The college football world tends to be an extreme environment dealing in a lot of absolutes. When the 12 Team College Football Playoff was announced, there were a lot of cries and outrage from fans about how this would cheapen the regular season. I for one, am not buying that line of thought.
Allow me to preface this argument by saying that as a hardcore college football fan, I may have some inherent bias. However, I think there are a handful of things ingrained into the culture of college football which will prevent the regular season from being rendered obsolete. Let me explain.
The NFL has it’s own share of rabid fans, but college football tends to have a little stronger pull due to the fact that alumni often feel they have a vested interest in rooting for a school that they attended. I don’t want to discount the experience of non-alumni fans either. Often times, fans of a school didn’t actually attend that school but their still tends to be a sizable contingent of hardcore fans who show up even if a team is suffering through a losing season.
Now, there can be contests where a myriad number of factors lead to flagging attendance, but just look at contests like Texas A&M and Auburn earlier this year. In spite of a contest that featured two losing teams and no recognizable stakes other than bragging rights, Auburn fans showed up and packed Jordan Hare and made the atmosphere electric. If that was the case this season, what makes you think anyone would decline to show up just because a few more teams are added to the playoff?
Percentage of Teams in the Playoff
A lot has been made of the fact that allowing more teams in the playoff would cheapen the regular season by lowering the stakes. I’d argue the opposite would be true. As it stands, only four teams have a chance at the national championship when the end of the season rolls around. In other words, if you think all there is to play for is a national championship, only 3% of the 131 FBS teams really matter at the end of the day. By upping the playoff to 12 teams, that number increases to 9%.
It’s not a huge increase, admittedly, but by giving more teams an opportunity to qualify, you also increase the number of games that could have an impact on the playoff. In my opinion this would actually increase the value of regular season games at the end of the year, not to mention conference championships.
The key piece of the puzzle that makes the college football regular season so important has nothing to do with the playoff and whether or not it expands. Instead, it’s the competitive aspect of getting one over on someone you can’t stand. This is why no matter how the playoff expands, the biggest threat to college football will never be the playoff. Instead, that threat is conference realignment.
As long as contests like the Egg Bowl – where Ole Miss and Mississippi State meet in a clash that doesn’t normally involve playoff implications continue to occur, college football’s regular season will be fine. Fed by dislike, fans will continue to turn up for rivalry contest even if there are no playoff hopes on the line. Just look at Florida State’s fans rushing the field after defeating their rival Florida with no hopes of either conference championship or playoff berth.
No matter how many times the NCAA chooses to expand the college football playoff, college football’s regular season will be just fine.