And Then There Were 12; Stanford Heads to Omaha
After two years of study and consideration of 63 different scenarios, the College Football Playoff “working group” recommended expanding the current four-team format to a 12-team event.
Most observers, experts, and media, including this writer, had anticipated that the group would recommend an eight-team format, which would include the champions of the Power Five Conferences, the highest ranked Group of Five champ, and two at-large teams.
But the 12-team format has several advantages, and the four member working group, consisting of Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame Commissioner (oops, Athletic Director) Jack Swarbrick, should be commended for a proposal that is clearly superior to an eight-team format. It values conference championships while providing more access to the Group of Five and top at-large teams.
If approved by the CFP Board of Managers (a virtual certainty) the 12-team field will consist of the six highest-ranked conference champions and the six highest-ranked at-large teams in the final CFP selection committee rankings. No conference will qualify automatically, and there is no limit on the number of participants from a conference.
The four highest ranked conference champs will be seeded No. 1-4 and receive a first-round bye, while teams seeded 5-12 will play each other in the first round on the home field of the higher ranked team (5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9). Quarterfinals and semi-finals will be played in bowl games, with the championship game at a neutral site.
Several things stand out.
· The top four seeded teams will not necessarily be the top four teams in the CFP rankings. It’s quite possible that Notre Dame or the No. 2 team in the SEC or Big Ten could be ranked in the CFP top four, while a conference champ could rank several spots lower but still get a top four seed and a first round bye.
· In fact, Notre Dame could be ranked No. 1 in the country at the end of the regular season, but fail to receive a bye and be forced to host a first-round game. Since Swarbrick was on the working group, one must assume he was okay with this limitation as a tradeoff for the increased access the Irish will have in a 12-team field. A 12-team format virtually guarantees Notre Dame a spot as long as it finishes 10-2 or better.
· The Group of Five will have much better access and indeed, a chance to get more than one team in. Since six champions are guaranteed a spot, the Group of Five will get at least one. However, if a 7-5 Power Five division champ pulls off an upset in a conference championship game, the group could possibly get two teams in.
· The Pac-12 is popping corks in San Francisco.
· The SEC is also a big winner, as the 12-team field gives it an opportunity to place three or four teams in the playoff. Sankey, who is now considered the loudest voice in the room with the retirement of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, was said to be adamantly opposed to an eight-team format.
What’s wrong with the proposal? I see two flaws.
First, seeds No. 1-4 should be the four highest ranked teams, rather than the four highest ranked champions, and second, the quarter-finals should be held on campus in the home stadiums of the top four seeds. It’s curious—some say idiotic—that the No. 5-8 seeds get to host a home game while No. 1-4, after getting a first round bye, have to play quarter-finals in a neutral bowl site.
What happens next? This week the proposal will be reviewed by the 11-member CFP Management Committee, which consists of the commissioners of the Power Five, Group of Five, and Swarbrick.
There is little chance the 1-4 seeding proposal will be changed, since the commissioners all preach the value of conference championships, and Swarbrick has already agreed to Notre Dame’s exclusion.
The bowl site vs. campus question will be debated, as it should be, because the atmosphere for college football is much better on campus than at a neutral site, and it’s hard to justify giving the No. 5-8 seeds a home game but denying one to seeds 1-4. The other option would be to have first round games played in bowls, too, rather than on campus, which would make my former bowl colleagues very happy.
What happens next?
Assuming the 12-team proposal is endorsed or mildly tweaked by the Management Committee this week, it will be forwarded for final approval by the CFP Board of Managers (consisting of one president from each of the 10 conferences and the president of Notre Dame), which meets June 22 in Dallas.
If the Board approves, the next big question concerns when the expanded format will be implemented. The earliest would be the 2023 season; the latest would be 2026.
My expectation is that they’ll try to do it in 2023 if they can work out the TV agreements and bowl considerations.
The sooner the better.
On to Omaha: Playing in front of a raucous crowd of over 4,000 fans at Texas Tech's Rip Griffin Park, the Stanford baseball team dominated the host Red Raiders in the Super Regional—15-3 and 9-0—to advance to the College World Series in Omaha.
Coach Dave Esquer got two outstanding pitching performances. On Friday, the ace of his staff, Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Brendan Beck, limited Texas Tech to two runs before departing in the eighth inning. On Saturday, unheralded Alex Williams tossed a complete game two-hit shutout. Beck and Williams struck out 23 Red Raiders, with most of Beck's coming on his fastball and most of Williams' coming on a deadly change up.
The pitching was overshadowed to some extent by the Cardinal's offensive fireworks. Stanford's lineup is powerful from top to bottom, with no easy outs, and every player is capable of going deep. On Saturday, All Pac-12 outfielder Brock Jones hit three home runs. Second baseman Tim Tawa was the MVP of the regional, third baseman Drew Bowser is rated a top pro prospect, and outfielder Christian Robinson and first baseman Nick Brueser are two of the toughest outs in college baseball.
Stanford also has one of the best defenses in the country, an advantage that proved very significant as Texas Tech made five errors.
Now on to Omaha, where Stanford will meet North Carolina State, an upset winner over No. 1 ranked Arkansas in the Super Regionals, in the first round. The Cardinal has to be considered a strong contender, particularly if Williams can continue pitching at an elite level.