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Syracuse football: Pros and cons of a 12-team playoff

We can dream, anyway...

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As you’ve certainly heard by now, it appears the College Football Playoff wants to seriously consider a 12-team field at some point in the near future (some time between 2023 and 2026). Some may think it’s too many teams, while others maybe believe that’s not enough to keep the entire sport involved.

Up front, I’ll say I’m a fan of the idea. And below I’ll dig into why — both as a fan of college football as a whole, and a fan of the Syracuse Orange. I’ll also add some of why it may not work out well, for both Syracuse and college football at large.


More access to the Playoff, and the publicity and interest that brings with it

When the College Football Playoff began following the 2014 regular season, it was seen as an expansion of the existing system. Rather than two teams put into a championship game by way of computer rankings, this played things out on the field. The setup was an improvement, and granted more access to more teams.

And then it didn’t.

Quickly, the Playoff became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The teams that got publicity for being in it got better and better, and those left out didn’t, necessarily. Over 71% of invites have gone to four teams: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. ESPN’s hype cycle around the event basically turned the last four weeks of the season into a commercial for those teams, and left the other games seeming inconsequential.

Expanded to 12 teams fixes a bunch of that, for Syracuse and countless others. No, it’s not likely that the Orange are included in the field any time soon (they wouldn’t have been in line to make a 12-team event at any point since 1998), but the ability to strive for a playoff bid without winning a conference title is good for the sport and generates a ton of interest down the line for at least 20 schools, if not more throughout November.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Removes preferential treatment for Notre Dame

Most interesting in all of this, perhaps, is that the Fighting Irish lose their preferential treatment as a member of the Power Five (Plus One). Previously, Notre Dame had access points to both the ACC’s Orange Bowl bid and the College Football Playoff that other independents did not. Under the current proposal, not so much.

The Orange Bowl would be part of a quarterfinal and semifinal rotation with no reserved spots for any league. More importantly, the proposal states that the first round byes will be granted to the top four conference champs. Notre Dame’s not in a league, so that wouldn’t apply to them. Any national title run for the Irish would involve winning four games in a row.

Does this cut off access to a championship or the Playoff? No, not at all. But between last year’s conference affiliation experiment that landed them an invite and this clearly tougher road spelled out, it would seem far more enticing to be in a conference then not going forward.


As always, these sorts of moves are about the amount of money the parties involved can make, and 12-team Playoff would be pretty lucrative for everyone involved — in particular, the power conferences.

Assuming the ACC remains involved in a 12-team event every year, that’s at least one payout split among the league’s schools every year — at a decidedly higher amount than what they’re getting currently from the four-team deal. Having 12 teams in the Playoff also means a higher chance of two or more schools from the conference making it given the six “at large” bids available.


Easier for peer programs and/or “lesser” conferences to leap over SU

A four-team system kept the status quo in place for the sport, in the sense that you couldn’t just leap up out of nowhere and win a title. It was a gradual process; something that Clemson successfully navigated, and Oregon nearly did over the last couple decades.

Having a 12-team setup doesn’t remove all of those hurdles, but it does make it a bit easier to do over a shorter period.

Right now, Syracuse has an advantage over some peers since they’re all in the same boat as Playoff non-participants. More open access to the field makes it easier for the list of non-participants to shrink, and for the likes of say Wake Forest, Kansas State, Maryland, Iowa State, etc. to “leapfrog” us in the consciousness of recruits if they haven’t already. There’s an opportunity for Syracuse there too, of course. But I’m just being realistic that all of those schools have been closer to a 12-team field than we have in the last decade or two.

There’s also the risk in there for the ACC that it could lose its seat at the table as a power conference. A few years ago, the league kind of hit a rough patch and its muddled middle started to become about 10-12 teams. That’s not great in terms of making the Playoff, and it leaves no wiggle room for Clemson to drop off if that eventually occurs. Without a true “Power Five” in this new structure — auto-bids just go to the top six — a couple down seasons could really hurt the conference, and us as a result.

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Other bowls just don’t matter anymore

On the one hand, more access means the end of the season matters for more teams. But what about the 118 schools that don’t make the Playoff? Even the bowl teams in that group will struggle to sell a long series of postseason trips if none of them include a Playoff bid.

That also makes it tougher for coaches to stick around and build something. Maybe not a problem for Syracuse, mind you, whose administrators and boosters largely have reasonable football goals. But for others with designs on a playoff trip — rightly or wrongly — coaches may not get more than two years to sniff that conversation before they’re on the way out.

Alright, what are we doing about player rights?

If this is implemented, that’s another three or four games per team, plus more money for TV rights. That’s a LOT to ask of players in general both in terms of total games —we’re looking at a 17-game season, potentially — and the time of year, with players asked to travel around holidays and finals. But it’s also a lot to ask without any additional financial considerations allotted to players.

NIL is currently being debated on Capitol Hill, so this could wind up changing whether the powers-that-be want to or not. However, even without actions forced, there’s no way any proposal should be agreed upon in good conscience without actively discussing how players are compensated as part of this shift.


What do you think? Like 12 teams? Think it’s too many? Too few? Share your own thoughts below.