Bring On the 12-Team CFP


​​College football’s 4-team playoff system is no good. I’m glad they’re getting rid of it. Everyone should be.

In playoff college football, I don’t want the national champ to be in two-thirds of the games I’m watching. Especially given the frequency of certain schools in the top 4 (looking at you, Alabama and Clemson), it can make the playoffs feel more like an annual reunion than a battle for recognition as the world’s best amateur football team.

The main arguments I read against a 12-team playoffs are that it leads to more upsets and cheapens the regular season. To the first point, I’d look toward the scoreboard of our most recent CFP championship, where Georgia beat TCU 65-7. That’s a 58-point difference. Yeah. A twelve-team playoff won’t yield a result that bad.

To the second point, I’ll say this. Right now in college football, even one bad Saturday can leave you on the outside looking in. Such was the case for 2021’s #5 Notre Dame, whose one loss (to a top-four team, no less) kept them from playoff contention. In a twelve-team format, competitive two-loss teams would get a spot at the dance. Great teams can stumble twice. Do they? Not often. But accepting two losses in a 12 or 13-week season isn’t generous by any means. And everyone can agree that a two-loss team like Alabama, Tennessee, Clemson, or USC would’ve measured up just as well against Georgia as one-loss TCU and Ohio State.

College football was right to take a cue from its older sibling, the National Football League. In the NFL, 14 of the 32 teams charge into the postseason. The idea that, of 131 D1 programs, only 4 are good enough to make a run is ludicrous. That’s just 3%, compared to the NFL’s much more inclusive 44%. We’re picking playoff contenders, not recreating MIT’s acceptance rates. Let’s be a bit more generous with our invitations.

Some teams take more time to put it all together. Looking at the NFL, one example is the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As the AFC’s fifth seed, the Bucs went into the playoffs as roughly the tenth-best team in the NFL, but they came out of it as Super Bowl champions. Would anyone say that Tampa was undeserving? No. Or that they took their foot off the gas in the regular season because the playoffs were so accessible? Again, no. The Bucs had to win four games against the best teams in the league to hoist the Lombardi trophy. So that’s what they did.

Another example? Look no further than our own 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers, who came into the playoffs as the sixth seed, about twelfth in the league, and notched three wins on the road before beating the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Twelfth to first. That’s how playoffs should be.

We lose the very essence of an unexpected result when four teams, all of which have been dominant all season, play three games to cap a 12 or 13-week season. There are other reasons to move to 12 teams—improving conference championships, relieving prospects’ pressure to pick top teams, and longer playoffs among them—but the real impetus to add 8 more teams is because it allows for more surprises. Bring on the upsets. The underdogs. The challengers. The Cinderella runs.

Bring on the 12-team college football playoffs.