Now that we have seen that a legitimate playoff system for the FBS football teams is not only possible and plausible, we have seen that it is practical and generates huge fan support – not to mention the billions of dollars it yields in revenues. While a four-team playoff, which we experienced this year, certainly is a good point of departure, it is time to consider expanding the field of playoff participants to eight.
There have been many arguments against even a four-team playoff in the past, purportedly coming from the college presidents. We were graced with the litany of caveats such as, “the season would be too long, ” “they would not be able to get their studies because of the lengthy season,” or “it is just not financially feasible or justifiable.”
Aside from the fact that the lynchpin of these arguments is blatant obfuscation for the incestuous relationship between the “big time” institutions and the post-season bowls, I have a few – just a “few” – questions regarding such an egregiously transparent rationale.
Point One: If the football season would be “too long” with an expanded football season, why do men’s and women’s basketball teams get a pass on this point?
On a regular season both basketball squads – which, by the way begins in October and ends in April – play an average of 28-30 games. With their “March Madness” Championship Tournament, that presses the total to a possible 40 games, which is what the 2013-2014 University of Connecticut men’s team ended up with in winning the Championship. Their record was 32-8.
Point Two: Why do the baseball and softball teams seem to be exempt from the “lengthy season” argument?
The NCAA allows up to 56 regular season games for baseball, which also runs from January through June, if a team qualifies for the “College World Series” (CWS). If they do qualify for the CWS, they can end up playing a total of 70 games.
Let me hit the “pause” button here for some simple analytic comparisons. Ohio State won the first CFP Championship with a record of 14-1. UConn men’s basketball team won the NCAA Basketball Championship with a record of 32-8, and UConn’s women’s basketball team won the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship with a record of 40-0. Vanderbilt won the CWS with a record of 50-21, and Florida won the Women’s CWS with a record of 55-12.
Alright, then. Football 15 games, men’s basketball 40 games, women’s basketball 40 games, men’s baseball 71 games, and women’s softball 67 games. I guess we can debunk the “too many games” or “too long a season” argument, unless we wish to impose a double standard and we all know that the NCAA would never do anything of that ilk!
Let’s go back to football. The NCAA has two divisions of the D-I category, as everyone knows: the Football Bowl Series (FBS), and the Football Championship Series (FCS). The FCS is the old vestiges of the former NCAA Division I-AA. Here’s the kicker – the FCS HAS a playoff! Don’t THAT beat all!
Here’s a capsule of just how the FCS runs its 24-team playoff:
24 Teams Qualify
5 Rounds of Games
8 Round 1 Play-in Games
10 Conference Champions Qualify
14 At-Large Teams Qualify by Committee
12 Conferences in FCS
126 Total Teams in FCS
It seems to work just fine, too! The total games an FCS team plays if it qualifies for the playoff and makes it to the Championship Game is 16, which means it plays a maximum of 11 regular season games.
I have heard from some opponents to an expanded CFP that the “health” and “safety” of the players is of concern since they would be playing a much longer season with an eight-team structure playoff. To that I have a three-point response.
Response Point One: FBS teams play a maximum of 11 regular season games and may play an additional game if they play for their conference championship.
For decades, college football regular season games were capped at ten for a variety of reasons. Then it was extended to eleven games, and in 2006 someone got real greedy and added a twelfth game. Granted, revenues took a big jump with that extra game, but then came the Conference Championship Game.
If the power-brokers in college football want to put their money where their mouths are, cut back the regular season to 11 games plus a conference championship if a team qualifies. Fewer games will yield fewer injuries by definition.
Response Point Two: Once the 11-game schedule is in place, there must be at least two “open” weeks during the regular season.
If we are truly interested in player safety and health then reducing the number of games and insuring two open weeks will allow injury rehabilitation or recuperation a greater possibility of succeeding.
As a corollary to this, some serious thought must be given to those Thursday night games during the season when teams have two days less to heal and/or prepare. There needs to be a stipulation that if team “A” has a Thursday night game, it will NOT have a game on the preceding.
Response Point Three: Allow institutions to increase their football scholarship totals to 100, since each year they are permitted to offer 25.
Presently, the NCAA limits FBS institutions to a maximum of 85 scholarship football players. The math is rather confounding to me. They are allowed to sign 25 each year. Simple math indicates that in a four year period, then, the period in which a student-athlete might be expected to complete degree requirements, yields a total of 100. I still cannot understand why the NCAA decided on 85 as a maximum. At the same time, they must have thought that over a four-year span there would be an anticipated 15% attrition rate – even this would seem to contradict ever reaching a 100% graduation rate. Perhaps it was the “have-nots” who did not want to try to field a team of 100 players who actually insisted on this egalitarian principle in order to reach “parity” or, to use that nebulous and purely subjective term, “fairness” in collegiate football competition.
Whatever the case, by increasing the number of regular season games, adding Thursday night games, and leaving the scholarship limits at 85 they have ostensibly put those 85 players at real risk for further injury.
They might complain about the cost of these additional 15 scholarships, but, “c’mon, man,” if an assistant coach can be paid $1.5 million a year or build a new indoor practice facility, wouldn’t sheer common sense demand that dollars spent to reduce injury and risk to athletes border on being mandatory?
From where I stand, player safety should not be compromised when the return on investment can be increased exponentially with these steps to expand the CFP series to eight teams.
Just on a whim, let’s suppose that this past year we had an eight-team playoff. Here’s how the CFP Committee voted its Final Poll this year:
3 Florida State
4 Ohio State
7 Mississippi State
8 Michigan State
Furthermore, the two semi-final games could still be bowl games, but the first four games would be played on the campus of the higher seeded team. There would have been some exciting games with Michigan State going to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama, Mississippi State going to Eugene to face Oregon, TCU travelling to Tallahassee to take on FSU, and Baylor going to Columbus to play Ohio State.
After the first round games, the selected bowls would host the semi-final games to keep that cabal happy. Ironically, in the FCS playoffs, the games are all played on the campuses of the higher ranked team with the Championship Game being played Frisco City, Texas. In this instance, the FCS may very well have a better model.
Some things take a long time. Some things take almost forever. Some things just never get done. Perhaps this past year, we saw some things get done, and even if it were just “baby steps,” it is moving in the right direction. A true champion can only be determined on the field and expanding that field will give immeasurable credibility to the Power Five Conference football brand.
IF the CFP power brokers really ARE interested in player safety and health, along with giving more viability and credibility to their brand, perhaps they might take a closer look at this modest proposal.
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy and the Executive Director of the College Football Game of the Year Committee.