We’re in the middle of June and things are really heating up on the recruiting front so it only seems logical that the NCAA totally shifts focus and stirs up rumors around the College Football Playoff.
What rumors, exactly? Well, Yahoo Sports reported earlier this week that a College Football Playoff management committee has been tasked with exploring expansion of the existing playoff format. That task doesn’t come with any specific outcomes in mind, just exploring potential scenarios to present to the broader group in a meeting on July 17-18 in Chicago.
Despite not having a specific outcome in mind, there seems to be consensus building that an expansion does make sense. That sound you just heard was the collective college football fan universe mumbling “duh” to themselves.
But Yahoo is reporting the management committee may not be expanding in the way your average fan might expect. While a jump from the existing four-team format to an eight-team format might seem logical and neat (what with no need for byes and the easy solution of admitting all Power 5 conference champions with room for the highest ranked Group of 5 team and two more at-large bids), it seems instead the committee is leaning heavily toward expanding even further to a 12-team format.
As the College Football Playoff takes shape this month, sources indicate to @YahooSports that a 12-team model is the early favorite to emerge as the next version of the CFP. Here's why: https://t.co/ZBt94PJA2U— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) June 8, 2021
Throughout the week, momentum on this has grown, culminating on Thursday when the floodgates opened with reputable reporters cited a number of sources on this being the future of college football.
Chief among them has been Stadium’s Brett McMurphy. McMurphy has reported the move from four to 12 is a virtual lock, though it will not be finalized until September at the earliest. Not only that, it won’t be implemented until 2023 at the earliest. The move would come at the expense of somewhere between four and ten existing bowl games, which would be replaced by new quarterfinal matchups.
So what would that structure look like?
For starters, it wouldn’t simply be the top-12 teams in the existing CFP rankings. Instead, it would be the six highest-ranked conference champions as well as the next six highest ranked teams. There are some implications in that phrasing.
For starters, it leaves a sliver of a crack open for a P5 champion to not get in, but it would likely take a once in a generation scenario (the conference would need to be down severely with the champion well down the national rankings and at least two G5 champions being ranked higher).
It also makes things more difficult for independents. Without a conference championship game, teams like Notre Dame will need to ensure they fall into that category of six next highest ranked teams.
But more importantly, McMurphy and others are reporting that those independents will also be locked out of the top-4 seeds. Those spots would instead be reserved for the four highest ranked conference champions, who would earn a coveted first-round bye.
The quarterfinal matchups featuring teams ranked 5-12 in the playoff seeding would then be played on college campuses. Teams coming in at 5-8 would host teams ranked 9-12 before the semifinal games would be played in bowl games much as they are now.
More info re: 12-team CFP recommendation, via source: Four highest-ranked conference champions would receive a first-round bye, while teams 5-12 would play each other in the first round on the home field of the higher-ranked team. Quarters and semis would be played in bowl games.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) June 10, 2021
That could make for some incredibly interesting matchups. More interesting even than the matchups, however, would be the prospect of a second (or third) SEC team making a road trip to a place like Iowa City or Madison or Ann Arbor in December.
Impact for Iowa
This is all fascinating as an outsider, but what does it all mean for the Iowa Hawkeyes? Potentially a lot. Under Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have had a number of very good years, but just one BCS win and zero playoff appearances.
There’s a major gap between the top handful of programs in the country and everyone else. That likely won’t change under any system, but the road to relevance for a program like Iowa may be much more traveled under the new structure.
For example, most Iowa fans wouldn’t be pounding the table for this year’s team to be a world-beater or even one of the top handful of teams of the KF era. But according to PFF, it is projected to be in the theoretical playoff field with a trip to Notre Dame on the docket before a potential neutral site semifinal game against Georgia.
Who PFF projects to be the top-12 teams in 2021:— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 9, 2021
3. Ohio State
6. Texas A&M
8. Notre Dame
11. North Carolina
12. Cincinnati pic.twitter.com/s5kzVYI7lA
If that seems like a pipe dream, think again. Based on historical rankings, Iowa would have made the playoffs under a 12-team structure four times under Kirk Ferentz.
As with the above hypothetical scenario for this season, the prior hypothetical playoff appearances would have created some interesting matchups. Here’s a rundown of the four year’s Iowa would have made the playoffs in the new setup and who they would have been matched up against.
2015- #5 Iowa (12-1) hosting #12 Ole Miss (9-3)
2009- #10 Iowa (10-2) at #7 Oregon (10-2)
2004- #12 Iowa (9-2) at #5 California (9-1)
2002- #5 Iowa (11-1) hosting #12 Penn State (9-3)
It’s not just the Hawkeyes, an expanded playoff is a positive for the entire Big Ten conference in terms of adding playoff appearances.
Number of @CFBPlayoff bids by conference in past 7 years using proposed 12-team playoff format:— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) June 10, 2021
Big Ten 20
Big 12 12
Notre Dame 3
Mountain West 1
Sun Belt 1
While those appearances may not lead to more national championships or truly change outcomes for the Hawkeyes, they at least give Iowa a fighting chance. Under Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have shown an ability to game plan for bowl games and those quarterfinal matchups would likely be no different.
More importantly, however, the simple fact the team is in the playoff is better for the brand than making or even winning a bowl game. Outside the Hawkeye faithful, nobody could tell you what years Iowa won the Outback Bowl or the Holiday Bowl or any other bowl. Nobody remembers what the team’s bowl record is. But having that tigerhawk on the national stage more than once a decade and not getting embarrassed in lopsided matchups is something that can build momentum for the program. Even if the revised playoff format is watered down with expansion, there’s TV exposure, news headlines and recruiting to be done on the back of those modest runs.
Now it seems that possibility is on course to become a reality, provided the Hawkeyes can build on the momentum they have from a pair of top-16 finishes the last two years.