Kirk Herbstreit Wants Changes To College Playoff System

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Kirk Herbstreit is fed up with the College Football Playoff system and thinks it’s time to make changes since so many teams are left in the dust with zero chance of ever playing for a national championship.

“Our postseason is as bad as there is,” Herbstreit said Wednesday on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin Show (via 247 Sports). “And we have got to figure out a system that opens up opportunities. The season ends Jan. 12. I can already tell you, 2021, Ohio State’s coming out of the Big Ten, Clemson’s coming out of the ACC, Alabama’s coming out of the SEC.

“I can say in 2023, Ohio State is coming out of the Big Ten, Clemson’s coming out of the ACC and Alabama (in the SEC). … If that’s where we are, is that right? Is that healthy for the sport when 98 or 99 percent of the participants realize they don’t have a chance before the season starts?

“We’ve got to look at this 2020 year and realize that we have to tweak the system for the betterment of the sport. We’re at a fork in the road right now on a lot of levels, and we’ve got to look at some potential changes.”

What Herbstreit fails to mention is the role that his employer has played in all this from the beginning. The CFP has always been about guaranteeing the most eyeballs and money possible to a network that has huge skin in the game. The network signed a 12-year deal in 2012 to broadcast the playoff games at a price tag of $5.64 billion, or $470 million annually. In 2015, ESPN negotiated $20 million in makegoods to advertisers after a ratings disaster when the CFP games were played on New Year’s Eve.

How do you prevent makegoods and a profit? You rig the system so bluebloods are guaranteed to be there at the end. Herbstreit is upset at the very system his employer has created. What’s unspoken here is that the system will eventually be changed, and it won’t be for the benefit of Cincinnati, BYU, Coastal Carolina or any other random school that had a great year.

The Power Five will eventually split off, and the Playoff will expand. Yet the AAC, Mountain West, etc., etc., will still not be invited. Why? Ratings. Money. Eyeballs. Advertising. Just a week ago, it was announced ESPN was buying up the final SEC rights held by CBS to the tune of more than $300 million annually over 10 years starting in 2024, according to Sports Business Journal.

The college football utopia Herbstreit remembers from the old days isn’t returning until ESPN’s grip on college football is weakened. Good luck with that.


Written by Joe Kinsey

Joe Kinsey is the Senior Director of Content of OutKick and the editor of the Morning Screencaps column that examines a variety of stories taking place in real America.

Kinsey is also the founder of OutKick’s Thursday Night Mowing League, America’s largest virtual mowing league.

Kinsey graduated from University of Toledo.


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  1. Refreshingly honest take from Herbstreit who I mostly tune out these days. He’s 100% accurate, its getting old watching Bama vs. Clemson part 7 with a slight chance of Ohio State pulling an upset and knocking one of them out.

    ToJoe’s point, it reminds me of one of the only times Dick Vitale was ever left speechless. As Dickie V was lamenting how the college basketball hype machine has ruined amateurism, Billy Packer absolutely crushed him with “That’s because of your network Dick, it was your network that showed up at Lebron James’ high school and turned it into a reality show”.

  2. This is so simple it is embarrassing these pundits have jobs. If you want to include all D-1 conferences it can be 16 teams: all 10 conference champs get an automatic bid for winning their respective conference. Do away with conference championship games and the regular season winner gets in. Then choose 6 at-large teams. If you only want Power 5, then it can easily be an 8 team playoff: all Power 5 conference champs get in. Do away with conference championship games and take 3 at large. The TV rights and contracts would be through the roof. Think NFL Wild Card Round only bigger. Who wouldn’t want to watch a quarterfinal matchup between Alabama and USC, or Ohio State v. Oklahoma.

    • I love the idea of expanding the playoff to 8, but here’s my caveat with the idea of automatic bids to the Power 5 conference champs. It removes any incentive to play a tough non-conference schedule. We would hardly ever see games like LSU-Texas, Alabama-USC, Oregon-Auburn, Notre Dame-Wisconsin ever again. Why? Because the conference schedule would be the only thing that matters to these teams. They’ll fatten themselves up with easy non-conference wins over cupcakes, and then go balls to the wall in conference. As long as you win your conference, you’re in. So why play a tough non-conference game? That’s my problem with the automatic bids. Expand to 8, but no auto bids. Make teams earn it. (By the way, if you’re scenario comes true, I think Notre Dame would join the ACC full-time, and BYU would join either the Pac-12 or Big 12. Nobody would want to play them as independents anymore. Again, teams wouldn’t want a tough non-conference game that doesn’t benefit their playoff chances.)

      • Possibly. I know basketball is a little different because there are so many at large tournament teams but I think you would still see teams play decent non-conference schedules because if true playoffs happened there wouldn’t be the necessity to go 12-0 like there is now. If a team like say, Iowa State doesn’t go 13-0 and beat the dog snot out of every team they won’t make the playoffs as currently constructed. Under the conference champ and in model a team could go 1-2 in out of conference and sweep the conference schedule and still get in.

    • Was the BCS a more fair system? Did the likes of Boise St. put fear into the major conferences that sometimes a dark horse could compete?

      That’s what makes March Madness so captivating. Bringing a 16 team playoff to the table makes so much sense to the outside world you have to ask who would be against it.

      Bowl committees acting as non-profits need to be looked at. It’s a shame. We could keep the “bowl” names as semi finals and championship games.

      In my system, the Rose Bowl should be the national title game every year cause it’s “The Grandaddy of them all”.

  3. I have had an idea for years now that may sound crazy, but I think this is the platform to run it out and let my fellow Outkick VIP’s agree, disagree and give their comments. Here goes:
    I think they should pare down the teams from 130 down to 80 teams. The rest can form a new Division and play for their own title. Take these 80 teams and place them into 8 conferences of 10 teams each. Each team plays a 12 game schedule, 9 conference games(1 against each other and 3 out of conference, only against the teams from the 80). The reason for the other 3 games is so that fans get to see more games than just conference foes. There’s no conference championship games because you’ve already determined who won during conference play(tie-breakers would be head to head, etc until the winner is determined). Start the season at the beginning of September and end the regular season the 2nd week of December(this would allow a bye week). The Playoffs would consist of the 8 conference winners. The 3rd week of December would be the round of 8. The last week of December would be the Final 4 and New Year’s Day(when the big bowls would play back in the day), would be The National Championship. I know it would take years to work this out, but that’s just something I would love to see and would be clean and would work.

  4. I’m glad he said something. When every year we know that 3 of the 4 spots are going to Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, it makes conference championship games fairly meaningless. We need an expanded playoff where every conference champion gets in, along with at least 3 at-large picks. The big bucks will be massive.

  5. So if Herbstreit is right will people stop tuning out if the same teams get in year over year? I know I will. My daughter graduated from Ohio State so I am a bit conflicted, but outside of that, I have no interest in watching Alabama – Clemson part 23 and I sure as hell will tune out an Alabama -ND national championship game. With 8 good teams there is more of chance for an upset and possibly something interesting will occur. ESPN ruins everything it touches.

  6. Income from a 16 team tournament would be crazy. 8 would be good, but 16 would be fun and I think would puncture into many regional markets.

    I think that we are losing excitement in the sport and I think this could fix a lot.

    If Group of 5 isn’t invited to the party, good luck staying relevant to those schools.

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