A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:
SIX, EIGHT, 12 OR 16: WHAT IS THE BEST PLAYOFF EXPANSION OPTION?
The addition of a 12-team model to the College Football Playoff discussion makes talk of expansion feel like a trip through the Wendy’s drive-thru. The combo meal is most cost effective at the drive-thru but does your appetite encourage you to go small, medium, large or super-size it? For months there has been talk of expanding from the current four-team model to either six (small), eight (medium) teams, but Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports writes that going large to 12 is pushing all the right buttons with many of the people who will have make the final decision, more so than a super-size 16-team option.
We’ve known for some time that interest in the playoff has been waning, in part because the usual suspects – Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State – are fixtures in the final four, which all but eliminates the possibility of a Cinderella story like we see with March Madness. The playoff has rendered bowl games meaningless except for directional schools that think it’s a treat to spend a week in a scenic outpost such as Shreveport. Since the only games that really count are the two playoff semifinals and the championship game, opt outs like Florida experienced when Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes (and others) decided their future NFL careers were more important than suiting up one more time for the Gators in a bowl game are only going to become more commonplace.
Expanding the playoff is viewed as the simplest way to save college football while adding more revenue at a time when rising costs are forcing cutbacks in athletic departments nationwide but there are more decisions than just adding teams. For example, can the playoff and the bowl system co-exist? Does the playoff include the top tier bowl games while leaving the minor bowls to serve as the football equivalent of the NIT? Does it make more sense to play some of the games on campus while others at neutral sites? How many games are played before Christmas and how many after? Can college football force the networks to pony up enough money so that ticket prices can stay more affordable? Is there any way to ensure this doesn’t become a logistical nightmare, not only for athletic directors who have to get tickets distributed to fans and boosters while dealing with their team’s travel requirements? How much more revenue will an expanded playoff bring in than the current model?
These are just the questions that come to mind immediately. When it comes to staging events of this magnitude, questions will breed like rats. Every time one question is answered, count on another five new ones that will require more staff and even greater attention.
For now, however, let’s focus in on the four expansion models:
The six-team (go small) option: Very few have ever seen this as a long-term solution but networks and a large number of college presidents have favored it as a nice trial run to prep for further expansion. In most six-team models, all five power conferences would get their champions into the playoff. In the most recently concluded playoff, the SEC, ACC and Big Ten were all represented along with Notre Dame, leaving the champs of the Big 12 and Pac-12 on the outside looking in. In the seven-year existence of the playoff, the Pac-12 champ has been represented only twice – 2014 and 2017. The Big 12 champ has missed the playoff three times and the Big Ten has gone without representation twice.
The flaw in a six-team model that includes all five power conference champs is it leaves only one at-large. So what happens if you wind up with Notre Dame and an SEC runner-up both have only one loss and there is an unbeaten from the Group of Five? After UCF won 27 straight games and didn’t make the playoff even once and Cincinnati went unbeaten in the regular season (2020) and wasn’t included, it is getting more and more difficult to ignore Division I football’s country cousins.
What appeals to presidents and networks is that it would add only one weekend and two games to the schedule. The network wouldn’t need extra crews, technicians and announcers. It would give athletic directors an opportunity to work out the logistic kinks and prep for expansion in a few short years to either an eight- or 12-team model.
The eight-team (go medium) option: In this model, all five power conference champs would get in, leaving three at- large teams, one of which would be the highest ranked Group of Five team. It sounds fairly reasonable until you consider the possibility that Notre Dame could have an undefeated or one-loss season, two (or more) conference runners-up could have only one loss, and perhaps two Group of Five teams (see Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, Liberty and BYU last season) could all have one or fewer losses.
The eight-team model would mean a three-week playoff with four teams the first weekend then the semifinals followed by the championship game. The way the playoff is today, the two semifinal games and championship game are included in the bowl system. It would be next to impossible to pin four playoff games to bowl games in that extra week. Would that necessitate playing the first weekend on campuses? That would, at least, eliminate large travel expenses for four teams and their fans.
There is no way to have an eight-team playoff without all five power conference champs getting in, so while eight teams is certainly preferable to the current four-team playoff, this model is every bit as flawed as the six-team model. If you’re going to allow one or more at-large teams, then there will be just as much controversy as there is now with only four teams.
The 12-team (go large) option: In one of the 12-team proposals, all ten conference champs (Power Five and Group of Five) would get in with two wild cards, one of which would likely be Notre Dame. While that format would make all the champs from Group of Five conferences happy, it wouldn’t satisfy the power conferences. Thamel sees a model that would include the five power conference champs, one Group of Five champ and six at-large which could also include teams from the Group of Five.
What seems more likely is the five Power Five champs, the two best Group of Five teams and then five at-large teams. In this scenario one power conference could get three teams in and it would be hard for the others to complain much since they all would have a team in the playoff.
