The Case for Playoff Expansion: 32 Teams

32 team playoff image final
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The new College Football Playoffs may be in its first season, but one of the most widely discussed arguments about it has been the number of teams. The playoffs are currently at four teams, but fans often wonder how long until we see expansion.

When I think of college playoffs I always refer to the basketball tournament, focusing on the virtues that make it so successful. The tournament’s success is due largely to the balance it maintains between having as many deserving teams as possible, while preventing an oversaturation by having too many teams.

I define a “deserving team” as any team that can compete with the top teams in the tournament. A healthy tournament rests on finding where the line is between teams that can compete, and the teams that can’t.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I Tournament has mastered the ability to walk this line. A #1 seed has never lost to a #16 seed. Several teams have had very close wins over #16 teams, but after 120 games we have never seen it happen. The same cannot be said for a #2 seed. A #15 seed has pulled off an upset seven times in the tournament’s history.

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We know that it is unlikely a #15 seed will win, but it’s bound to happen every so often. Meanwhile a #16 seed winning has a “Triple Crown” like atmosphere to it. College basketball fans anxiously wait for the day it happens. Some almost feel as if we are “owed” this upset, which the odds say it should have happened by now.

That’s what I want to see happen to the College Football Playoffs. I want to see any team that has a chance to knock off one of the top teams to have the ability to do so. I want to see the playoffs expand to the point where the College Football Playoffs also walk this line.

sugar bowl 32 team playoffs
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In early 2013 the Florida Gators were ranked 3rd in the BCS standings as they played Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals were ranked 21st in the same rankings, but ended up dominating the game. What that game showed is that a team outside the top 20 can compete with the top teams.

That’s when I realized that if you wanted to have a playoff system that provided a true champion, it had to include teams like Louisville. That’s why I will only be satisfied with the current number of playoff teams if that number is 32.

A #8 seed is unlikely to win it all, but there is potential that they could knock off a #1 seed thus altering the final tournament outcome. I firmly believe that having teams outside the top 20 participating in the playoffs will give the eventual champion more credibility.

I fully understand just how crazy this notion sounds. This means three additional games will be added to the regular season. The current regular season is 12 games. Teams also play a conference championship, may receive an extra game if they play Hawaii, and may play two more games on top of that of they make the playoffs.

Teams have the potential to play as many as 16 games a year as things stand now. Adding three more rounds to the playoff will push that number to 19. This puts a major strain on player safety and the academic calendar.

This is an extremely radical idea and I doubt we will see it in action anytime soon. The Men’s Basketball Tournament was originally an eight team playoff. It took 36 years for the tournament to expand to 32 teams. We could potentially get to a playoff system like that several decades from now, however I just wanted to show what it looked like if it happened today.

These matchups are based on the AP rankings from the final week of the season before the bowls start. I did not alter them in any way to avoid rematches, conference matchups etc. I took the 32 teams receiving the most votes and seeded them. For example the #1 ranked team squares off against the #32 ranked team.

Because two G5 conferences did not have a school in the top 32, I dropped the #31 and #32 ranked teams (Colorado State & NIU). I then replaced these teams with the champions of the Sun Belt and MAC. In the MAC this was NIU, which allowed them to reenter the playoff after getting bumped out. With the Sun Belt I went with Louisiana Lafayette because conference champion Georgia Southern was bowl ineligible.

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© sportspolitico™ December 11, 2014

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