Jim Harbaugh appeared on a morning sports talk radio and had some interesting opinions on things. I’m not talking about who’s going to be the starting quarterback at Michigan because no one cares, that season is over. What I’m referring to is Harbaugh’s opinion on the College Football Playoff.
The Michigan head coach thinks that the playoff field should be expanded from the current four teams. That’s not a surprise, a lot of people want that. What is a surprise is how many teams Harbaugh thinks should be allowed in. Harbaugh doesn’t want six or even eight. He wants 16 or at the very least, 12.
I’ve got two arguments against why he’s not talking any sense. One of them is why it’s a bad idea and the other is why it’s never going to happen. Neither of them has to do with Harbaugh only wanting it because it looks like that might actually be his best shot to win a title while at Michigan.
There’s a lot of arguments against why a larger playoff field is a bad idea but most of them aren’t taking into account a 16 team field. They’re more based on the argument for the six or eight-team expansions. Those expansions would be fine in my opinion but the double-digit field takes away the one thing that separates college football from every other sport: the regular season.
The regular season in college football is unlike any other sport, both professionally and collegiate. A team’s season lives and dies with every single game every single week. You lose in Week 7? Well, you’re probably screwed. Lose in Week 3? You might be able to recover yet. Compare that to college or pro basketball for a second. Their regular seasons are pointless, especially college basketball when 68 teams get to go to the postseason. You see teams without winning records go to the postseason a fair amount in all sports.
Except for college football.
The regular season means everything and if the field expands to 16 teams, the sport loses that sense of urgency to win every game. Take last season for instance. The Michigan-Ohio State game that went to double overtime in 2016 wouldn’t have mattered because both of them and Penn State would already be going to the playoff. Would players have played as hard if there was nothing on the line? Probably not.
So that’s why playoff expansion is a bad idea but let me tell you why it’s not going to happen.
Slowly but surely, non-Power Five schools have been creeping into the AP and College Football Playoff polls. Houston, Western Michigan, Temple, and more have all made appearances in the last few years. The Houston Cougars even finished 2015 ranked inside the top ten. That’s a trend that despite the reluctance to let go of the traditional “blue blood” programs that have the name recognition, people have started to realize that these teams can be and are pretty good.
What’s this got to do with the College Football Playoff expanding?
Glad you asked.
If the playoff field expands at some point a non-Power Five school is going to make it in. Suppose Boise State gets in and are set to face the USC Trojans. During the first quarter of the game, the starting quarterback for USC tears his ACL and Boise State wins that game. Suppose they come out firing on all cylinders and take down a Michigan State team that just can’t get in sync. The Boise State Broncos manage to run the table and are unexpectedly crowned the champions of college football.
Seems like it’d be pretty cool, right?
Not unless you’re a Power Five commissioner and you like money.
Per Forbes, a team makes their conference $6 million just by simply appearing in the College Football Playoff. That’s chump change when you consider what conferences can make from all the bowl games. Check this out: the Big Ten made $132.5 million from postseason bowl games last season.
$55 million base payout.
$6 million for Ohio State’s berth in the Fiesta Bowl which is a College Football Playoff game.
$4 million for Wisconsin’s berth in the Cotton Bowl.
$40 million for Penn State’s berth in the Rose Bowl.
$27.5 million for Michigan’s berth in the Orange Bowl.
All those major bowl games are out the window with an expanded playoff field so the Big Ten has 132.5 million reasons to not want expansion. Let’s all be honest with each other for a moment: money talks. Everything is driven by what makes someone money and postseason play is an absolute cash cow for these conferences.
College athletes can’t get paid and you think these conferences are going to share their money with even more teams and conferences that get into the College Football Playoff?
The University of Memphis has a better shot at making the playoff this year than we do at seeing a 16 team playoff so just go ahead, get comfy, and get used to a four-team College Football Playoff.