CHICAGO — Arguments about expanding the College Football Playoff appear to be wasted breath.
As Gina Lehe, the Senior Director of External Relations and Branding for the College Football Playoff, puts it, “there’s zero interest in expansion right now.”
On Monday, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost took the main stage at Big Ten Media Days. He said he’s always going to be an advocate for an eight-team playoff. His Central Florida Knights were excluded from the four-team field last year despite a perfect record. Frost has a legitimate beef with the current system. Expand to eight, start earlier in December and things will be fine.
“It's hard to look at last year's college football season and not feel like an eight-team playoff isn't where we should go,” he said. “I think it should be five conference champions and three at-large teams. That would give a surprise conference champion that plays well at the end of the season a shot. It might give a team like we had at UCF last year a shot.”
Later on, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh doubled down.
“More would be more,” he said. “More would be better in the playoffs. Four right now, go to eight and eventually get to 16.”
Then there were coaches like Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Penn State's James Franklin. Everyone in Chicago seems to be in agreement that conference scheduling needs to be standardized across leagues, but expanding the field is a little more controversial. Franklin says he liked the old BCS system and he likes the current system.
Lehe says that's what they usually hear. Feedback from university presidents and conference commissioners regarding the current four-team system has so far been positive. The CFP meets with athletic directors from each participant after every season to gather feedback on the process and Lehe says those are almost always positive. There’s “confidence” that the number is right, she says.
“We’ve got a pretty solid system in place,” she said. “We signed this and gave it longevity intentionally. Right now there’s no discussion amongst our leadership. We feel confident that four is the right number. All of the constituents have expressed that they feel the same way.
“There’s going to be media and fan banter about expansion, it’s what you do when you’re talking about college football but from our perspective, there’s been no discussion about it whatsoever.”
So then why do coaches keep bringing it up? Why does the media keep bringing it up? Lehe says the fans are at the root of the call for more.
“Fans often engage in and are part of what the discussion is publicly,” she said. “We’ve had that discussion going back to the BCS days, if and when we were ever to go to a playoff, when do you draw the line? There’s always going to be conversation about No. 5 and 6 or No. 8 and 9. No matter what the cap on that bracket looks like, there are always going to be teams that are left out.”
It just so happens that one of those teams that got left out has been pretty vocal about it. Central Florida has claimed a 2017 national title after a 13-0 season and Peach Bowl win. Frost has moved to Nebraska but is still standing up for the Knights every chance he gets. He feels they were disrespected.
Asked what the CFP would say to the Knights about that slight, Lehe tipped her proverbial hat to the team but said the committee’s job is to pick the four best teams in the country and they feel they got it right.
“The selection committee’s charge of their duty is looking at the overall body of work," she said. "I think that’s the beauty of what we have in place right now with the CFP, you have 13 people in there who have an opportunity to have a discussion and be subjective versus a computer spitting out numbers and there’s not an opportunity to have that dialogue. They’ve followed their protocol from Year 1 and we’ve had great stories as part of this playoff.
“UCF had a great season, very impressive, but at the end of the day, the committee did not feel they were one of the best four teams in the country.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.