Opinion: College Football Playoff whiffed on chance to try eight-team postseason experiment this year

They blew it.

Not because Notre Dame wasn’t even competitive in its conference championship game and still found its way into the College Football Playoff. Not because Texas A&M was on the outside looking in at No. 5. Not because Ohio State has benefited all season by playing fewer games and is in the semifinals despite having played a minimum of three games less than the next seven teams in the rankings. Not because Cincinnati is 9-0 and struggled to stay in the top 10.

The CFP blew it for not thinking outside the box during the most challenging, bizarre season, maybe in history, and taking the opportunity to send up a trial balloon on an eight-team playoff. Just think of what that would have meant this year:

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Cincinnati.

No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Texas A&M.

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Florida.

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Oklahoma.

The coronavirus pandemic changed everything this year. How we work and how we play. How we communicate and how we socialize. And how sports are being played and viewed and covered. So, if not now, when?

Alabama players celebrated after beating Florida in the SEC championship. (Photo: Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports)

The ideal eight-team playoff would include five Power Five conference champions and three at-large teams, which would include the best Group of Five team with conditions that assure it is deserving. But 2020 would have been a one-off (let’s hope in all ways), so for this year, they could have stuck with the CFP rankings. Otherwise, the only change would have been substituting Pac-12 champion Oregon for Florida.

How great would that have been? Just looking at it, I see one lopsided matchup. But considering Alabama is nearly a three-touchdown favorite over Notre Dame in the semifinal game being played in Arlington, Texas, how much worse would it be if the Tide were facing Cincinnati?

And nothing would have prevented this 11th-hour expansion. Not in 2020. We had entire conference schedules reworked a month out. We had games come together less than 72 hours prior to kickoff. Less than 24 hours before the playoffs were announced, we had one semifinal moved from California to Texas.

This year has proven one thing: Nothing is as rigid and inflexible as we believe.

Since South Florida is hosting the title game and the decision was made to take the Rose Bowl out of play when it was denied an exemption to allow fans, this would have been a slam dunk: Give the Peach and Fiesta bowls two of the quarterfinal games, along with the Outback and Citrus, a nice bonus for those two bowls desperately seeking their way in the upper tier. All of those bowls already are scheduled for Jan. 1 or 2.

Find a way to work around the NFL playoffs the next weekend, when the semifinals would be played in the Sugar and Cotton bowls (as they are now), even if it is Monday, the original date of the championship game. Push the title game back to Jan. 18.

What better and appropriate way to conclude this season than playing the championship game on Martin Luther King Day.

Expanding the playoffs is the right thing to do and has nothing to do with appeasing the whiny Big Ten and Pac-12. The bellyaching coming from certain conferences and teams about how the elite programs benefit from a four-team playoff is laughable.

If your team is being left out while Alabama and Clemson and even Ohio State have a seat at the four-team playoff table most years, that’s a "you" problem. Recruit better. Develop better. Coach better. Don’t whine because you can’t compete with the big boys.

Teams have maintained if they could break into the four-team playoff, they’d take off. Suddenly, they’d be flush with five- and four-star recruits. Suddenly, their coach would turn into Nick Saban and all would be right.

How did that work out for Oregon (No. 2 in 2014), Florida State (No. 3 in 2014), Michigan State (No. 3 in 2015), Washington (No. 4 in 2016), Georgia (No. 3 in 2017), LSU (No. 1 last year)? None of those programs have returned.

And how about Oklahoma, which made four of the first six playoffs and lost all four of those games?

Playoff expansion is coming. Hopefully sooner than later, but it’s inevitable. And this year — 2020 — should have been the year to tee it up and test the waters.

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