Expansion to An 8-Team Playoff Won’t Satisfy

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The second-ever College Football Playoff came together as perfectly as could be imagined, and yet, din for an 8-team Playoff is loud. Spinal Tap loud.

When it comes to major media outlets and personalities pushing for Playoff expansion, it goes to 11. USA Today alone published two columns on an 8-team Playoff in the same week.

Some have gone as far as to outline what an 8-team Playoff might look like.

That there’s so much discussion in this season, after this particularly Playoff scenario broke down, only proves that an 8-team Playoff won’t satisfy championship gluttony.

2015 came together like a season-long tournament with double-elimination rules. The last four teams left standing all won conference championships, and lost just once, or not at all in the case of Clemson. This year’s Playoff excluded some very good teams, but no one can say Iowa, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Stanford weren’t given fair opportunity to play their way into the field.

Paul Skrbina of the Chicago Tribune‘s story on Brian Kelly has picked up a lot of steam. Kelly, whose Fighting Irish lost two, Top 10 games on the road by a combined four points, gave eight teams the thumbs up.

“We’re going to get one more challenge against what could be the best team in the country,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of the defending national champions [Ohio State]. “Who is to say they’re not? I know the committee decided who the four teams were, but you could take (any) one of eight teams and make the case for them.”

But in that same report, Kelly also says, “We’ve got it down pretty good right now with four teams.”

Notre Dame’s Playoff aspirations were thwarted Thanksgiving weekend in a loss to Stanford, the lone Pac-12 champion and sole Power Five title winner left out of this year’s field. At five leagues and four spots, the math’s pretty simple: someone’s getting left out every year.

After the Pac-12 Championship Game, Stanford head coach David Shaw essentially asked the Playoff committee to show its work.

“The question is should there be an 8-team Playoff? Absolutely. If you win one of the big five conferences, should you be in the playoffs? Absolutely,” he said. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. We’ve made all these strides to become Power Five conferences but score four spots for a playoff. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The 5-league game of musical chairs essentially freezes out the Group of Five conferences. The Group of Five has yet to produce a viable national championship contender, though Houston very nearly forced that contentious conversation this season, and precedent suggests it’s only a matter of time.

Coaches Kyle Whittingham and Gary Patterson — both of whom endorsed an expanded Playoff this season — each had non-power conference teams at Utah and TCU that would have benefited from an 8-team field. Patterson has dual-motivation to support expansion, having ended up as one of two remainders in the Playoff’s Power Five equation last season.

Both Whittingham and Patterson led championship-caliber teams through the Mountain West in the BCS era. With the snubs of those teams still fresh, as well as current MWC member Boise State endured in the same period, Mountain West coaches voiced skepticism this summer about the Group of Five’s chances of ever playing for a national championship.

Certainly the arguments in favor of an 8-team Playoff have merit. But then, not every season with a hypothetical, expanded field would go as smoothly as this year with four teams reaching the Playoff.

The public faces of the Playoff committee have been steadfast that it will honor its 12-year commitment to a 4-team field. Assuming expansion to eight happens in 2026, we can anticipate clamor for a 12-or-16-team Playoff sometime in 2027.