Couch: College Football Plan To Expand Playoffs Will Only Create More Problems

Money in, money out. It’s a simple formula. Isn’t it?

Because the powers of college football are doing the math and seeing lost revenue from COVID, from players keeping the money off their own names and images, and from empowered non-revenue athletes with lawyers making sure schools do something they’ve neatly avoided before: actually abiding by Title IX gender equity laws.

So what’s the solution?

More money in, that’s what. A 12-team College Football Playoff. That’s right, we’re about to expand from four teams all the way to 12. That would likely mean a billion extra dollars or more per year in TV revenue. And just like that, problem solved.

Right? Wrong. Those things I mentioned about COVID, NIL and Title IX? They aren’t college football’s biggest issues. The problem is the gross mishandling and overspending of the billions of dollars college football already brings in. Most college football teams actually lose big money, pretend otherwise and hide the truth in bookkeeping tricks.

College football is a bubble that’s looking to burst. And so college athletics is doing what it does best: pumping more air into the bubble.

So they’re going to go get more money to mishandle.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the 12-team tournament. It sounds fun from a fan’s perspective. I can’t wait. The four-team tournament is hurting the regular season because the whole season comes down to Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State for three spots and then one more for Notre Dame, Oklahoma or another SEC team. 

I went to Colorado, and the Buffs’ whole season seems like a waste of time.

But the expanded tournament isn’t going to solve the problems that college football powers think it will.

When college football went looking for more money to solve its self-inflicted problems, it added a 12th game to the regular season. It added a conference championship game, too. And now, if you happen to be one of the final four teams to get into a 12-team tournament, you’ll add four more games to your schedule.

Put all of that together, and some of these players could be playing five additional games a year over the old model of 11 plus a bowl game. That’s more than a 40% increase in workload, not to mention shots to the head, blown knees and concussions.

Take that over four years, and you could basically remove a full pro season off a player’s career, even if he doesn’t get hurt. Are players really going to accept adding that much risk without pay while the schools bring in even more billions?

And if you pay football players, is it really going to be OK under Title IX to not pay, say, the women’s softball players, too?

One thing is for sure: College athletes need a union because the colleges aren’t actually standing up for them or looking out for them.

And it’s hard to imagine the power conferences not gobbling up all this extra money and just adding to the disparity of college sports. Meanwhile, the increased possibility of actually getting into the Alabama-Clemson-Ohio State invitational will only incentivize colleges to overspend even more.

The bubble grows bigger, bigger. That means more debts. It means trying to cut more non-revenue sports, which hasn’t gone well for some schools.

In theory, the tournament will be broken down this way: One spot for each of the Power Five conference champs, one for a Group of Five team to keep them from suing, and one for Notre Dame, if it’s any good.

If you have an eight-team tournament, then that leaves just one at-large spot. If you have a 12-team tournament, then there are five spots, which all but guarantees one, and probably two, additional teams from the SEC. My guess is that it would take a 12-team tournament, instead of eight, for the SEC to agree to this.

And college football won’t sneeze without the SEC’s permission.

Today, the Senate held hearings on the NIL, where athletes want to be able to make money off of their names and images. At this point, that’s against NCAA rules. Colleges want that money. If players get it, then boosters will start giving directly to players and not the school. Same with endorsers. 

Meanwhile, schools such as Stanford, Clemson and others have cut non-revenue sports to help pay for football. Yet lawyers are stepping in to defend those non-revenue athletes and show just how terribly out of compliance with Title IX most schools really are. Several schools have had to reinstate sports they announced they were cutting.

There might be a way to ace out the Group of Five schools again, as the Power Five conferences have always done. Maybe you make the whole tournament decided by invitation only, and not conference championships.

Then you tell a judge that Group of Five teams now have more opportunity to get in, not less. Then, you just don’t invite them, as always. The solution might be to do what the Power Five did when they created the College Football Playoff in the first place: Throw some money at the Group of Five and tell them to go away.

Whatever happens, the solution never seems to involve actually solving anything. Schools can’t help themselves but to overspend on football. It’s an addiction, and this is a way to feed the beast.

Why expand the playoff? Because college football needs a fix.

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Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.