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Why it’s a waste of time to argue about expanding the College Football Playoff

Top photos of Clemson’s Cotton Bowl victory

Here are the top photos from Clemson University's 30-3 victory over Notre Dame at the Cotton Bowl.
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Here are the top photos from Clemson University's 30-3 victory over Notre Dame at the Cotton Bowl.

If nothing else was proved again this college football postseason it is that the seemingly endless discussion about expanding the College Football Playoff should come to a merciful end.

This was the fifth year of a four-team College Football Playoff and the fourth postseason where fans clamored for an eight-team playoff. The fans gain growing support each year from ill-informed sports media folks who draw up intricate details to how it will all work.

To which I say: Give it rest. It is not going to happen.

First, there is no reason to alter the current format because it works. Second, serious talk about an expanded playoff will not occur until 2026, when the current four-team contract with ESPN runs out. Third, there is little reason to believe the participants -- players and coaches -- want more than four teams in the playoff.

Let’s allow Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to address the latter issue.

“I think the more you expand the more that becomes (the norm),” Swinney said at a recent media gathering. “I know that falls on a lot of deaf ears. . . . I love the passion of college football, and I think the more you expand, the less the (regular) season matters.”

College football’s uniqueness rests squarely on a regular season that is more consequential than any other sport. The 120 Division I teams begin a weekly elimination process in week one of the regular season.

Then the CFP selection committee, as deemed by the rules established in 2014, select the top four teams, usually from a field of four to six eligible teams. Generally, there is little argument about who the committee selects.

To expand the field to eight teams, means only pushing the argument over the last team into the field from among candidates 4, 5 and 6 to candidates 8, 9 and 10 for the eighth spot. It does not solve any perceived problem.

The exclusion from the playoffs of unbeaten Central Florida of the American Athletic Conference each of the past two seasons has caused much consternation among fans and members of the non-Power Five conference programs.

Yet the rules are quite clear: For a non-Power Five Conference team to make the four-team playoff it must go undefeated and rank among the top four teams in the selection committee’s final poll. To do that, a Central Florida likely needs to post four non-conference wins against Power Five opponents in addition to going unbeaten.

This past season, Central Florida’s lone win against a Power Five program was against Pittsburgh, although a scheduled game against North Carolina was canceled. Central Florida defeated only Maryland among Power Five teams in 2017.

Frankly, there are much more compelling reasons to keep the CFP intact. To add another round of playoffs would mean shortening the regular season from 12 to 11 games because the bodies of the unpaid participants already are taxed beyond their capacities. (If you do not believe it, take note of how many players were hauled off the field with injuries during every bowl game).

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Nick Saban and Alabama will face Clemson in the College Football Playoff for the third time in four years. Wilfredo Lee AP

Also, the Power Five conference members do not want to eliminate one non-conference, regular-season home game because of the revenue that game generates. Many of those programs count anywhere from $1 million to $8 million in gate receipts for a home game.

Also, backers of an expanded CFP often forget that the system is run by college presidents. They agreed to the current format in the first place, and they will negotiate any changes -- or not -- throughout the duration of the contract.

College presidents, the great number of whom have not sacrificed their academic principles to become shameless athletic boosters, are not interested in expanding the football season further into a second semester. Bowl games and preparation already test the academic calendar around final exams in December at many schools.

Freshman receiver caught six passes for 148 yards and two scores

There also are the economics to expanding the playoffs. ESPN agreed to pay out $3 billion for the rights to all CFP games through 2025. Unfortunately for ESPN, its stock has dropped drastically over the past few years and contracts of that amount and that length are not likely to ever happen again. ESPN likely would trim its offer significantly in a renegotiated deal.

If you need another piece of evidence that an expanded playoff is not in the works, consider that Bill Hancock, the CFP executive director, told ESPN in December that there has been no movement to expand the four-team field.

This season’s CFP proved there is no need to grow beyond four teams. The selection committee and most fans recognized that Alabama and Clemson were the two best teams, and they proved that with convincing semifinal wins. They will meet Monday for the national title.

Four teams were not needed, let alone eight.

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