The 12-team model requires four weeks to play. Eight teams play the first week with the top four seeds getting a bye. There would be four games the second week, semifinals the third week and the championship game in the fourth. To make this work, regular seasons are going to have to be scaled back to 11 games since with the conference championship game added, the two teams that play for the big trophy will have played 16 games. Of course, that’s just one more than the two teams that play for the national championship in the current playoff format.
The 16-team (super-size) option: You could have all 10 conference champs and six at-large teams. Like the 12-team format, to make this work the regular season will have to be reduced to no more than 11 games, but even taking that one game away, the two teams that play for the national title would play 16 games.
My conclusion: Walk before you run and maybe crawl before you walk. Before there is a 12-team or 16-game playoff, the networks are going to balk and there will be enough concern from presidents and athletic directors who will demand either a trial with six teams or going directly to eight. I think there are too many questions to answer before a 12- or 16-team model goes into effect.
ACTON, BUTLER AND EDGE IN THE BASEBALL TRANSFER PORTAL
Second baseman Cory Acton, first baseman/pitcher Jordan Butler and outfielder Brock Edge have placed their names in the NCAA transfer portal, which really isn’t a big surprise when you consider baseball is limited to 11.7 scholarships and the fact that Kevin O’Sullivan has signed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Due to changes in the Major League Baseball Draft, fewer kids will be selected both at the high school and collegiate levels, so opportunities will diminish for players who spent a good bit of time on the bench.
Acton, Butler and Edge would almost certainly see fewer opportunities to get on the field at Florida next season so they probably will see more options somewhere else.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
Alabama: Alabama and Oklahoma State will play home and home in 2028-29. Alabama will visit Stillwater in 2028 with Okie State traveling to Tuscaloosa in 2029. Alabama and Notre Dame will play home and home in 2029-30 with Alabama visiting South Bend in 2029 and Notre Dame traveling to Tuscaloosa in 2030.
Arkansas: Trey Wade (6-6, 218, GR) is transferring in from Wichita State. He averaged 6.7 points and 5.5 rebounds last season at Wichita State ... Pitcher Kevin Kopps is a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top collegiate baseball player. Kopps has a 12-0 record with an ERA of 0.68. He was the SEC Pitcher of the Year and Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Year ... Legendary Arkansas track coach John McDonnell died. His teams won 40 NCAA championships (indoor track, outdoor track and cross country) and six times won the track triple crown – the indoor, outdoor and cross country title in the same year. McDonnell was 83 years old.
Auburn: Desi Sills, the Arkansas guard who announced he’s transferring to Auburn, isn’t transferring to Auburn after all. Sills has pulled the plug on Auburn and headed to Arkansas State.
Georgia: Pro Football Focus gives Georgia a 60 percent chance to win the SEC East and a 24 percent chance to win the SEC championship … One day after 5-star defensive tackle Bear Alexander de-committed from Georgia, 5-star athlete Deyon Bouie also de-committed. Ironically, both Alexander and Bouie visited Texas A&M last weekend.
Kentucky: Wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight has been suspended without pay since he was arrested for DUI back in May. Bouknight has not been fired by HBC Mark Stoops.
LSU: Coach O calls new O-line coach Brad Davis, hired last week from the Arkansas staff, a “game changer.” LSU won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best offensive line in 2019 under James Cregg, the coach Davis replaced. Ole Miss: Lefty pitcher Doug Nikhanzy, a two-time All-America selection, is a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. Nikhanzy, who struck out 16 in seven innings against Florida State in the Oxford regional last week, is 11-2 with a 2.39 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 86-2/3 innings.
Tennessee: Tim Priest, who has been the color analyst on the Vol football network since 1998, announced his retirement. He will be replaced by former UT/NFL quarterback Pat Ryan.
Texas A&M: The Aggies seem to have zeroed in on TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle, who could be offered the job in the next day or two. Schlossnagle, who is paid $1.56 million at TCU, has a career record of 770-374.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Expanding the College Football Playoff is seen as one rather large step in saving college football from itself but it’s not the only change that needs to be made. We need fewer paycheck games against teams from D1AA and more interconference games. The SEC-Big 12 Challenge works so well for basketball. Why couldn’t we see something like that for college football, like perhaps an SEC-Big Ten Challenge? Do it on a home-and-home basis. I think Florida fans would be thrilled at the possibility of a home-and-home with Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. As for the D1AA teams that need the paychecks, play those games in the spring instead of a glorified intra-squad version of two-hand touch with a running clock. I think we’d sell out The Swamp if Bethune-Cookman or FAMU came for the spring game and brought their bands. They’d get their paychecks, win halftime and we’d see better football.