A College Football Playoff expansion would open the door for more teams to compete for a national title each year. The hope is it’ll foster a more competitive regular season, too.
When the CFP announced its proposed 12-team expansion earlier this month, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby advocated for the change and defended his stance by pointing to some simple math: if more teams can make the tournament, more regular season games could make or break a team’s chances.
“The practical effect of this will be that with four or five weeks to go in the season, there will be 25 or 30 teams that have a legitimate claim and practical opportunity to participate,” Bowlsby said during a recent teleconference. “That should make for an extraordinarily good October and November.”
The proposal, which was announced June 10, would expand the CFP from its current four-team format to a 12-team tournament, but officials say no change in format will occur until 2023 at the earliest.
Expansion has been a hot topic for years, dating back to the introduction of the CFP in 2014. Even before the playoff era, some argued that a large tournament to decide the sport’s national champion would overshadow the regular season.
That narrative is no longer a factor, according to CFP executive director Bill Hancock.
“Twelve keeps September important, and it also keeps November important,” Hancock said. “So for me, as I watched the working group work through the options, that was a real benefit of 12. Both September and November are helped.”
The biggest benefit to a CFP expansion, according to members of the subcommittee who created this proposal, is increased participation. In its current format, nearly 80 percent of all CFP berths have gone to the same five teams.
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 school to ever reach the CFP. West Virginia most recently had a shot in 2018, when it climbed into the top 10 in the CFP poll during the final month of the regular season before losing its final two games.
After sliding out of the CFP picture, the Mountaineers ended that campaign in the Camping World Bowl, losing to Syracuse in Dana Holgorsen’s final contest as the head coach of the program.
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, offered one other benefit to the 12-team proposal: it won’t force many major changes to the current bowl structure that rewards teams who don’t qualify for the CFP.
“One of the factors in my mind is I still think postseason football beyond the playoff is important, and it’s impossible to know exactly where that line might be. That’s whether it’s regular season or even postseason. There’s not an absolute drawn around any particular number for playoff teams,” Sankey said. “I think 12 also allows there to still be bowl opportunities that could be substantive for teams not in the playoff, and I want to make sure that’s a clear part of my communication around 12.”
In an added development, the College Football Playoff board of managers took another step toward the expansion by authorizing a summer review phase to further explore the possibility of expansion. Mark Keenum, the chairman of the CFP board of managers and the president of Mississippi State, said the review will “engage other important voices on the matter.”
“These include many people on our campuses, such as student-athletes, athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives, coaches, and university presidents and chancellors. Their opinions are important, and we want to hear them,” Keenum said in a statement.