College Football Playoff Expansion Might Not Be a Matter of If, but When

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterMay 6, 2013

It’s the elephant in the room, an empty room.

As the champagne for the College Football Playoff is put on ice, the focus has already shifted to the future of the future. Forget about the four teams that will soon battle it out once the postseason finishes its final dress rehearsal in 2013.

What about eight teams? Or how about we just cut to the chase and make it 16?

This isn’t just a growing sentiment among bracket junkies craving more action. This feeling of inevitable growth already has backing from those who will soon give it a test drive.

Sound familiar? It should. 

It was this kind of chatter that helped spark a playoff just a few years ago despite vehement denials from those with power. Here we are again. And like the familiar scenario, the outcome could be the same.

As this talk builds with new purpose well before the curtain is lifted on College Football Playoff 1.0 in 2014, the thought of something larger feels imminent.

We know the name, games, dates and locations, but the selection committee, the heart and soul of this postseason, is still unknown. Even with the picture incomplete, many—including Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly—are bracing for more. Specifically, more teams.

He didn’t go as far as to fully endorse playoff expansion while speaking with the Star-Telegram, although he didn’t hold back, either.

I don’t know that four is where we’re going to finish this thing. I think it’s a great entry into where we want to go. Moving forward, I think the focus … will be on whether it’s eight or 16 (teams) or whatever the number is.

The head coach of the nation’s most polarizing football brand doesn’t have any direct influence on the possibility of expansion. When he speaks, however, people listen. His comments (and confidence) are noteworthy. As is the timing.

Bill Hancock, the former leader of the BCS, has the same position with the College Football Playoff. The new boss is indeed the same as the old boss (well, literally), and the posturing continues under a new title.

Hancock has denied that expansion will take place during the 12-year contract, something Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News recently relayed.

This will not be the last this surfaces, that’s a certainty.

Sound familiar? It should.

Hancock, of course, spent much of his time as BCS head honcho squashing the possibility of a playoff altogether. In a lot of ways, he served as only a mouthpiece for his employers, but he fought hard against what he is now fighting for.

These strong denials from Hancock surfaced as recent as late 2010, something CBS Sports’ Dennis Doss documented in the archive. 

A playoff is not going to happen. The college presidents, the coaches, the ADs should run college football. And they do. The presidents don't want it. The coaches don't want it. The players have said they'd rather go to three bowls than one playoff. That's the three groups that manage this. None of them want it.

Well, someone wanted it. And here we are. The man who adamantly opposed a postseason is now the official spokesman and lead decision-maker for the postseason. 

College football in a nutshell.

For now, talk of expanding the four-team playoff is premature. Hancock, much like he did under his previous title, can hide comfortably behind his word. That we’re already questioning it, however, is telling.

While Kelly views this as a first step—and he is likely correct in his assumption—this talk won’t become a reality until the College Football Playoff is finally put in motion. When it finally gets the green light, expect the talk to grow more frequent and the tone to change.

Right now, it’s speculation, an answer to a question. The pitchforks aren’t out, but they will be eventually.

The first few years of the playoff will be telling. Controversy will likely become a yearly fixture, especially when it comes to the third and fourth teams picked by the selection committee.

Make no mistake about it, controversy is unavoidable. It’s coming. 

If Kelly is fixated on the possibility of playoff expansion now, imagine how vocal he will be the moment a deserving Notre Dame team is ranked fifth by the committee. 

Twelve years—the length of the playoff contract—is an eternity given the year-to-year oddities that each college football season brings.

In some seasons, the top four teams will likely separate themselves conveniently. In others, eight teams may have a legitimate gripe for owning a spot in the exclusive postseason. It’s these kinds of moments—and more specifically, the vocal response accompanying it—that will ultimate fuel the possibility for further change.

And then, of course, there’s the possibility of more. Not just more teams, but more money. Tons of it. After all, it’s the driving force of college football’s postseason. It’s why we’re having this conversation.

ESPN will be paying nearly $500 million each season for the rights to the College Football Playoff. More teams equate to more games. More games equate to more money. Much more. 

Money, however, is oddly secondary (for now) in the evolution of the playoff. If the time comes when  Hancock has to give in, and the result is more dollars for those paying his salary, this consolation will be welcomed with open arms.

For now, Hancock will sing the familiar tune because he can. All the while, “bracket creep” will gain momentum well before the first playoff takes place. Kelly isn’t the first to put a charge in this conversation, and he won’t be the last.

We’re more than a year away from our first playoff implementation, and the momentum is beginning to build, just like it did before. The voices and demand for more teams might become too much to ignore, just like it was a few years ago.

Sound familiar?