Alabama Football: Best Playoff expansion plan for the Crimson Tide

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alabama football fans have no claim the current four-team Playoff format has ever been unfair to the Crimson Tide. The one-off Playoff field miss in the 2019 season was because Alabama Football was not one of the nation’s best four teams.

The Alabama Football Playoff history does not prevent many Crimson Tide fans from wanting an expanded format. Those fans are not wrong, but an expanded field could result in less fairness. Fairness is debatable and at whatever the size of an expanded field, from six to 32 or more, every season a program will feel unfairly excluded.

That is one reason why the CFB Playoff expansion group has looked at dozens of formats and hundreds of data points. According to Ross Dellenger, reporting for, the format options under consideration are from six teams to 16 teams.

Is more always better than less? SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey does not think so. As a member of a four-person subgroup striving to develop a consensus proposal, Sankey says he is open to expansions but also said,

"Four has worked, is working and can work moving forward."

Sankey is going to lose that argument, if for no other reason because virtually everybody else involved in the FBS wants an invite to the party.

Can Sankey protect Alabama Football and other top SEC teams?

What Sankey should and will be guard against is a format that keeps Alabama Football or another second-best SEC team out of the field.

History of the NCAA Basketball Tournament shows even with a 68 team field, every season, there are claims a team or teams have not been treated fairly. Given there are 357 Division One men’s basketball teams, the field of 68 allows under 20 percent to qualify. Use that same percentage with the FBS and a comparable CFP Playoff format would be 24 teams. But football is not basketball and gridiron teams are not going to play more frequently than once per week. A number above 16 is not practical.

Whatever the new format becomes, there will be unsatisfied programs every season. No format can resolve every potential issue. In summary, those issues are:

  • What happens to the Bowl Games? Can they co-exist with an expanded format?
  • If the field has automatic qualifiers, how many, and how are they determined?
  • How many Group of Five teams will auto qualify?
  • How many at-large slots?
  • Will any at-large slots be designated to Group of Five teams?

247Sports has done a solid job laying out the best and worst formats for six, eight, ten, twelve and sixteen team Playoff fields. None of the formats has answers to all of the above questions.

Using the 2017 and 2020 seasons for review, an eight-team field with five Power Five Champions, the highest-ranked Group of Five Champion and two at-large teams, gives the results below. The Selection Committee would have to seed the eight teams. In the examples, the final Selection Committee ranking of the top 12 teams is used for 2017 and the top 12, plus one for 2020.

2017 Eight Team Playoff

  • Five Power Five Champions: Clemson (1); Oklahoma (2); Georgia (3); Ohio State (5); Southern Cal (8)
  • Highest-Ranked Group of Five Champion: UCF (12)
  • Two At-Large Teams: Alabama (4) and one of Wisconsin (6), Auburn (7), Penn State (9), Miami (10) and Washington (11)

2020 Eight Team Playoff

  • Five Power Five Champions: Alabama (1); Clemson (2); Ohio State (3); Oklahoma (6); Oregon (25)
  • Highest-Ranked Group of Five Champion: Cincinnati (8)
  • At-Large Teams: Notre Dame (4) and Texas A&M (5)

Spotting the pushback from the two fields is easy when looking at the CFBP Committee final rankings.

In 2017, at least four programs can make solid claims they deserved being in the Playoff field more than did UCF.

The 2020 situation would have caused more complaints. In the final ranking of the Top 25, 17 teams could have claimed to be more deserving than Oregon.

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There will be a Playoff expansion. Making it eight teams will solve very little. Adding more teams and giving the top teams one or two byes appears to be a better approach. Even then, fairness of the selection process will continue to be questioned.