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The floated College Football Playoff Expansion Idea is too much football

We absolutely need to make the playoff bigger, but not too much bigger.

Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood and Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban hold the trophy as they celebrate on the stage. Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2013 Iron Bowl gave us perhaps the greatest college football moment ever. If you love our craziest and most corrupt sport, the Kick Six is just everything you’d want the game to be: Beating your rival for a division championship in the most dramatic fashion possible.

The Tigers radio call by Rod Bramblett and Stan White is forever embedded in the history of the game.

Alright, here we go. 56-yarder, it’s got—no, it does not have the leg. And Chris Davis takes it in the back of the end zone. He’ll run it out to the 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 45—There goes Davis! (White shouts “Oh my God! Oh my God!”) Davis is going to run it all the way back! Auburn’s gonna win the football game! AUBURN’S GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME! He ran the missed field goal back! He ran it back 109 yards! They’re not gonna keep them off the field tonight! Holy Cow! Oh, my God! Auburn wins! Auburn has won the Iron Bowl!

But if that moment took place in 2023 instead of 2013, one where the now-floated plan to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams is realized, you’d have to add the following:

And these two teams will likely be able to do this again in two weeks, as both will easily qualify for the College Football Playoff...

Let us stipulate that four teams to determine the national championship of college football is far too few. There are only 12 to 13 data points per team per season, and with 130 teams competing in FBS football, there needs to be more access immediately. Especially because outside of the 65 schools in the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame, the access for the 65 Group of Five schools & other independents has been a perfect 0% by design.

But 12 is just too many, because what makes college football special is that every single game counts. Whether it should or it shouldn’t, they all matter because one blemish can be the difference between being left at home for your conference championship game, or scraping confetti off the field while holding the crystal football.

It’s what makes college football different than every other sport: There is a regular season, but for the best teams there is no regular season. Every single game can represent the difference between The Natty and The Couch.

The 12-team proposal floated by Pete Thamel is a compromise where everyone has to give a bit. And when you have to get 10 FBS conferences on board (five Power Five, five Group of Five), plus Notre Dame (for reasons that continues to make zero sense), bargaining will be needed. Everyone has competing interests, and with good reason. From Thamel:

Let’s start with at-large bids. In the current four-team College Football Playoff model, all four teams are at-large. In a majority of the eight-team models that have been projected, there’d likely be either five or six automatic bids. That means a decrease in at-large bids, which would not be of much interest to the SEC — or even Notre Dame — which could perceive the expanded playoff as having less access. (The Pac-12 and entire Group of Five, to counter, would likely not be interested in expansion without some type of automatic bids).

The American Conference has had multiple undefeated teams with wins over the Power Five since 2014, but has also had zero shot to play for the ring. There have also been years with multiple worthy teams from the Group of Five, but under this system only one would have a chance to play in the tournament (unless they could be added as one of the six at-large teams... but how’s that’s worked out for the smaller leagues so far??).

By default this plan would mean putting 11 of 65 pre-selected teams in the tournament, and just one from the other 65 teams in the top caste of college football. While it would finally guarantee some legitimate access, the math still doesn’t work. 11 of 65 is far too many on the top end end, and one of 65 is too few.

An eight-team tournament that’s basically split 7 P5/1 G5 would make some sense, and the ratio for a smidge over 10% of the power teams is a bit better. That would likely means the five P5 conference champions, one G5 team to be selected (also a conference champ), and two at-large teams. A non-conference champ has made the current Final Four twice in seven years (Ohio State in 2016, Alabama in 2017), but under this plan a loss is not a death knell. It likely strikes the right balance between losing a game and losing your season.

But it also ties Notre Dame to a very thin path, and college football administrators will continue to cater to South Bend for some reason. The Fighting Irish’s one year in the ACC during the pandemic shows a solution which can work, and probably should be thrusted upon them by the end of these negotiations. But ND AD Jack Swarbrick likely has enough juice in the industry to keep that from happening.

My idea is culled straight from Solomon, but I think it can still appease most parties while protecting the regular season: A 10-team event, but one where at least two G5 teams qualify, and those G5 teams cannot be forced to play each other on the opening weekend. So five P5 conference champions, two G5 conference champs, and three at-large bids which gives Notre Dame plenty of runway access. It gives a legitimate path to access for the bottom tier, and in certain years if they’re ranked high enough, the G5 team could even host an opening round game as well.

This is merely one man’s fix, but protecting the product that boosters and season ticket holders pay for week-to-week needs to be the priority here. College football is too special to too many because of the stakes on the line 12 times a year.

And that absolutely cannot and should not change, even though expansion is long overdue.