In the tip, increasing the College Football Playoff to 12 groups was a no brainer determination for the game. The quantity of extra tv cash accessible, mixed with a widespread feeling that the four-team format wasn’t giving sufficient faculties and conferences entry to varsity soccer’s premiere product, made it not possible to delay any longer.
Despite a few of the issues, that are still being labored out as we converse, the game’s decision-makers have now agreed that expansion is the way in which ahead.
But this week ought to remind us that school soccer will not achieve from an expanded Playoff with out dropping one thing. When the Playoff expands, both in 2024 on the earliest or 2026 on the newest, the game will be completely different.
And possibly not fully for the higher.
Purely from a aggressive standpoint, what transpired final weekend in school soccer was the very best argument for retaining the playoff at 4 groups. At round 3 pm Eastern, each No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 TCU had been in massive bother, dealing with fourth-quarter deficits earlier than finally prevailing on dramatic last-second area targets.
A little bit later, no. 2 Ohio State was getting pushed to the brink by Maryland earlier than the Buckeyes finally received their act collectively within the closing minutes. Then late within the night, USC barely stayed within the Playoff race with a slender win over rival UCLA, whereas then-No. 5 Tennessee received knocked out by a stunning loss to South Carolina.
All in all, it was the type of day that makes school soccer distinctive amongst American sports activities: Almost each week, but significantly at this level within the season, the stakes are so excessive that one sudden slip-up can change every little thing. Watching groups navigate that strain — whether or not they overcome it like Michigan and TCU or implode just like the Vols — is arguably essentially the most thrilling a part of the season.
And make no mistake, when the Playoff expands to 12, it’s going to be completely different. In some methods, it will not be for the higher.
If we might transport final weekend’s video games to, as an instance, 2026, there is no such thing as a attainable world through which they’d really feel as essential or stuffed with stress.
WINNERS, LOSERS:Michigan, TCU survive shut calls; Tennessee stumbles
MISERY INDEX:Embarrassing loss prices Tennessee a spot within the College Football Playoff
COACHES POLL:Southern California joins the highest 5
MORE:The high 5 overreactions from school soccer’s Week 12
Whereas TCU doubtless cannot afford even a single loss — one thing the workforce and its followers had been properly conscious of heading into Baylor final Saturday — they’d cruise right into a 12-team Playoff it doesn’t matter what. Tennessee, now No. 11 within the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll, would still be hanging on to one of many closing spots. And versus the winner-take-all state of affairs that has been arrange for this weekend’s Ohio State-Michigan sport, it will functionally be about seeding since each groups would already be assured within the Playoff.
Again, this is not a radical idea. The NFL is the preferred sport in America, and followers haven’t any downside getting invested in a Week 15 sport that will decide whether or not the Bills or Dolphins win a division or get the wild card. Likewise, the brand new school soccer world will not lack for drama. More video games will be related late within the season and extra groups will be within the race.
Oregon, which has no path to the playoff now as a two-loss workforce, would basically be in place to safe a bid this weekend towards Oregon State. We’d abruptly be very all for 9-2 Penn State, which just about fell off the map in late October. Notre Dame, a workforce that was left for useless in September, might abruptly get into the image with a win at USC. Even Tulane-Cincinnati would have Playoff implications because the American Athletic Conference champion could be in line for an automated spot.
College soccer trade-offs
Over the lengthy haul, that will be good for faculty soccer. Although the universe of groups that may truly win nationwide titles most likely will not look a lot completely different — the Alabamas, Georgias and Ohio States of the world are going to be laborious to unseat so long as they get the majority of the blue-chip expertise — it will be factor for extra fan bases and administrations to really feel like they’re a part of the motion.
And once you begin to have a look at a few of the potential playoff matchups, do you suppose there will be any curiosity in Penn State at Alabama as a first-round sport? Or how about Oregon going to Clemson? It’s a scrumptious world of prospects.
But it will be a distinct world. And it is OK to really feel a bit wistful concerning the trade-offs school soccer will must make.
Like it or not, the exclusivity of school soccer’s postseason has had a significant affect on the urgency of the regular season. Sure, Ohio State-Michigan is at all times going to be a large sport in any context. An expanded playoff will not change what it means to these gamers or fan bases.
But it will be silly to disclaim the significant distinction between a sport that determines who will get a Playoff bid and a sport that determines seeding or who will get a first-round Playoff bye after they’re each already within the bracket. That does not imply one is best or worse total, but it will be a pure reordering of priorities and passions because the season unfolds.
When school presidents lastly agreed in 2012 to ditch the BCS and transfer to the four-team mannequin, the game’s leaders braced for the inevitability that each dialog through the season would revolve across the Playoff. But the diploma to which it has pushed every little thing else into the background and made actually good seasons really feel less-than-good at so many colleges has been much more pronounced than anybody knew.
Are Clemson followers going to be fired up in the event that they end 13-1 and get relegated to the Orange Bowl? Unlikely. How a lot of Alabama’s stars will even take part in a bowl sport this 12 months? Teams which might be having actually good seasons like 9-2 Washington or surging Florida State do not get talked about a lot as a result of they are not in competition. That will change in the event that they enter the ultimate week of the season with an opportunity to sneak into the 12-team area.
Once directors received a really feel for simply how a lot the Playoff would dominate the regular season, and the way just a few groups had been hogging most of these spots yearly, expansion needed to occur. Through the primary eight years of the CFP, simply 13 completely different applications have made the semifinals. If you need a product that pulls coast-to-coast curiosity, it’s a must to have coast-to-coast participation. That’s what the 12-team playoff will be designed to construct.
When that occurs, simply be ready: Weekends like final Saturday, the place the massive favorites are all in bother and combating for his or her Playoff lives, will not be as intense. The highs will not be as excessive; the lows will not be as low. Just just like the NFL, the drama will be a sluggish construct in the direction of the postseason as an alternative of a weekly elimination contest.
In the tip, expansion of the College Football Playoff wasn’t simply the right transfer, it was the one transfer. But final weekend was a reminder that it will not ever really feel fairly the identical.