College Football Playoff can learn a key lesson from the NFL’s superior postseason model
Critics are going to pound the eight-team drum in obligatory fashion, anyway, but expansion alone will not fix the Playoff’s core issue. It’s the one that would allow the sport to take the next step in popularity. It’s the one the NFL has sown to a science. You need more teams to participate in order to maintain interest.MORE: Why each CFP team will or won’t win a national championshipImagine if it were Alabama instead of LSU. The exclusivity of the haves in college football is what might ultimately drive the sport to an eight-team model, and it still won’t fix the problem.Ohio State won its third straight Big Ten championship. Clemson and Oklahoma have won five straight conference championships each. Alabama missed the Playoff for the first time. Those four schools have combined for 17 of 24 possible playoff appearances. That’s four schools combining for 70.8 percent of the fun.College Football Playoff appearances since 2014SchoolAppearancesRecord*Alabama56-3Clemson55-2Oklahoma40-3Ohio State32-1Georgia11-1Oregon11-1Notre Dame10-1Washington10-1Michigan State10-1Florida State10-1LSU10-0*Includes CFP championship matchupsProp that up against the NFL’s conference championship weekend, which is the equivalent of the four-team playoff. In the last five years (not including what will happen this year), a total of 15 different NFL franchises have participated in that weekend.That is even in the shadow of New England, which made the AFC championship game in all five seasons. Green Bay is the only other team with multiple appearances.NFL conference championship appearances since 2014TeamAppearancesRecord*New England57-2Green Bay20-2Denver12-0Philadelphia12-0Seattle11-1Carolina11-1Atlanta11-1LA Rams11-1Indianapolis10-1Jacksonville10-1Pittsburgh10-1Kansas City10-1Arizona10-1New Orleans10-1Minnesota10-1*Includes Super Bowl matchupsSure, New England dominates the sport, but look at all those franchises that have played conference title games in just five years. Baltimore and San Francisco, which have not played on that weekend in that the last five years, are the top seeds in the current NFL playoff picture.The NFL playoff product is better — the best of any major sport — and it can say that because nearly half of the league has been involved in the last five seasons. If the league would just seed out the best teams 1-6 regardless of division, then that model would be untouchable. There are teams that should not be in the NFL playoffs, but they are generally weeded out immediately.Wild-card weekend typically infringes on the College Football Playoff championship game. This year, it will be even worse because it will be the divisional playoff weekend.What can college football do to combat that? Learn from it.MORE CFP: 40-point offenses, transfer QBs, more separation than everWhen the eight-team model happens, make sure other teams get in on the fun. And it has to be eight. Six looks too much like the NFL. Put quarterfinal games on campus. Sure, some teams would be undeserving, but they would get weeded out, too. Keep the semifinals on Jan. 1. That’s unique to the sport. Keep it that way. More teams gives more chances for upsets.That gap between the “haves” and “have nots,” which still hangs over the sport, perhaps would not hang over so much.That is on display again this year. After all, this is the second time Clemson and Ohio State have played in a semifinal in four years. Oklahoma is playing the SEC champion in a semifinal for the third straight year. LSU saved the world from a potential Clemson-Alabama 5 matchup. There are only a handful of schools that can say they can win a national championship out of a 130-team field. Even if you go to eight, will that really change?It’s worth a try, and it would give blue-chip recruits more reasons to go to other schools. What do they really want? A national championship ring and an NFL future on a three-year timetable. How many schools can really provide that? The College Football Playoff caught a break this year.There is not a compelling argument for a fifth team knowing there were three unbeaten teams in LSU, Ohio State and Clemson and a lone one-loss Power 5 conference champion in Oklahoma. Four big brands with high-powered offenses are going to draw big ratings. More NFL teams can say they have chances to win the Super Bowl and mean it, and the rite that is conference championship weekend can be considered the best in sports.That is the difference between the two. When college football has a more wide-open field, then the Playoff might have a chance to be better.The amount of teams in the Playoff doesn’t matter as long as the four teams at the end are worth watching.