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A 14-team CFP is another solution that nobody asked for

Well, nobody except a few greedy suits

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

By the time you read this newsletter, I’ll be on my way to wonderful Madison, Wisconsin, for a book signing/reading/hollerin’ event with my buddies Jason Kirk and Mason Mennenga. If you’re around Madison and want to say hello tonight, we’ll be at Lake City Books at 7 PM. I’m going to spend a little time on UW’s campus on Friday before heading back to Chicago. Drop me a line if you’d like me to swing by!

I joke sometimes that between covering massively disruptive legal challenges, the higher education enrollment cliff, NCAA governance reform, conference realignment, COVID, and a gazillion other things, it can feel like I’m on the “Apocalypse Beat”, lurching from one existential crisis to another.

There’s some truth to that, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. After all, this coming football season is the first year of something legitimately cool…an expanded College Football Playoff.

For the first time, enough teams have a plausible pathway to a playoff bid to make for dozens of nationally important games in November, instead of the traditional tiny handful. We’ll have postseason games on campus, a guaranteed pathway for a non-power conference team to compete for a national championship, and a guarantee that we’ll never have a 2023 Florida State situation again.

Is it perfect? No, nothing is. But on paper, it addresses more problems than it creates and takes a step towards making more college football games truly matter.

So naturally, the suits are looking to mess with it before it even gets going.

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On Wednesday evening, both ESPN and Yahoo! reported that college football leaders are considering a 14-team playoff, among other models. This model would guarantee at least three spots for the Big Ten and SEC, two for the Big 12 and ACC, one for the G5, and three at large spots.

Both stories stressed that this is not finalized, and that “discussions are ongoing and fluid”…but I also know I’ve been doing this sort of thing long enough to know that conference commissioners aren’t calling up Pete Thamel and Ross Dellenger to spitball playoff formats in the name of February Content. They do that when they want to apply pressure in public, or when something is actually close to happening.

It’s tough to project exactly what this field would look like, since nobody really knows exactly how bloated conference membership will impact schedule strength over multiple years, but based on the 2023 season, that model probably includes teams like Louisville (10-3) and Oklahoma State (9-4).

Who is asking for this?

Not the players! After all, they don’t actually get paid by the schools for playing in these games, and nobody has presented a legitimate argument that collectives will somehow expand their payments if additional playoff inventory is created.

Not fans, or at least, not very many of them. Everybody wants to see how a 12-team field actually works, especially in the mega-conference Big Ten and SEC era. There’s no demand to find room for the middling 9-3 teams that might not even get New Year’s Day bowl invites right now. Maybe there will be in three or four years, but not in February.

It isn’t even really coming from ESPN, who agreed to a deal in principle to broadcast the playoff without expansion. FOX, CBS, NBC…they’re not even broadcasting the expanded CFP right now.

It’s coming from power conference leaders, specifically the Big Ten and SEC. Now that their leagues have bloated, they understand that it will be rare for their power programs to escape league play unscathed, and teams that aren’t used to losing three games a season…may start losing three games. They also know they’re potentially on the hook for massive House settlement payments, revenue sharing with athletes, and other expenses.

So they want to make sure they get as big a piece of the pie as possible…and they don’t want to leave anything to chance, like a hypothetical committee deciding that maybe, just maybe, a 10-2 Utah team might be “better” than an 8-4 Michigan or Tennessee team.

Is that effective advocacy of the short term interests of their respective institutions? Yes, probably. Is it good for the long-term stewardship of college football? Hell no.

Granting automatic spots for non-conference champions simply cements the stratification structure in college athletics even more, chipping away at meritocracy and giving additional advantages to “brand” or “who your institution made friends with back in 1912.” Nobody forced schools to realign away from historical rivals and peers to chase TV money, and nobody should be forced to change the rules to accommodate those schools wanting increased risk protection from those choices.

Throwing in additional guaranteed spots to the non-Big Ten and SEC leagues stinks too, since it codifies access to three-loss teams that didn’t actually win anything.

Maybe, after three or four years of data, it becomes clear that additional tweaks are needed in the name of fairness and competitive equity. Perhaps after big-time college football players are deemed employees and players can collectively bargain over working conditions, the players decide they’d prefer a larger postseason field. Fine! We can cross that bridge then.

But to do it now, without a voice from the players, without real-world data, without even a strong demand from fans or brands or broadcast partners…is a naked cash grab for college football’s most powerful, all wanting to secure their piece of the bag without having to earn it on the field or share it at the negotiating table.

That sucks!

And that’s probably where things will end up.

It’s a pity that greed, fear and power consolidation will likely lead to dramatic changes in the most perfect postseason event in college sports, and probably many other NCAA-run tournaments. I guess I hoped we had a teensy bit longer before that happened to the 12-team playoff.


I’ve also done a lot of radio and podcasting this week, mostly about EA Sports College Football related stuff, given all the news on that front.

After I get back from Wisconsin, it’s time to get back on the phone, back on the FOIA-mobile, and back on trying to do more original reporting, after being so focused on the video game beat these last few days. I’m also working to finalize a ton of back-end stuff with Extra Points that I think you will all be excited about.

I can afford to do all of that thanks to your subscriptions, your ad support, and your readership. You can support Extra Points and make sure you get every newsletter by subscribing here.

Thanks for your readership. I’ll see you on the internet next week.

This edition of Extra Points is brought to you in part by Athliance:

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