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OPINION | The new 12 team format will not fix the CFP

AUBURN, Ala.—Yesterday, the College Football Playoff's board of managers unanimously voted to expand the CFP to 12 teams in 2026. The board of managers is encouraging the commissioners of the sport to implement the expansion in 2024. 

This 12 team model, which was made public in the summer of 2021, will have the six highest ranked conference champions automatically qualifying for the CFP and the remaining spots going to the six highest ranked teams, commonly referred to as at-large bids. The only problem is that this “solution” to the CFP’s problems won’t fix anything and may even create more controversy.

This “solution” comes eight years after the CFP was created to “restore parity” in college football and replace the broken BCS system that was used from 1999-2013. 

Criticism for the system has grown with every passing year as some fans are finding that it is another imperfect system that has not restored parity in college football. In the eight years of the playoff, four teams have accounted for 21 of the 32 possible appearances in the playoff. 

The new 12 team format places a lot of emphasis on the importance of conference championships, granting the six best teams among those who were good enough to win their conference a spot in the CFP regardless of how they compare with the rest of the teams in college football who failed to win their conferences, or in Notre Dame’s case, do not play in a conference. 

In 2014 for example, this format would have dramatically shaken up the field. Under the rules of the new proposal, Boise State, 11-2 and ranked 20th in the final CFP rankings, would have been the sixth conference champion to earn a bid in the playoff along with the other Power 5 conferences. 

The Broncos won a weak Mountain West Conference that season, with a win over 6-6 Fresno State in the championship game. Despite this, along with a 14-point loss to Air Force(10-3) and a 35-13 neutral field loss to Ole Miss in the season opener, Boise State would have made it in the CFP under the rules of the proposal. 

The team they would replace in that scenario was a 10-3 Georgia Tech team, with two ranked wins in their final three games and a two-point loss in the ACC Championship Game against undefeated Florida State, the defending national champions.

In 2015, No. 18 Houston finished the regular season 12-1, with three ranked wins, though none of them over teams inside the top-15 and a 20-17 loss to a UConn team that finished 6-6. The AAC Champions earned a Peach Bowl berth that season but if the rules of the new proposal were in place, the Cougars would have been the final conference champion bid in the CFP.

Under the 12 team format rules, the Cougars would replace 9-3 Ole Miss in the playoff, despite the Rebels having four ranked wins in 2015, including a road victory over No. 2 Alabama. 

The 2016 season saw Western Michigan “row the boat” to an undefeated regular season and a Mid-American Conference Championship win in a 29-23 victory over Ohio who was 8-4 at the time and finished the season 8-6. The Broncos were ranked 15th in the final CFP rankings with no top-25 wins, their best win coming in a 55-35 victory over Toledo(9-4).

With the 12 team rules, Western Michigan would have taken Oklahoma State’s spot as one of the 12 teams despite the Cowboys finishing the year at 9-3, with two ranked wins and two of their three losses coming against ranked opponents.

In each case, the champions of weak conferences were correctly left out of the College Football Playoff due to their lack of impressive wins and weak overall schedules. The new proposal would change all of that, giving teams like Western Michigan spots in the playoff over other teams simply because they won in a bad conference while punishing teams like Ole Miss in the SEC and Georgia Tech in the ACC for playing in tougher conferences.

The appeal of the 12 team format is the reestablishment of parity in college football. The best conference in college football, the SEC, has dominated the CFP, with 10 total appearances by the conference and five of the eight champions.

In theory, more teams in the pool means a greater possibility for a March Madness-like tournament, but the reality is that college football is nothing like college basketball. The famous 2007 season, “The Year of the Upset”, where top-5 teams lost to unranked opponents a record 13 times, is an anomaly, not the norm. There is a reason most of the CFP Semifinals have been blowouts, and it is not because teams need to play two more times before facing Alabama and Georgia. 

Danny Kanell believes that fans who are upset at the 12 team format are SEC fans because the format will bring an end to SEC dominance, but that is not the case. In six of the last eight seasons under the 12 team format, the SEC would have had the most, or tied for the most teams in the College Football Playoff.

Just because the system is broken, does not mean there needs to be a rush to “fix” it and in this case an overcorrection that would hurt college football, not save it.

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