Alabama Football: Why an expanded playoff will not slow down the Tide

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

With the domination of the current Alabama football dynasty still churning at full strength, many college football fans are constantly seeking parody within the sport.

Alongside Alabama, other schools such as Clemson, Ohio State, and, most recently, Georgia, have reached the sport’s elite tier. The college football elite have created clear separation from even their second-tier counterparts. They are not a fluke, nor the product of stars aligning; they have been able to string together several years of dominance in their conferences as well as at the national level. Additionally, they recruit at the highest level, stockpiling blue chip recruits. This gives the elites almost unfair levels of talent and depth, and makes them self-sustaining dynasties.

No one has done this better than Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Many suggestions have been made (and changes implemented) in an attempt to slow down Saban. Recruiting restrictions, a playoff system, and an open transfer market have all tried and failed. Saban has flipped each change to work in his favor.

Alabama Football: Expansion will not result in better games

The latest proposition, and inevitable change, is an expanded playoff. This, like the previous changes, will likely only serve to prolong the Alabama football dynasty.

The thought process behind an expanded playoff includes a domino effect of intended results. The hope of expansionists is that more playoff teams will result in fewer opt-outs, therefore creating more marquee games, and, ultimately, bringing parody to the sport by giving more teams an opportunity to compete for a title.

Personally, I don’t believe expansion is good for college football. Let’s consider a 12-team playoff for example. This could certainly reduce or eliminate opt-outs among the 12 selected teams, and could give us two or three more high-quality postseason games. However, as many have stated, I think we’d be exchanging this marginal improvement for the rest of the college football season. The non-playoff bowl games, and much of the regular season, would be rendered even less important than they are in their current capacity.

Alabama Football: The Cream Always Rises

Most importantly, I don’t think there is a claim as misguided as the belief that playoff expansion will lead to parody. The logic behind this claim is that more teams will have a chance to compete for a title, which could knock off elite teams like Alabama. Mathematically, this makes sense. If a team has to win more games in order to win a championship, they have a higher likelihood of losing.

However, history tells us that a 12-team playoff would most likely yield elite teams in the final and semi-final rounds. Even when you consider Alabama’s three playoff losses, they have fallen only to fellow elite teams in those games. Alabama lost to Clemson in two national championship games, both coming after Clemson had already firmly established itself as a college football powerhouse. It also lost in the inaugural college football playoff to an Ohio State team that went on to dominate in the title game.

I would argue that outside of guaranteeing that the elites will never again miss the playoff, expansion would only accomplish giving extra opportunities to the “upstarts” (think 2015 Michigan State, 2016 Washington, 2021 Cincinnati) that have repeatedly proven that they don’t have much of a chance against the elite teams.

You could even include Notre Dame and Oklahoma in that category. Although they aren’t upstarts in the traditional sense and are consistently in playoff conversations, the way that they have struggled to compete in the CFP illustrates the stark differences between the elites and everyone else.

In an expanded playoff, these “upstart” teams that never seem able to match up with the Alabamas of the world, would have to win two or three consecutive games against elite teams to win a championship. If anything, expansion could actually eliminate these teams’ slim chances at a title.

Alabama Football: Bama would be virtually guaranteed a playoff spot

With a 12-team playoff (or even eight), teams like Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State will have a built-in buffer. They will have the luxury of potentially losing multiple regular-season games and still making the playoff.

In 2019, Alabama football’s lone year missing the playoff, the Tide dropped a pair of close regular-season games. Alabama lost by three in the Iron Bowl, due in part to costly mistakes by backup quarterback Mac Jones, and due in part to a late miss on a chip shot by kicker Joseph Bulovas. Earlier in the season, that same Alabama team gave eventual national champion LSU its most competitive game of the season, even with a hobbled Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback.

This is an example of an Alabama team that could’ve potentially made a 12-team playoff, and was more than capable of stealing a title in that year. A similar situation would’ve been 2021 Ohio State. The Buckeyes were a highly talented team with an explosive offense that missed the cut after losing two regular-season games. In an expanded playoff format, they very well could have beaten a team like Cincinnati or Michigan in a rematch.

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Many pro-expansion arguments feature the claim that a bigger playoff would conjure up parody in the sport, giving national title hopes to teams that don’t have any in the current format. In my opinion, it would only widen the margin for error for the elite programs that already dominate the college football landscape.