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Lenz: We can make the CFB Playoff better

We are now three years into the college football playoff. Without a doubt, it has brought us a fresh breath of air from the the previous systems.

However, we are still one step away from the perfect setup.

The most ideal thing for the sport would be to expand the playoff from four teams to eight teams.

Eight is the perfect number because it still keeps the most captivating regular season in all of sports exciting and intact.

The amount of teams vying for a playoff spot down the stretch would increase from about six to eight teams on a given year, to at least 12 or 13. The regular season drama would actually increase.

With just four teams, there will be years where teams sitting at those five, six, and seven slots are truly championship caliber, but are left out.

Oklahoma and USC got off to rough starts this year and were all but eliminated from playoff contention by the end of September. Does anyone think either of those teams were the same in September versus December?

With the expansion to eight teams, there is a little more room for error. A loss that occurred early in the season, before a team has come into their own, doesn’t kill them.

If we were to expand it further to sixteen teams, that’s when the regular season would start to become watered down.

Teams with three or even four losses would then have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth. Keeping the pureness and drama of the week to week extravaganza that is college football remains essential.

In the eight team system, the regular season conference champion from each of the five power conferences is awarded an automatic bid, and then three additional wildcard teams are selected.

Here is the catch, one of the wildcards would go to the highest ranked “group of five” school, given they are ranked in the top 15.

This gives us a little bit of that March Madness feeling, David versus Goliath, if you will.

I believe the top 15 threshold keeps it within reason. We don’t want to roll out an 8-4 MAC team to get murdered on live television just because they were the highest rated “group of five” ball club.  There has to be some boundaries.

The quarterfinal games would be played on the campus of the higher seed. The greatest part about college football is the atmosphere a campus brings on a game day. The tailgating, the 100,000+ seat stadiums, the traditions, the pageantry. Pure awesomeness. Raising the stakes and placing playoff games on campus would be a scene comparable to nothing we’ve ever witnessed before.

(Note from the author: I attend the University of Kansas, so I can’t really claim to have experienced these fun college football atmosphere things in person, but it seems like a grand time when I see it on television.) 

The winners of the quarterfinal games would then advance to whatever preset new year’s six bowls were set to host the semifinals on that given year.

For example, in 2017 the two semifinals were the Peach bowl and the Fiesta bowl.

The winners of the semifinal games would then match up in the city who placed the highest bid for the right to host the championship game that year. The same procedure in place with the four team playoff.

Of course, the detractors (conference presidents, the NCAA) will come flying in out of the woodwork to proclaim that an extra game would place a significant burden on the players’ academics and safety.

While we all know that is the farthest thing from the truth, or what they are actually worried about, an easy solution would be to take out conference championship week.

Does anyone actually believe the conference championship is in place to decide the “true champion” of the conference?

For starters, the best two teams in the conference are not actually meeting in the title game because of geographically divided divisions, at least for the majority of the time.

Before it was abolished, the last seven winners of the Big 12 title game came from the south division. In the past eight years, the SEC champion has come from the west division.

The twelve games played during the regular season should be used to decide which team is the champion of the conference rather than an arbitrary title game.

A team could be in better shape not advancing to the conference title game and resting on their couches, without risking a resume killing loss, rather than having to play an extra game  and “win” a conference championship that it already won outright in the regular season.

Yes, conference championships can be a lot of fun and generate some nice cash, but they are not very meaningful in the grand scheme of things.

In the first two seasons of the college football playoff, all eight teams were conference champions. Then Penn State was left out this year despite winning the Big 10 and beating Ohio State head to head. As with any human led committee, there is inconsistency. We don’t know what the exact criteria is on a year to year basis.

If the five power conference champions earn an automatic bid this takes away a lot of the confusion. However, keep in mind there are still three at-larges to be handed out.

The landscape of college athletics has never been more uncertain. Conference realignment is far from over. A conference like the Big 12 may cease to exist if the college football playoff doesn’t expand.

The Big 12 has already been left out of two of the three playoffs and is yet to register a win. A system like this would do wonders for the Big 12.

Here’s what the quarterfinals would have looked like this year in an eight team playoff.

Western Michigan @ Alabama
Oklahoma @ Clemson
Michigan @ Ohio State
Penn State @ Washington

Tell me that wouldn’t be incredible.

Lastly, WHY ARE THERE 600 BOWLS? (yes, I am aware there are not actually 600 bowl games, thank you).

But seriously, there were 40 bowl games this season, not counting the national championship. There are only 128 schools that field a D1 FBS team. 62.5 percent of those schools were playing in a bowl game in 2016. Multiple teams with losing records participated.

Say this one with me. P-A-R-T-I-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N…….. T-R-O-P-H-Y.

I don’t know about you guys, but if I am a football player, I am not getting too excited to play in a half-empty stadium at the “Who cares bowl brought to you by rapidly declining company X.”

For example, at this year’s heralded Foster Farm’s bowl, Indiana was given 7,000 tickets to sell but only sold 672 of them.

Let’s cut the number of bowl games in half and make it an accomplishment to play in a bowl game.

Oh, and one more thing. Lets stop playing the semifinal games on New Year’s Eve?

Jeff and Tammy from Tuscaloosa want to get drunk and rampage through bars screaming “ROLL TIDE,” not worry about whether or not Alabama will advance to the title game.

New Year’s Eve was never meant for big time sporting events. Play the important games on literally any other day.

20 bowl games and an eight team playoff. Now.

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feature image courtesy of PBS.org