Every so often, it seems like college football fans need a reminder that the players they cheer for on Saturday are actual human beings. The latest announcement about expanding the College Football Playoff is one of those moments.
After opening up the field of teams playing for the national championship to four in 2014, the powers that be in college athletics aren’t nibbling around the edges of the postseason this time. Starting in 2024, the CFP field will increase to 12 teams. The squads seeded one to four will receive byes to the quarterfinals, while the eight lower-seeded teams will play games in an opening round – five versus 12, six versus 11 and so on.
Ross Dellenger of SI.com shared a projection last week of what the bracket would look like this year using the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings:
New CFP format that will start in 2024:— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) December 1, 2022
(1) 6 highest-ranked champs get AQs
(2) next 6 highest-ranked teams get At-Larges
(3) byes to top 4 conference champs
(4) 1st round at better seed
Attached is how a bracket would look if selections were todayhttps://t.co/1b7GjrWjz1 pic.twitter.com/rhh7EkoZCh
As someone who would be taking in the action on TV from my couch at home, this looks pretty fun. Media networks will undoubtedly pay a fortune for the rights to broadcast these games for that very reason. And as things currently stand, none of that new money will go to the people who provide the essential service of actually playing in the games.
That’s par for the course in college football. But keep in mind that in this hypothetical bracket, teams could potentially play as many as 17 games in a given season: Twelve in the regular season, a conference championship and upwards of four more in the CFP. That’s the equivalent of an NFL regular season, and those dudes get paid.
As fans, we can romanticize the opportunity to compete for our favorite teams on such a big stage. We have no skin in the game. But put yourself in the shoes of a player for Clemson or Utah in this scenario. If you’re hoping to take your talents to the NFL once the season is over, playing four more games over the course of a month – against what are ostensibly the best teams in the sport – seems borderline reckless. Frankly, even the potential for players on the top four teams to play three games feels like too big of a physical load to manage.
In other words, players opting out of the tournament is an inevitability without the schools offering them financial incentives to play. And history tells us that absent an act of Congress, a cut of that TV money isn’t coming for the players any time soon.
All of this leads back to the age-old questions: For who? For what?
Fans will always take more football over less. For programs like Tulane, expansion does address some of the equity criticisms that have hung over the sport for decades. Representatives of the power conferences will hopefully stop complaining about snubbing teams that never had a good argument for inclusion in the first place. Perhaps a greater chance at competing in the postseason will help programs that aren’t CFP mainstays siphon away some of the talent hoarded by Alabama, Ohio State and the like.
These aren’t adequate justifications for asking even more of the players who already give more than enough to make college football the most compelling sport on the planet.