March Madness is the pinnacle of sports. 68 teams. Underdogs. Upsets. Yale beating Baylor. It is a single-elimination thriller that has become one of the greatest events in sports.
As a result, many fans think it makes sense for college football to follow suit and expand the playoff system established in 2014. As we watch some great football bowl games and the 4-team playoff kicks off, let’s explore the argument.
The Proposition Argument: More Madness!
One of the greatest things about March Madness lies in the amount of non-power 5 and mid-major schools. If the playoff was expanded to 8 or 16 teams, we would see teams like Houston and Boise State have a shot of making the playoff almost every year. The underdog narrative always is one of the most compelling storylines in sports.
In addition, March Madness is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2010, CBS payed $10.8 billion for rights to The Madness until 2024. For cash-strapped Division One schools, it makes sense to have more games, creating revenue to support non-profit-generating sports on college campus from field hockey to squash to tennis. The college athlete would be a clear winner.
Finally, an expanded format would open up some great match-ups. A superb article was written on ESPN exploring what an 8-team playoff would look like: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/18210508/what-there-was-8-team-college-football-playoff. Alabama vs OU. A rematch of Michigan vs. Ohio State. USC vs. Clemson. These games would be truly must-watch.
The Opposition Argument: Save the Idaho Potato Bowl!
Obviously, there would be challenges.
With a 16-team playoff, and to a lesser extent an 8-team playoff, you are de-legitimizing a number of long-established bowl games. Like the NIT and its once relevant status within the ranks of college basketball, a 16-team playoff would mark the end of some (arguably many) mid-tier bowls.
Furthermore, with a longer playoff, it is likely that the quality of play will be diminished. Football isn’t like basketball with regards to recovery time and performance. You simply can’t play on two days rest without risk of injury. The scheduling logistics and the length of the season that a safe approach would require is a non-trivial complication.
Finally, the same argument around revenue extends to the current bowl structure. Every bowl has economics around it. Corporate sponsors. Ticket sales. TV revenue. They all come together to create economic benefit for the schools that play. And today, there are far more than 16 schools that are benefiting.
In conclusion, there will continue to be chatter about playoff expansion. And no matter the decision, there will be anger. We are talking about football fans. While there are arguments on both sides of the debate, the 8-game playoff makes sense, striking the right balance between the competing interests surrounding fans and the non-New Year’s bowls.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this polarizing topic. Is the 8-team playoff the right move?
Powers Trigg, Editor-in-Chief