Should College Football Playoff expand in 2020? The four vs. eight argument, reheated

College football has already seen more than enough twists and turns in its 2020 season, and more than half of the teams haven’t even played yet.

This season — which is being played amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States — has come with conferences opting out. and then back in. When the Big Ten and Pac-12 rejoined the season, it queued up an endless argument that started when the College Football Playoff was instituted in 2014:

Should the four-team playoff expand to eight teams? There have been countless eight-team plans pitched since. But would one of those fit, given the fluid nature of the 2020 season? After all, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC all went to a conference-only schedule.

Should the College Football Playoff stick with four teams, or expand to eight (or more) in 2020? Sporting News’ Bill Bender and Mike DeCourcy have very different opinions on the matter, and they hash it out here:

Mike DeCourcy: “There’s only one logical argument against expanding the Playoff to eight teams for this season, and that’s the concern about having to hermetically seal an additional round of games. This position is hollow, however, because those teams that will not participate in the Playoff almost will certainly accept invitations to bowl games that will be far less consequential than playing for a legitimate national championship.

Bowl swag is not a substitute for significant competition.

It has always been a stretch to assert which are the four most deserving teams to compete in the Playoff based on the limited nonconference engagement in place over the past half-decade. (I mean, Alabama last season played Duke, New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina. They deserved to end up in the Citrus Bowl — as Vincent Vega would say if he were alive today, and not fictional — ‘on general principle’).

To try to figure out the most deserving four teams with no such guidance, though, is preposterous.”

Bill Bender: “Jules and Vincent were a couple of dorks, Mike. Great meme material, but I’m not looking to them for college football opinions.

The concern for another round of games is valid considering there have already been more than 20 games that were either postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 since the season started on the first weekend of September. While that comes across as a hollow cop out, that’s the biggest reason why this isn’t the year to go to eight teams. I’m going into October with the assumption that not every school will finish the 2020 college football season, but I’m hoping that we can play football safely the whole way through.

Schedules will be unbalanced from conference to conference, and there is a demolition derby feel to it. There is no need to add more teams when the better bet is to get this playoff in and move toward next season. Given the logistics of the season itself, that is the best play.”

DeCourcy: “The assumption that ‘not every team will finish’ also was omnipresent when the NHL returned to action. They’re entering the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final. It was presented when Major League Baseball took the field, and the Cardinals — who had 16 games postponed at one point — will have completed 58 regular-season games out of the scheduled 60 by Sunday afternoon.

Someone should coin a slogan: Make America Optimistic Again.

But how does one pronounce ‘MAOA?’

I’m not oblivious to the many postponements in college football, but if you can play in the Outback Bowl, you can play in the quarterfinals of the College Football Playoff.

Your position seems to be: ‘It’s hard. Let’s not bother.’

Well, that could be ascribed to all of world sport over the past five months. And it has mostly been a raging success, from the Bundesliga to the NBA playoffs to U.S. Open (both of them) to The Tournament.”

Bender: “The Astros can play a doubleheader. The Houston Cougars have had openers against Washington State, Rice, Memphis, Baylor and now North Texas postponed/rescheduled/crossed off. They don’t have a bubble, and they can’t schedule seven-inning twin-bills.

We’re not dealing with professional franchises. We’re dealing with more than 100 different college institutions with different standards, and a lot of these stadiums will have fans in the stands. That’s a bad idea, too. Fewer people in the same place presents fewer risks, in my opinion.

As for the expanded formats, that’s fine for MLB — even though the first-round seeding format is predictably confusing and stupid. My Padres are the second-best team in the NL. Treat them that way, Manfred. I’m assuming you want eight (or more) in the CFP this season.

Tell me about this original plan of yours, please. I’m sure it starts with U-C-F.”

DeCourcy: “I’m totally with you on the stands being empty. There’s no good reason to force-feed spectators into the buildings just to quiet down a few talk show hosts and Pat Narduzzi. The Big Ten has it exactly right: No spectators at this point. You’re making 70,000 people unhappy to placate a few? Not worth it.

But if you’re talking about playoffs — playoffs? — the other sports forced to compromise their regular seasons adjusted for that reality. Major League Baseball will have eight teams from each league involved, as opposed to the normal five, to conclude its non-traditional 60-game season. The NHL, which had to forgo roughly 15 percent of its season, expanded its playoff field from 16 teams to 24.

The Big Ten will play nine games plus its championship round. The Pac-12 will play only seven games, but it also may produce a team that is the relative aggregate of the 1968 USC Trojans, 1990 Washington Huskies and 2010 Oregon Ducks.

The only way to inject fairness into this circumstance is to invite all Power 5 conference champions, one champion from the active Group of Five leagues and two at-large entries. It’s how it should be done, anyway, but especially under these conditions.”

Bender: “I wish there was a fairness injection for the poison ivy I picked up while trimming the trees in the front yard last week.

The front-yard sumac shows no mercy, and neither should the College Football Playoff. The goal at the outset was to produce the ‘four very best teams’ every year and the last two seasons I talked to CFP executive director Bill Hancock two days before a pair of 14-0 teams squared off. Granted, the Clemson-Alabama and LSU-Clemson games were blowouts, but the model achieved what it was supposed to do.

Go undefeated. Don’t lose twice. Do that, and chances are you’ll get in fair and square.

As for the four-team model? The average margin of victory in the 12 College Football Playoff semifinals is 21.2 points per game. I’m not even sure we need four (long live the BCS), but that tells me we don’t need eight yet. Any closing words now that you’ve seen the truth?”

DeCourcy: “There is a practical vaccine against poison ivy contracted while trimming trees, Bill. It’s called: ‘Hire a pro to trim the trees, and he or she will recognize the plant and take appropriate measures.’ Far more effective than calamine lotion or hydrocortisone.

The goal is to pick the ‘four very-best teams?’ That’s cool. If that’s a plausible goal, then why has the No. 1 seed only won the championship a single time in four years? The No. 4 seed has won twice as often! There have been 18 games in the six editions of the CFP. The lower-seeded team has won half of them.

Yes, that’s right: The CFP committee is right 50 percent of the time. That’s great for Jamal Murray, not so wonderful if one is assigned the duty of informing the “fifth-best” team in college football it is not wanted.

Why should anyone believe the College Football Playoff committee is capable of choosing the correct team as the fourth and final seed if it’s so lousy at anointing the No. 1 team? Damn, if they were so good at picking the field, one would figure they’d at least come close to seeding it correctly.

Why anyone would be willing to assume these people are omniscient is beyond me. Because I’m not omniscient.

I’m just right.”

Bender: “You just like to argue. So do I, and that’s yet another layer that will validate the 2020 college football season. This year’s arguments, perhaps more than any other year, or going to be off the charts. Do we put in Oregon (6-1) or Alabama (10-1)? What about SEC runner-up Florida (10-1) or ACC champion Notre Dame (9-2)? The everybody-gets-in-mentality waters down the regular season. The argument for the four-team playoff is the argument itself.

That’s why I didn’t mind the BCS and why I will be less excited for the eight-team playoff, which is coming. At least put the first round on campus when you go there.

In the present, however, a four-team playoff makes sense within the confines of COVID-19. The 2020 Playoff likely will be another heavyweight-helping of Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma, and that’s the root of the eight-team argument anyway. Expansion won’t change the reality that only a handful of teams can win it all.

An eight-team playoff won’t change that either.

In other words, less is more. Stick with four.”

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