Alabama Football: Power Five split, sooner than Playoff expansion

Power Five football schools should create a new organization or at least a new NCAA division and Alabama Football should lead the way.

As Alabama football, head coach, Nick Saban predicted, college football has an only minimally constrained free-agent market. Though it is mostly being done begrudgingly and has been long delayed, compensating players will happen. These changes are legitimately based on the principle of fairness.

More powerful than a free market commitment to fairness is the force of capitalism. In a non-traditional way, big-time college football creates wealth. If not wealth, it certainly creates massive cash flow. The programs with the greatest cash flow, operate in a different world than those funded at lower levels. Not all Power Five teams can have the resources of Alabama Football and maybe another 20, or so programs. But all FBS teams would benefit from an independent structure and rules.

One of the problems with the current FBS structure is a presumption all 130-plus FBS programs should have a level playing field from which to win championships. Financially, a level playing field does not exist, never has, and never will.

At the Power Five level and to a lesser extent below, games are profile, television events. To attract eyeballs, the hype or even the reality of greatness is not enough. Other themes able to drive fervor are the ‘underdog upset’ and ‘cinderella teams’ The college football world has milked the Appalachian State upset of Michigan since it happened in 2007.

As a then FCS program, Appalachian State had a great victory over the Wolverines and it should have been celebrated. But it was just one game. Boise State over Oklahoma in the 2007 Orange Bowl was described as historic, but it was just one game.

These examples deserve attention while expanding the CFB Playoff is debated. The debate carries no urgency. At least four more 4-team Playoffs are guaranteed contractually through the 2025 season.

Based on an anonymous survey sent to 132 Athletic Directors last spring, 88 percent of the 112 who responded favor a Playoff expansion. A solid but smaller 72 percent favored an eight-team field.

An expansion will generate more enthusiasm and with that, more cash. The majority of college football fans will love it.

What it will not do is provide a level playing field. It also will not end controversy over team selection. It may or may not lead to more ‘legitimate’ National Champions. To believe it will requires the fiction the  2014 through 2020 National Champions were not each season’s best team. Proof for such a claim is not reachable, unless, like new Tennessee, Athletic Director, Danny White, your tether to reality has been severed.

The CFBP has delivered a legitimate National Champion every year. Game results strongly suggest most of the four-team fields were not needed to determine a true Champion. In the Playoff’s history of 21 games, a winning margin of seven points or less has occurred just six times. Most of the other 15 games were either blowouts or games where the winner coasted to an easy victory.

In a couple of the seven seasons, the No. 5 or even the No. 6 rated team might have been more deserving than the No. 4 team. More likely, alteration to the  Final Four, would not have changed the National Championship outcome.

What is destined to become an eight-team field includes two thoroughly flawed presumptions. One is that every Power Five Champion must automatically qualify. The other is that a slot be reserved every season for a Group of Five team. With those mandates, a field of the eight best, college football teams will not always be achieved.

A better idea is to let the CFB Playoff Selection Committee, as they do now, choose the best teams. The field could be six with the top two seeds getting byes or it could be eight teams. Just don’t shackle the selection process by automatically qualifying every Power Five Champion or designating an every season slot to a Group of Five team.

One possible development might alter future automatic inclusion of a Group of Five team. If the Power Fives follow through on a partial or complete split from the current NCAA structure, the Group of Fives could have their own Playoff and their own Champion.

The process of restructuring the Power Fives will be difficult. If Alabama Football were to lead the way, with Nick Saban’s clout, it could happen sooner.