Sports Journalism Blog

By Jon Sauber | @JonSauber

Sports Capital Journalism Program

ATLANTA — Thanks to a title game featuring two Southeastern Conference teams, Alabama and Georgia, speculation about an expansion beyond a four-team field has dominated discussion about the College Football Playoff. That speculation was put to rest on Friday by Bill Hancock, its director.

“[The current system] is [set] in stone. It would take a unanimous vote of all the conferences to change the contract and that’s not in the cards, at all,” Hancock told a small group of reporters.

The format extends through the 2026 bowls. Hancock added that the conferences have “no interest” in altering the current system and continued to be firm in his message, saying, “There’s no talk, at all, of any changes.”

The root of that speculation has been in the timing of the change from the Bowl Championship Series to the College Football Playoff.

The College Football Playoff was announced in June 2012, five months after the last title game that featured two SEC teams. That game, a 21-0 victory for Alabama over LSU at New Orleans, received criticism because it was a rematch of a regular-season matchup.

The timing of the postseason change made it easy for fans and reporters to maintain the game had an impact on the switch. However, Hancock denied the connection between the two events.

“I don’t see it,” he said. “This is different…for a couple of reasons.”

Hancock attributed the timing of the format change to mere coincidence.

“[In 2012] we happened to be entering the time period to consider whether to extend the BCS for another four-year cycle,” Hancock said.

He said that the postseason was moving toward a four-team tournament regardless of what happened. He attributed the change to what he termed “BCS fatigue” and the timing of the BCS extension. The first College Football Playoff took place following the 2014 season.

With Hancock stating that there is no change coming to the playoff system, it could mean more outcomes like the one the University of Central Florida had this year. The Golden Knights went undefeated and finished at 13-0, including a Peach Bowl win over Auburn, the only team to defeat both participants in Monday’s championship game.

UCF plans to commemorate its undefeated season with a banner in Spectrum Stadium that will claim a 2017 national championship and a parade to celebrate the accomplishment. Their administration has reportedly taken it one step further, paying their coaches bonuses for winning a national title.

Hancock was amused when speaking about UCF and its celebration. “They had a great season and a great bowl game,” he said. “I’m enjoying their joyful exuberance.”

He added that the Golden Knights’ schedule was the biggest reason for the team’s final 12th-place ranking by the committee.

“It has to come down to who you play,” Hancock said. “That’s the way the committee has to look at it and will continue to look at it.”

While UCF may not have had an impact on the discussion about the four available spots, Ohio State did, according to Hancock. For the Buckeyes, their 55-24 loss at Iowa was too much to overcome. “The Iowa game was puzzling for the committee,” Hancock said. “It was hard to figure.”

When it came down to it, although Ohio State was in the discussion, the committee was convinced that the Buckeyes did not deserve a spot in the tournament.

“The committee felt Alabama was a better team,” Hancock said, “[They] felt strongly Alabama was a better team.”

The Crimson Tide’s inclusion in the playoff means that the program has been included in each of the four tournaments. Hancock said that was also a coincidence, and that the committee doesn’t take any branding or sustained success into account. He added, “Ohio State has a pretty good brand name.”

Hancock said that we will look back on Alabama’s success as a sign of its achievement, not committee favoritism. “We’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, look at those first four years’ [by Alabama],” Hancock said. “I would expect more variation [in the future].”