You can count Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith among the leaders in college sports who believe College Football Playoff expansion should happen and will be coming soon.
During an interview with Eleven Warriors for this week’s Real Pod Wednesdays, Smith said he thinks it is time for the College Football Playoff to expand beyond four teams, and he expects a decision on expansion to be made either this year or next year.
“I’m of the opinion that we need to expand,” Smith said. “I do believe we’re going to expand. I believe we should expand.
“There’s a lot to be worked out there, but I think it’s going to happen, I really do. It’s just a matter of when.”
The College Football Playoff announced last month that its management committee has reviewed 63 different models for potentially expanding the playoff field, including models that would feature six, eight, 10, 12 or 16 teams. Smith said he is “probably more comfortable with expanding to eight, as opposed to 12 or 16,” citing concerns about how a sizably larger playoff could impact the regular season.
“When we moved from the BCS to the CFP, as I shared before, I was concerned about the regular season then. I was also concerned about devaluing the other bowls. And that has happened,” Smith said. “The other bowls have been devalued. We’ve had more opt-outs than we’ve ever had, student-athletes not participating in those bowls. And when we go to eight, 12, whatever it ends up being, that will continue. Those bowls will become less important. Student-athletes may not want to play in them. And they’ll be devalued.”
Smith said he is also “a little concerned” about expanding before the conclusion of the College Football Playoff’s current television deal with ESPN, which runs through 2026, citing a desire to “go to the open market.” But he acknowledged “that’s not a decision I’ll get a chance to be a part of.”
Those concerns aside, Smith is in favor of an expanded playoff, which he believes should include automatic qualifying berths for the Power 5 conference champions. He also believes conferences that play nine or more conference games, as the Big Ten does, should get “seeding preference.”
Giving automatic bids to league champions could add more value to conference title games, which are played just before the playoff field is announced and tend to be quickly overshadowed as a result.
“I’m a huge believer in conference championships, and I think everything we’ve done in a lot of our sports have diminished the conference championship,” Smith said. “And just what I thought would happen, and I shared publicly before it started, once we launched the CFP, the championships that we would win, the East and then ultimately in Indianapolis, would be lost because everybody the next day is driving back from Indianapolis and all they can think about was the show. Whether or not we’re in and where we’re gonna be seeded, and it would be forgotten that the team had just gone through the gauntlet.
“I remember when I was on the basketball committee, and our basketball team, Thad (Matta) had done an excellent job. We won the regular season, and then we won the tournament, and it’s like nobody cared. They just wanted to know what seed were we and where are we going? So I’m old school. I believe that conference championships should matter.”
Another potential element of an expanded playoff that many college football fans have hoped for is the possibility that higher seeds could host first-round games in their home stadiums. Making that happen could be difficult from an operational standpoint, however, given the months of planning that typically go into hosting CFP games at neutral sites. Because of that, Smith expects neutral-site playoff games to remain the norm going forward, though he hopes multiple Midwest locations will be included in the rotation.
“It’s easier to do neutral sites,” Smith said. “Now I believe we should have domes like Indianapolis or Minneapolis or Detroit in the mix, which would be challenging for some of the bowl sites, but I believe that. But I think operationally, to be ready to host that level of a game and sell tickets that fast, I just think it’s better to go neutral site.”