Sports Journalism Blog

By Michael Whitlow | @couldbelikemike

Sports Capital Journalism Program

TAMPA, Fla. — Controversy dominated the discussion prior to the third edition of the College Football Playoff.

Despite not winning a conference championship – or even qualifying for the Big Ten championship game — Ohio State was one of the four representatives selected to play for a national championship.

After Ohio State was awarded a spot in the four-team tournament, the third-seeded Buckeyes endured a 31-0 loss to No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The omission of the twice-defeated Penn State Nittany Lions, who beat Ohio State and became Big Ten champions, inspired a discussion about an expansion to an eight-team field.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock repeated Sunday that the field will remain at four.

“The disappointment that team five feels would be exactly the same disappointment that team nine would feel,” Hancock said after the final press conference prior to Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship. “And more so for me, it’s about the regular season.”

Penn State, who defeated Ohio State in a 24-21 thriller back on Oct. 22, won the Big Ten East Division, won the Big Ten Championship Game with a 38-31 come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin, but was left out of the playoff. The Nittany Lions had early-season losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan.

Ohio State, which survived an exhilarating 30-27 double-overtime squeaker over Michigan on Nov. 26 in Columbus, also had ranked victories on the road over Big XII champion Oklahoma, 45-24, on Sept. 17, and Big Ten finalist Wisconsin in overtime on Oct. 15, 30-23.

“What would have Ohio State and Michigan meant if there was an eight-team tournament,” Hancock rhetorically asked reporters on Sunday morning. “It still would’ve been Ohio State and Michigan with all the tradition, but it wouldn’t have meant the same. It wouldn’t have meant as much.”

A potential expansion to eight teams would also raise questions about the length of the season for finalists. The first six teams in the championship game’s history – each one a conference championship game winner – extended their seasons to 15 games.  Adding another four teams to the postseason tournament would bring another week of preparation for players and coaches, creating a 16-game season for the two teams that advance to the title game. That’s how many games National Football League teams play in the regular season.

“We wouldn’t want any game at the end of the season to be a game where people rested their players,” Hancock said in reference to the college football postseason compared to the NFL playoffs.

“We don’t have that in college football,” Hancock said. “We wouldn’t want that.”