Should the College Football Playoff Expand to 16 Teams?

What is the right number of teams that should make the college football playoff?

Jackson Hamm

8/22/20234 min read

The death of the Pac12 has reopened discussions on the future of the college football playoff. We expected the playoff to move to a 12 team model, but that may not be the case anymore. There's been chatter that the college football playoff could now be expanded to 16 teams. Some are even calling for 24 teams. With the certainty of the college football playoff in the balance, let's explore what each version would look like, and what it would mean for college football.

4 Team Playoff

Over the last decade college football fans have learned to embrace the 4 team playoff. This was a chance to let teams prove a true national champion on the field. And prove it they did. Right from the beginning we got two of the best college football playoff games in history with Ohio State beating Alabama (Can they catch him? NO THEY CAN'T!) and Oregon besting Florida State (Loses the football, ball comes out! It's Scooped up by the Ducks!). The first version of playoffs triumphantly announced a new era of college football. One that has delivered legendary battles, moments, and teams. Clemson and Alabama traded blows for years in the national championship. A group of 5 team made the playoff. Every major conference has been represented by multiple different teams. With this era of football coming to an end, you have to appreciate what it has done to elevate the sport.

But this is not to say that the system has been flawless. One of the biggest complaints with the 4 team playoff has been the so called "selection committee". A lack of clarity on ranking criteria has created distrust in this system to determine the best 4 teams in college football. The only way to fix this is having conference auto-bids. The 4 teams also meant that at least one power conference champion would not be represented in the playoffs yearly. The last major complaint with the 4 team model is home field advantage. All playoff games are held at neutral sites, almost exclusively in southern states. A bigger playoff would fix this problem.

8 Team Playoff

An 8 team playoff would still be a significant jump from a 4 team playoff. By doubling the amount of teams, an extra round of games would be required. This extra game would be played at the higher seeded teams home field. Not only would this bring the energy of the playoff to college campuses and the surrounding communities, but it would also give northern teams a chance to play postseason football in their own backyard. Under new conference alignment there would likely be 5 auto-bids and three at large bids under this model. Major Conference champions would have an automatic bid to the playoff, with the highest group of 5 team being guaranteed a spot. The rest of the bracket would be filled by the highest ranked remaining teams.

I think that this would be the perfect expansion. Not only would it still be extremely valuable to win your conference, it makes all of your games valuable. Losing 1 game would severely hurt your chances of making the college football playoff, and 2 would almost certainly ensure you would need a conference championship to make it.

12 Team Playoff

This is where we currently sit. Under the proposed system, the playoff will include 12 teams. This would have consisted of a conference champion from every power conference, the highest rated group of 5 team, and 6 at large spots. The top 4 seeds would have received a bye and the first two rounds would be played on campus at the higher seeded teams home field. Although I think an 8 team playoff would be perfect, this still feels like it would be very successful. It would undoubtedly create some fantastic first round matchups serving as a replacement for the new years 6 bowl games. This would also fix the problem of players sitting out of high profile post season matchups.

But not all is good under this model. The number of games being played starts to become a concern at this point. Playing 4 games after the season comes to an end is asking a lot from student athletes. The bye system has also come under scrutiny from critics. Attrition is a very real thing in football, and in a sport that already lacks parity, do the top 4 teams need that big of an advantage? This would have been a great system, but with conference realignment the future of this system has come under scrutiny. So what has been proposed to replace a 12 team playoff?

16 Team Playoff

Over the past couple of months, a 16 team playoff has become a very real possibility. Nobody really knows what this would look like. Would the Big 10 and SEC get more auto-bids than a conference like the ACC or Big 12? How many at large bids would there be? What we do know is that this system would still need 4 games to determine a champion, with the first two rounds being played on campus. This would remove the bye game for the top 4, replacing it with a slightly higher chance of defeat. There is a huge gap between a top 4 team and even the number 10 team.

Expanding to 16 teams starts to dilute the quality of opponents a bit. Does a team that lost 3-4 games really deserve a chance to play for the national championship? I say no. Part of what makes college football so special is how much the regular season means. Every game is life or death. Teams like Appalachian State can ruin your season with one game. Those matchups send shockwaves throughout the entire country in a way that just wouldn't be the same in a 16 team playoff. Not only that, but what's stopping players from sitting out of games at the end of the season if they already have a playoff spot locked up? The cons outweigh the pros. Let's hope the powers at be keep it to 12.

24 Team Playoff

Is this a joke? Seriously who thinks this is a good idea? Do you really want to see Utah State get beat 60-7 against Georgia (Not like TCU did any better)? This is an awful idea. I've heard of some coaches vouching for this and I think the only reason is to say that they made a playoff. 24 teams do not deserve a chance to play for a championship. This is football, not basketball. As much as I love the NCAA tournament, it does not translate to football.

The fact that this is even a real possibility is absurd.