I cringe every football season when I start hearing discussions in November and December that the NCAA (the University Presidents) through the College Football Playoff committee should expand the current four-team playoff. Granted, my beloved Gamecocks have not yet been one of the teams either in the playoff or on what must be the torturous bubble. I may feel differently about this issue when that time comes. But, I am not an advocate of expansion.
As we all know, the debate the committee has about the third and fourth teams selected is most often a legitimate one and reasonable people can differ on those included. We also all know that the same debate would take place about the last few teams in if the committee expanded to eight teams. In facts, the debate about teams seven and eight in an eight-team playoff may be more contentious because more teams would fall into the multiple losses category.
Having a committee choose the best four teams in the country generates a significant amount of discussion about college football in the crowded fall lineup of sports options and the ever-churning news cycle. In the era of dwindling attendance in every sport, the current playoff system helps keeps college football on the minds of football fans and those with a collateral interest in the sport.
Further, and most importantly to me, the current four-team system makes every weekend during the season count, really count. In my opinion, the National Football League and Major League Baseball do not attract the important causal fan during the regular season because the expansion of the playoffs and the media’s obsession with playoff matches deemphasizes the regular season and hurts their product.
Including just four teams in the CFP creates storylines every week in college football and which teams are in is rarely decided for any team until the last weekend. An expansion would diminish the regular season in college football. Can you imagine how different an Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama would feel if going into that game both teams knew they would be getting into the playoff no matter which team won? Currently, even a midseason game between an undefeated Power 5 program who is tied with a mid-major school in the third quarter draws significant interest because that undefeated team cannot little afford that kind of performance on their resume.
There are other reasons not to expand. The wear and tear on college players playing in even one more game seem unfair considering the current state of benefits received by student-athletes. Also, an expanded playoff would further minimize the remaining bowl games and increase what appears to be the trend of players not participating in those games in order to start preparing for a potential professional career. The strength of college football lies in the fact that every weekend is crucial. Let’s not fall prey to the belief that expansion will solve the debate of which teams are worthy when we know it will hurt the sport as a whole.
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