Group of Five programs win big in new CFP proposal

·4 min read

Jun. 16—Toledo-Georgia at the Glass Bowl. Bowling Green-Wisconsin at Doyt L. Perry Stadium.

Those scenarios are so far-fetched that they aren't even part of the northwest Ohio programs' wildest dreams.

Until now.

The Ohio States, Alabamas, and Clemsons of the world were winners in last week's announcement of what is an evitable expansion to 12 teams in the College Football Playoff, most likely for the 2023 season. But the biggest victory went to the Group of Five, schools that populate the Mid-American Conference, the American, Mountain West, Conference USA, and Sun Belt.

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For the first time in the history of the sport, every team will have a clear path to the national championship.

"Whoever decided to come up with this concept made college football better," Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler said. "Everyone used to say that you always had a chance to win the national title, that it didn't matter what conference you were in. Well, that wasn't the case."

A Group of Five team hasn't won the national championship since BYU in 1984, no G5 schools appeared in a BCS title game, and none have been selected for the playoff. But the archaic, totalitarian system, a good ol' boy network for the sport's richest programs, appears as if it's nearing the graveyard.

The CFP working group revealed a week ago that it will consider expanding from four to 12 teams, with six spots reserved for the highest-ranked conference champions and the other six going to at-large teams, guaranteeing inclusion for programs outside the Power Five conferences.

"It's really a positive sign for Group of Five schools, such as the Rockets and the MAC. It leads to more opportunity," Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien said. "With four teams, needless to say, it was very difficult to get to the playoff system. Now, there's no question that schools are really going to feel better about their opportunities."

MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said, "I welcome and endorse further study of expansion of the CFP to 12 teams."

The proposed expansion could go into effect as soon as 2023. Over the past decade, 13 Group of Five schools would have made a playoff appearance, including two MAC programs (Northern Illinois and Western Michigan). If you go all the way back to the BCS era, two additional MAC programs would have been included (Marshall and Miami).

Instead, the playoff has been dominated by Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma, with those four programs accounting for 20 of 28 bids — 71 percent. Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State have won six of seven national championships during the playoff era. Forty-four different schools would have appeared in the playoff at least once over the past decade under the 12-team proposal, expanding college football's popularity as a regional sport into a national powerhouse.

"This proposal, at its heart, was created to provide more participation," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.

The teams would still be selected by a committee. The four-highest ranked conference champions would receive first-round byes and Nos. 5-12 would face off in on-campus games hosted by the higher seed.

Quarterfinals, semifinals, and the national championship would be hosted by bowl games.

"Anytime that you have a really good football team and you win your league and you have the ability to get into the top 12, you should be represented in the playoffs and have a chance to win the national title," Loeffler said. "I think it's great."

In 2021, Toledo brings back all of its starters, is considered one of the MAC favorites, and plays at Notre Dame, a perfect storm that in the future postseason iteration could not only result in the Rockets making the playoff but hosting a game.

"It would be electric," O'Brien said. "There's no question about it."

Cold, dreary mid-week November MACtion games would also receive a shot. And we're not talking about Jim Beam. Because of an added emphasis on conference champions, the months of October and November will spark enthusiasm for the top 25 (and beyond).

Separating contenders from pretenders is an age-old phrase in college football. The list of contenders will now be lengthened late in the year, producing a regular season that will be unmatched in sports.

"Twelve keeps September important," Hancock said, "and it also keeps November important."

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