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Fans Will Benefit the Most from 12-Team Playoff

Fans make college football what it is. And with more teams in the hunt for a championship, they’ll make it even better.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri vs Ohio State Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you are the type of college football fan who prefers the status quo, then looking ahead to the upcoming 2024 season might give you hives. After all, we are entering a new era that scarcely resembles the sport most of us grew up with.

And that is saying something, because the past few years haven’t exactly been void of radical deviation from the norm, given the onset of unfettered free agency (i.e. – the transfer portal) combined with pay-for-play NIL completely setting the traditional college football model on its ear.

As impactful as those changes have been, just wait, because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. But the good news is, this new direction benefits you – the fans – most!

The upcoming 12-team College Football Playoff is upon us in 2024 – a concept that a lot of people associated with the sport never thought they would see in their lifetimes. But then again, those same folks also never dreamed they would see college athletes receiving millions of dollars for hawking pizza, potato chips or law services on TV.

There is no denying that the portal and NIL have brought massive changes to the world of collegiate athletics and the sport of football. However, the CFP 12-teamer might very well become the most impactful change agent we’ve seen yet to the fundamentals of fandom.

As much as we all love the sport, let’s face it – prior to the four-team playoff that we saw from 2014-23 – there were only a handful of teams each year who started the season with legitimate hopes of playing for a national championship.

That scope widened a bit with the advent of the four-team tournament in 2014, but in its 10 years of existence, that initial iteration of the CFP playoff didn’t exactly yield much in the way of shocking results. The list of champions in the first 10 seasons of the playoff was still a who’s who of blue bloods – Ohio State (2014), Alabama (2015, ’17, ’20), Clemson (2016, ’18), LSU (2019), Georgia (2021, ’22) and Michigan (2023). But, there were glimmers of hope for the little guys, as we saw the likes of Cincinnati, Michigan State and TCU crash the playoff party in random years. None of them won it all, but TCU did give hope to the non-blue bloods when it reached the title game in 2022 before getting curb-stomped by Georgia in the first of their back-to-back CFP titles.

For 16 seasons prior (1998-2013), college football’s national champ was determined by the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Tiger fans will remember fondly (or perhaps with a tinge of sadness) how close Mizzou was to playing in that title game two different times. Had Mizzou won the 2007 Big 12 Championship in San Antonio against Oklahoma, or again just six seasons later the 2013 SEC Championship in Atlanta against Auburn, your Tigers would have played for all the proverbial marbles. They were sooooo close – tied at half with OU in ’07 and down merely three points entering the fourth quarter against Auburn – but just couldn’t find a way to break through.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Missouri vs Ohio State Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s still a lot to be determined with the 12-team format, most importantly having to do with the number of automatic bids that gain entrance into the playoff. As things stand currently, there are six automatic bids from conference champions, the champ from each of the Power Five leagues, as well as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. However, with the demise of the Pac 12, it is assumed that the league which now consists of only Oregon State and Washington State will lose their auto bid status, taking it down to five champions and increasing the at-large selections to seven. That’s all TBD.

I started as “skeptic-adjacent” with the 12-team playoff concept. My initial prevailing thought was that it would devalue the regular season, and teams in position for reaching the playoff might enact NFL practices such as in week 18 when pro teams rest starters to get ready for the post-season. That just sounds wrong at first thought when considering all the magical traditional rivalries that line the college football schedule the last week of the season over Thanksgiving. Ohio State and Michigan playing their reserves because both are saving up for the playoffs? No thanks, was my first inkling.

And not to mention the potential stifling impact the playoff will have on the rest of the bowl season. How will those other non-playoff bowl games survive? It’s easy to scoff at the importance of the Independence Bowl to the landscape of college football, but trust me, as someone who spent three different weeks in Shreveport around Mizzou’s 2003, 2005 and 2011 bowl games, that game is an important part of the fabric of that city. Having it go away would be devastating to the community. Now, are there too many bowl games currently? That’s a fair critique, but it’s a conversation for another time.

But after thinking on it, I’ve come around because it’s the fans of programs fighting for those at-large playoff bids who will stand the most to gain. And ultimately, college football is nowhere near its premier status in American society if it weren’t for the fans who made it so popular.

Now, at least in theory, the new 12-team playoff has potential to make the regular season more meaningful. In the past, once your team lost one game, their odds of playing for the title were cut significantly. Once they’d lost twice, they could basically kiss any chances goodbye, unless it was a chaotic year with no undefeated teams (rare).

Mizzou Teams That Could Have Made a 12-Team Playoff Field

Year Final Record Final Rank End of Regular Season Rank Rank after Conf. Champ. Game If a 12-team playoff existed at the time?
Year Final Record Final Rank End of Regular Season Rank Rank after Conf. Champ. Game If a 12-team playoff existed at the time?
2023 11-2 8th 9th n/a All but had a spot locked up, just one year too soon!
2014 11-3 14th 14th 16th Likely left out after SEC title game loss to 'Bama
2013 12-2 5th 5th 9th Still in, even after SEC title game loss to Auburn
2010 10-3 18th 14th n/a 10-2 record before bowl loss might have been good enough
2008 10-4 19th 19th 25th 2 straight losses in KC were too costly to get in
2007 12-2 4th 1st 7th No doubter - this team would have been fun in that setting

With the four-team playoff, one loss could make it, and two losses was not unheard of. Now with a 12-team field, teams still probably need to keep it to two losses, but there will undoubtedly be years where a 9-3 team can reach the playoff, given the right set of circumstances. This means that programs like Mizzou will begin every year with a legitimate hope of putting themselves in the mix for a playoff spot, and the fan base doesn’t have to opt-out during the season just because their team may have stubbed its toes in an early season game. Just think of how increasingly important each week of the season will become once we enter November, and the Tigers (even if they have one or two losses) are playing for their playoff lives against Oklahoma (Nov. 9 in Columbia), South Carolina (Nov. 16 at the lame Columbia), Mississippi State (Nov. 23 at Starkville) and Arkansas (Nov. 30 in Columbia).

We will dig more into all the ins and outs of the inaugural CFP at Rock M once format decisions are finalized. What will the system look like? How will the rankings work? Who will be on the selection committee (hint: Tiger fans will have a keen interest in this particular question, so stay tuned). Whatever the final verdict ends up being, it is the fans of the sport who will benefit the most from this new championship look.

And that has a nice ring to it, no pun intended.