I've written previously about some potential major negatives that will come along once the college football playoff expands to 12 teams. Back in July I was using fabricated hypotheticals, but now that the playoff field is set we can take a look at what would have actually happened through the first week of December and the playoff implications that would have resulted. Let's begin with what the field would be.
Anything jump out at you? The first thing I noticed (and that I frankly forgot about in July) is that Utah and Clemson would be the 3 and 4 seeds since the top 4 slots go to the highest ranked conference champions. This will inevitably result in the stupidity of giving lesser teams a bye if they are able to score an upset in an extra game with an arbitrary assigned value at the end of the season also known as a conference championship game. Look, I love the SEC Championship game as much as the next guy, but it was started in 1992 as another way to increase revenue. And let's be honest, did we really need to see Georgia beat LSU in order to confirm that Georgia was the best team in the SEC? Also, would a three loss LSU really deserve a top 4 seed if they found a way to upset Georgia? When you have a body of work extending over the course of a 12 game season there usually isn't much point in playing a championship game between a multiple loss team and an undefeated team. Regardless, champions of mediocre conferences will regularly end up in the top 4. They'll get a bye, but often times they will be matched up with non champions from high level conferences which will make them the underdog in their first playoff game despite earning the bye.
This would likely be the case with Utah. The expanded playoff would ignore their three losses to non-playoff opponents, and put them up there with the elite teams anyway. Why? Because they beat USC in the Pac 12 Championship while their two best offensive players were injured (Travis Dye missed the whole game, Caleb Williams played through it). Meanwhile, Ohio State, after being blown out at home by their rival Michigan, would be rewarded by not only getting to skip the Big Ten Championship game (which is functionally the exact same thing as receiving a top 4 seed bye), but they would get to host a home game against a low seed whom they already beat by two touchdowns on the road. That team being Penn St. That is assuming we buy the committee's statement that they ranked TCU ahead of Ohio State based on merit and not because they wanted to appease the powers that be in the Big Ten by avoiding a rematch between Michigan and Ohio State in the semifinal. I for one don't believe them, and I'm fairly certain in a 12 team field, Ohio State would have been ranked 5th and TCU 6th. This means Ohio State would be further rewarded after the Michigan blowout by getting to host G5 Tulane at home, giving them an even easier path to the final after getting to skip the conference championship game, and who would they play in the second round? You guessed it, three loss Utah.
This is a pretty clear and concise example of what I was referencing back in July with teams being incentivized to miss their conference championship games entirely. I know, I know, pride and character and blah blah blah. I'm not guaranteeing that teams will tank games in year one. I'm not even guaranteeing that they will ever do so openly. I'm just pointing out that the incentive will be there. Not every year, and not for every team, but I'm afraid this won't be some rare occurrence that we only see once per decade or so. Plus, you have to remember, it doesn't really matter how much you would hate it as a fan. I hate the 12 team playoff and it's still here. What we want doesn't count, and in most cases die hard fans care a lot more about a given program than any coach or player ever will. Coaches come and go and with the portal so now will players. They are fiercely loyal to that logo on their chest until they switch it out for the next one as they seek out the next best opportunity. Kirby Smart and Jim Harbaugh coaching at their alma maters are the exception to the rule. Make no mistake, the name of the game for the elite programs will be national championships, conference titles are already a secondary accomplishment and this will become even more true with expansion. Again this is only for the top teams, three loss programs will be clamoring for a conference title because it will give them a playoff berth that they probably don't deserve. They will have that incentive, and frankly programs on the come up will revel in the fact that they just made the field. If they get blown out as the 4 seed, so what? We still made the playoff! Now get those donors to write some checks!!
Ultimately, whether you are for expansion or not, I think we’ll see pretty early on that this is a system with major flaws, and given the proven lack of capacity the people running this sport have toward proactivity it will probably take some time to correct. Inevitably when they tweak the process they'll screw something else up because that's what they do.
Let me know how right I am in the comments.
Edited by Craig Lawson