The definition of a playoff is a game or games played between multiple teams to decide an outcome between tied contestants. So, it seems obvious that every college football team that is either undefeated or perceived as a contender should be given a chance, right?
An expansion of the College Football Playoff (CFP) would grant every college football fan’s wishes and generate an overall positive response and a boost in ratings. So, why hasn’t it happened yet?
The answer is simple: it would make the NCAA less money.
When the playoff was established in 2013, it was met with an unforeseen trend of players opting out for the draft instead of playing in their respective bowls. It made the pointlessness of playing in these games even more obvious than it already was, as players would rather rest and avoid injury than play in a meaningless bowl and risk damaging their draft stock.
This became clearer when Miami’s star quarterback, D’Eriq King, tore his ACL in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29. NFL-caliber players don’t want to risk their careers on a pointless exhibition game.
You may expect a trend like that to result in a drop in people watching the bowls, but you would be wrong if you did. Despite the quality in play dropping, people still tune in for them. The top-10 bowls besides the New Year’s Six Bowls have averaged 4-5 million viewers since the establishment of the playoff, and those numbers don’t seem to be dwindling. The smaller bowls still manage to bring in 1-2 million too.
An expansion of the playoff will likely lead to the bowl games becoming more obsolete and more players opting out, but the truth that NCAA can’t seem to accept is that’s going to happen anyway.
Even bigger bowl games are suffering the same fate as the smaller bowls. Florida had nine starters opt out of the Cotton Bowl, and the result was a boring blowout that many fans turned off in the third quarter and the likely drop in draft stock of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask.
What would’ve likely been a great playoff game was wasted because of a lack of stakes.
The NCAA would rather have 30+ poorly rated, irrelevant bowl games that average 1-5 million viewers than drop that number down in favor of an expanded playoff. In turn, great matchups are left to the imagination, and undefeated teams worthy of contention like 2017 UCF and 2020 Cincinnati will never get the chance to prove themselves against the best.
If you aren’t convinced that this is about money yet, just remember how long it took the NCAA to allow college players to get paid despite selling jerseys that had those players’ names on them. It isn’t out of the question that NCAA’s motive for not getting rid of bowl games is money related.
And, not every solution involves getting rid of the bowl games entirely. The simplest solution would be to transform the biggest bowls into playoff games and keep the smaller bowls for teams that aren’t as pro-heavy.
This would provide incentive for NFL-caliber players to play and allow the NCAA to keep its bowl-game sponsorships, allowing the fans, players and organizations to win.
Eventually, the NCAA will give in and expand the playoff, but until then all we can do is either watch as the Bowl Era slowly withers away or watch something else. Here’s to hoping 2021 will grant our pleas for an expansion.