Expanding the College Football Playoff

Nate Silver on expanding the college football playoff to six teams:

One-loss major conference champions will just about always make it. One-loss non-champions from major conferences will make it about 80 percent of the time. Undefeated teams from minor conferences still struggle a bit, but overall this seems to strike a good balance. As a major conference team with just one loss, you’ll make the playoff unless there’s a lot working against you. With two losses, you’ll won’t make it unless you have a lot working for you. There are still some tough decisions to be made, but the committee won’t have to cleave the second tier in half, as it often will under a four-team playoff.

Silver’s breakdown of expansion options is great, and as usual incorporates some actual statistical analysis. He explains why it is not as cut and dry as it seems as well.

Six teams has always seemed like the perfect sweet spot. It will keep any of the Power 5 conferences from feeling slighted like the Big 2 this year. It will give non-Power 5 teams a fighting chance to make it in, so teams like Boise St. would actually have a shot1. By giving the top two seeds a bye it would provide a much larger incentive to finish one or two rather than just win the conference. It would also help those teams who get nudged out with one loss but never get to play for their conference championship.

Really a six-team playoff solves most of the issues people have with the current system. There is the logistical piece to sort out, including finding a way to fit an extra playoff game in somewhere2, but college football will find a way. Letting the 3 and 4 seeds host these games means a guaranteed full stadium and no concerns about finding a neutral field.

A six-team playoff probably never happens though. The ability to include two extra games in an 8-team playoff just adds more money to the pot, and that will ultimately be the driving force. Once the jump is made from four to six most would argue going to eight is not a big deal. Most would argue that this won’t cheapen things, but it will just a bit. Even if one of the eight spots is guaranteed to a non-Power 5 team, there is always the chance that this spot is filled by like a 2-loss Marshall team.

If the NCAA decided to move to six-teams it would be a huge success, and they likely would not bump it to eight anytime soon. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that it will have that chance, and an 8-team playoff is likely before 2025.

  1. Don’t let anyone fool you, they have basically no shot in the current system []
  2. If you were betting I would bet that the season gets extended. In other words, first round New Years Day, second round about a week later, championship a week after that. As opposed to trying to find a way to fit another game in before Christmas []