The sport will expand the playoff, perhaps to a dozen teams, soon enough. The TV execs want the inventory desperately. The power brokers want the money that comes with it. And who’s going to say no to hundreds of millions of dollars? But who would say no to a lifetime of warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies either? It doesn’t make it the right decision. 

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