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The Big Ten, the College Football Playoff and the Need for Expansion?

July 25, 2019

We’ve talked about realignment and we’ve talked about strength of schedule, all in regards to the Big Ten and the College Football Playoff. So, you know the drill by now.

No. 6 Ohio State beat No. 21 Northwestern, 42-24, in the 2018 Big Ten title game and ended the season 12-1. It seemed like enough to get into the College Football Playoff. If not, the Buckeyes would surely be just on the outside looking in at the fifth spot like they had been the year before. Right?

Well, we know that ended up being wrong. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma were the four selected. Georgia—the runner-up in the SEC championship game—was placed one ahead of the Buckeyes in the final playoff rankings. 

The lack of a Big Ten team representing in the College Football Playoff over the last two seasons had the conference talking at last week’s Big Ten Media Days. That’s where the discussion of possibly realigning the East and West divisions and the Big Ten’s strength of schedule (and how it’s evaluated by the CFP committee) came into play. However, there was another topic that was discussed: playoff expansion.

This isn’t new. Nebraska coach Scott Frost addressed it last year, saying the four-team playoff was a good start but that “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.”

When asked about where the Big Ten is now in comparison to when he started his job as conference commissioner, Jim Delany spoke about all the changes that have happened in college football as a whole. That included the playoff, which he figured will continue to be a point of discussion even after he retires. New commissioner Kevin Warren will be the man to weather whatever future the College Football Playoff has from a Big Ten perspective, which Delany was clear will require a lot of thought before any changes can be made.

“It's got to be sensitively done,” Delany said. “We have student-athlete issues, we have bowl issues, we have financial issues, but I know that those conversations have begun and they'll be on going, I think, over the next couple of years.”

When it comes to the student-athlete perspective, Frost wasn’t worried about making that possible when he spoke about it in 2018.

“I think you could start the playoff earlier in December, not have to make the semifinal like a bowl experience,” Frost said. “That would allow the season to end about the same time that it does with the national championship game.”

In Chicago last week, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called the expansion of the playoff “inevitable.” And he’s not the only one thinking that way. Other Big Ten coaches, like Frost, have been very vocal about the possibility of expansion. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh made the case for a 16-team playoff during last year’s Media Days. He offered that “more would be better,” starting with eight and eventually getting to 16.

This is also not a topic only being discussed in the Big Ten. It came up at SEC Media Days and Big 12 Media Days. Former Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell recently suggested the answer to the CFP woes goes beyond just the expansion of teams and to the heart of the college football schedule itself.

But back to the Big Ten. It’s been two years since the conference was represented in the College Football Playoff, and Big Ten coaches would like to see that change sooner rather than later. Whether it’s realignment of the divisions, a discussion on strength of schedule or an expansion of the playoff as it stands now, everyone seems to agree something needs to be done.

What exactly, though?

“I don't have all the answers to that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe something that would be worthy of you researching, studying.”

One last time: What do you think? Is expansion the answer? If so, let us know how you’d like to see the College Football Playoff expand (or not expand!) in the comments below.

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