Tim Benz: College football playoff expansion idea is good, but don't go too far

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Jun. 11—The new college football playoff proposal is a case of a good idea that's going half a step too far.

According to multiple national reports Thursday, the current four-team format would extend to 12 schools. It'd be composed of the six highest-ranked conference champions, followed by the six highest-ranked at-large schools via the College Football Playoff rankings.

There would be no limit — or minimum — within the 12 qualifiers of representatives from various conferences. In other words, the SEC isn't guaranteed to get any teams into the playoff, but nothing is stopping them from having as many as seven between the champion and six at-large spots.

The four highest-ranked conference champion qualifiers would get a bye, and teams Nos. 5-12 would battle through the first round at the home field of the higher-seeded team. The remaining eight teams then would match up in the quarterfinals in bowl games on Jan. 1 or 2. The semifinals would also have bowl game designations, and the championship game would remain at a neutral venue.

Via ESPN.com, the proposal (which wouldn't kick in until 2023 at the earliest) was "written by a subcommittee made up of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

"The 10 FBS commissioners and Swarbrick must agree on a format when they meet June 17-18 to discuss the topic in person for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic."

Those are the specifics. Here's how much — or how little — all of this makes sense.

Let's start with the most fun part. Notre Dame might get hosed by not being in a conference.

Finally.

Because Notre Dame isn't in a conference, it can't get a bye as one of the top-4 seeds. So even if the Fighting Irish goes unbeaten in the regular season, they can be no better than the fifth seed and will have to play a first-round game.

Until or unless some sort of exemption is written into the rules, which I fully anticipate. Because ... well, it's Notre Dame.

Regardless of what happens with the Irish, I've long been an advocate of extending the playoff tree to eight teams. A three-round playoff is plenty representative as far as I'm concerned. It allows a better chance for all the Power 5 conferences to get a deserving champion into the mix as opposed to the current four-team format. There's a lot less room for complaints about conference favoritism toward the SEC and Big Ten. Plus, three more spots would exist beyond that for smaller conference champions and some at-large teams from deeper conferences.

Not only that, but including more bowl games into the mix gives those events a more meaningful pop. And I'm much more content with the notion of the computers deciding who gets left out as the No. 9 team as opposed to No. 5, as is the case now.

The proposed format hits on all those fronts. But the additional four teams to reach 12 seems excessive. I mean, I'll take it. It's better than four. But it doesn't have to be a dozen.

As a general rule, the more byes you create, the more convoluted — and diluted — the process is getting. No part of me thinks that the Nos. 9-12 teams really "need" to be in this format.

I suppose another negative is that, theoretically, the expanded playoff field minimizes the importance of conference title games. But for years now, the potential has existed for teams to either qualify while losing a conference title game — or without even playing in one — and still emerge as one of the top 4. That concern shouldn't be a deal-breaker.

In fact, the opposite end of the spectrum could come into play here. Maybe an unbeaten No. 1 Ohio State team doesn't even fall out of the national top 4 with a Big Ten title game upset loss, but maybe an 8-4 Northwestern team secures a top-12 berth with an upset ninth win.

In general, I'm always in favor of more meaningful games. In any sport. Especially in college football. It has too many meaningless bowl games at the end of seasons. Not to mention too many games during the season that don't have the same level of importance for schools in the top 20 that they do for, say, the top five or six.

It may just be 12 slots, but that means most of the top 25 are going to think they are playing to stay alive in the title hunt late into November. Not to just graduate from, say, the Belk Bowl to the Camping World Bowl.

So, if this is the format advanced for a vote, and it's a simple "yes" or "no" on expansion, I'd say "yes" to 12 squads. But I hope there's more discussion than that, and it's trimmed down to eight.

In this case, more is better, and college football can achieve that without being glutenous about it.

Inviting 12 teams isn't exactly binging. But eight feels like a better portion size.

Listen: TribLIVE's college sports writer Jerry DiPaola joins me for Friday's podcast.

We talk about potential college football playoff expansion and how it may impact the Big Ten, ACC and Big 12. Plus we try to follow the money and speculate about Notre Dame's true intentions.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.