Of all the reasons anybody responsible for expanding any playoff system has ever offered, not once has the best given reason ever been, “It’s a gold mine, we don’t have a choice.”
It’s the prosperity gospel of sports, the purveyors of which convince themselves every good idea they’ve ever had is bound to make everybody unimaginably richer and just happens to be the best way to do it, too.
Over time, everybody has expanded their playoffs.
Once, there was only the World Series, 10 NFL playoff teams and best three-of-five first-round NBA playoff series, and this summer we learned, sometime between imminent and soon, the College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams, for its utter recommendation makes it certain.
In June, the CFP board of managers — a group of 11 university presidents — took that recommendation and authorized its continued study despite years remaining on ESPN’s deal to broadcast the CFP in its current form.
If they were going to leave well enough alone, they would have, but they haven’t and because conference media days season are upon us, it’s finally being talked about and, nearly as anybody can tell, everybody likes it.
The six highest-ranked conference champions will make it, virtually assuring a bid to ever Power 5 conference champion. The next six-highest ranked teams will make it, too.
On the first day of Big 12 media days, Wednesday, conference commissioner Bob Bob Bowlsby knocked it out of the park on just about every topic, with perhaps one exception.
“The motivation for expanding the playoff is not the money,” he said. “The motivation for expanding the playoff is the realization that participation could be broader and access could be more readily accomplished and more institutions could stay close to the flame.”
Because when the BCS was originally created, everybody celebrated greater access to “the flame” and when the playoff became four teams everybody said, “look, a bigger flame.”
But that never happened.
The justification to go to four teams was entirely about not leaving a team with a No. 1 case out in the cold. Remember Southern Cal in 2003 and Auburn in 2004? Well, no team with an arguable case for No. 1 (or No. 2) has been left out since. Only the bubble gets yapped each season.
Now we hear 12 teams are better because more programs have a chance to win, more remain in the hunt at mid-season, beyond-mid-season and into the conference-championship round, which will become playoff tussles in everything but name
We’re also being told the bowl system has been preserved, because so many of those playoff games would incorporate existing bowls.
Of course, that only means those participating bowls will be viable, while others will be left to answer the age old question that asks if we watch college football because we love the sport itself or because we love the storylines, the rivalries and, come the bowl season, the chance for a mid-major to take down a top-10 team from a Power 5 conference, because those games still exist in the current system, but not the next one.
In June, when a panel of conference commissioners formalized the introduction of the plan to the group of presidents, incoming Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, not yet on the job, attending meetings with outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, spoke for the record.
“The great news for me coming into this for the first time is that the starting point for everyone’s discussions is what’s best for the student-athletes and what’s best for the game,” ESPN reported, as though those things were mutually inclusive.
Now teams could play up to 17 games, which can’t be good for the athletes, despite additional generated revenue.
Now we’re watching players opt out of lesser bowls to focus on the draft. Make them play three or four more games and they may opt out of the playoff, which can’t be good for the game.
Yes, it will create more meaningful football at the end of each season, but it will also create fewer less meaningful games as left-out bowls wither and die because nobody wants to watch them. That might not bother millions of fans, but it might bother cities that lose their games and programs that lose postseason practice time.
As tempting as it is to salute the coming system for not beating around the bush with eight teams and going straight to 12, isn’t it just a weigh station on the way to 16 for the same reasons Bowlsby insists they’re heading to 12?
Might be better if they’d just tell us they’re going after every dollar, but without overextending athletes, inviting unintended consequence or insulting anybody’s intelligence.
Might make for better outcomes and, good chance, being college football, everybody would still get richer, too.