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NCAA football: When will College Football Playoffs be expanded to 12 teams?

When the College Football Playoffs were dreamed up, they were meant to provide clarity in the national championship race, not confusion

The Georgia Bulldogs are national champions after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 33-18. Kelee RIngo sealed the win with a pick six in the final minute.
Trevor RuszkowskiUSA TODAY Sports

For those of us of a certain age, college football national championships were decided in arcane ceremonies, shrouded in mystery, where sports writers and coaches would decide who the best team was. These polls often agreed, but not always. Then USA Today came along and instituted their own poll, which was more likely than not to disagree with the first two, giving us endlessly entertaining antics like the famous “one-peat” billboard in Los Angeles, a reference to the fact that while USC claimed to have won two national championships, LSU supporters pointed out that in one of those, the Tigers had been crowned by one of the polls.

LSU supporters taunt USC with a billboard in Los Angeles
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LSU supporters taunt USC with a billboard in Los Angeles

Hilarious. But seriously, something had to be done.

From just after the Civil War right up until 1992, there was no direct competition to decide the national champion. Polls were simply conducted, the AP being the selector who has participated the longest.

The major Bowls, and there used to be far fewer Bowls than there are now, were generally the preserve of the regional champions, with opposition invited from the highest-ranked schools who were not automatically selected to their own regional bowl game. The idea being that the best team in the Big 12, for example, would go to the Cotton Bowl, while the number two would be invited to one of the others, say the Sugar Bowl, to face the SEC’s top team. And so it would roll out across the country, in the hopes that an overall “champion” could be found.

This messy situation was enough to induce the major bowl organizers to come together in an effort to clarify these muddy waters. The Bowl Coalition, formed in 1992, gave way to the Bowl Alliance in 1995, which in turn, passed the torch to the Bowl Championship Series in 1998. All of these organizations had one major flaw, they were still wedded to the ancient and venerable bowl system.

In an effort to introduce a bracketed playoff system into college football, the College Football Playoffs were devised in 2014. Inviting the top four teams to have a playoff game where number one played number four and number two played number three brought the sport into line with the professional level of football as well as pretty much all other sports at college level.

On Friday, the College Football Playoff’s board of managers voted unanimously to expand the competition to the top 12 teams. This model will be brought in by 2026, but commissioners are pushing for its implementation as early as 2024.

While the coaches poll and the AP poll still hold incredible sway in college football circles, the only one that counts as far as the national champion is concerned is the CFP selection. Fans appreciate clarity as well as tradition, and this move may well provide neither.

Under this 12-team system, it is entirely possible for a team who is ranked fifteen, or even twenty, in the coaches or AP poll to be ranked twelve in the CFP selection. Then with a bit of luck on their side, they might win four games to come away national champions. Admittedly, this is a long shot, and of course there is an argument to be made that if you go 4-0 against the top 12 teams in the country then you deserve to be national champions. I hear you.

And it is very likely that the teams who make it to the final are the top two teams anyway. But with just the right conditions in place, anything is possible. But to my venerable old eyes, this new playoff bracket has all the hallmarks of making, far and a away, much more money than sense.


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