Precious few aspects of life are certain. There’s the sun rising in the east while setting in the west. Beyond those, however, the only certainty is that the powers-that-be in the College Football Playoff will do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
After years of paying lip service to the sanctity of the “student-athlete” and the need to make sure not to overburden those amateurs with too many games, the College Football Playoff committee is taking up the idea of expanding. And, no, not just going from four teams to eight. Nah. They’re proposing to triple the size of the field to 12 as soon as 2023.
But what about the poor amateur athletes? Hey, there’s money to be made.
The College Football Playoff is a lousy system made to replace an even worse one
Before the College Football Playoff came along, we had the old Bowl Championship Series. Of course, the goal of that system was to pick the two teams the television network sponsors most wanted to see and match them up in a championship game. Whoops. The goal was to choose the two best teams in the country to play in a championship game. That’s right. Hard to keep the propaganda straight sometimes.
The BCS was in place from 1998 through the 2013 season. Over those 16 years, the Southeastern Conference won nine BCS championships (it only felt like it was 27). The Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences won two apiece, while the Big East (rest in pieces), Big Ten, and Pac-12 won once.
The BCS system replaced the mythical national championships awarded via the polls and set up a system wherein the third-ranked team got its feelings hurt. The College Football Playoff improved the issue of hurt feelings by ensuring it’s now only the fifth-best team that has a beef with the system. And who cares about the fifth-best squad, right? But all the while, the season keeps creeping further and further down the calendar.
Putting the ‘athlete’ in ‘student-athlete’ has always been the standard
Now we cue up the cries of “but they get a free education” as justification for the exploitation of predominantly Black, economically disadvantaged teenagers. The college football season used to be 10 regular-season games and a few bowl games for the top teams. Then it became 11 with bowl games for the pretty good teams.
Now? It’s a 12-game season with a conference championship game and bowl games for anyone who can rack up six victories against Unathletic Tech and We Can’t Play Football State. And for those four elite teams in the playoff? There is the promise of one, or hopefully two, games. The College Football Playoff champion and runner-up are on the hook for 15 games.
For all the pearl-clutching over these players not being professionals (and, of course, they aren’t because professionals, you know, actually get paid), that is one fewer game than the National Football League had in its regular season from 1978 until 2020.
Expanding the CFP to 12 teams opens the door for two lucky college football teams to play 16, maybe even 17, games in a season. But don’t forget to study for those exams, kids, at least in between those cross-country flights to your next game.
College Football Playoff expansion gives the illusion of fairness
The College Football Playoff made no bones about the fact there is a caste system in the sport. You have the Power Five conferences. Then there are the conferences comprising the Group of Five. The system gives the Power Five pretty much whatever they want, and the Group of Five takes whatever scraps its receives and likes it. Or, at the very least, stays quiet about it
Under the expansion plan, the talking points are the playoff spots available for Power Five programs that lost a conference title game and more opportunities for the Group of Five.
We know the reality. The CFP will throw one bone to a representative from the Group of Five, fill the bracket in with the five champions from the only conferences that matter, and then award at-large berths to six Power Five programs most likely to bring in big television numbers.
And they won’t reward the good fans back in Collegeville with more home games. Nope. The top four seeds immediately go on the road. The programs seeded fifth through eighth host a first-round game. Because nothing shows your support for college football fans more than stuffing stacks of money into the pockets of guys in hideous blazers at the Who the Heck Is the Sponsor This Year Bowl, right? I mean, there are coaches’ salaries that need to be paid, for heaven’s sake.
The more college athletics in general — and the College Football Playoff in particular — try to sell their fairness and concern about the student-athletes, the more they do the opposite.