Here's a simple solution for the debate about where quarterfinals should be played in a 12-team Playoff
The proposed 12-team Playoff checks a lot of boxes, but if the instant reaction told us anything, it’s that it isn’t without flaws.
Some have pointed to the devalued regular season, or the fact that 2 teams could play as many as 17 games if the 12-game regular season + conference championship model remains intact.
One of those other perceived flaws in the new model is where the quarterfinal games are played.
In the proposed 12-team Playoff, the quarterfinals would all be played at the sites of New Year’s 6 bowls. Those 4 games, plus the 2 semifinal games, would mean that the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose, Cotton and Peach Bowl would all get a piece of the Playoff action. Compared to the current 4-team model in which those bowl games only host a Playoff game once every 3 years, you could see why they’d be on board.
The problem, however, is that while the top 4 seeds (the 4 highest-ranked conference champs) would get a bye, they wouldn’t get the benefit of hosting a Playoff game. But in this proposed system, teams seeded 5-8 would get the benefit of a home Playoff game, albeit in the Round of 12.
Dare I say, there’s a simple solution to this. It would check even more boxes.
If there’s another flaw in this proposed 12-team model, I’d argue that there’s really no difference between teams 1-4. The byes are an incentive, yes, but assuming there wouldn’t be reseeding after the Round of 12, you could easily see a situation in which a 4-seed faces a worse team than a 1-seed in their respective quarterfinal matchups.
So why not further incentivize the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds even by rewarding them with home quarterfinal games?
That way, you appease the “don’t devalue the regular season” crowd by doing right by your best teams in the sport. You give those teams a chance to reap the rewards of a home Playoff game and create even more debate within the top 4 about who gets those spots.
An added bonus, though not one that the CFP Management Committee particularly cares about, is the fact that 2 fewer fan bases will have to travel to a neutral-site game. So hey, even the fans win.
The resistance for this switch would be, of course, those revenue-generating New Year’s 6 Bowl executives. In their ideal world, all of them are part of the 12-team Playoff. But again, they aren’t even all part of the Playoff now. And even with my proposed tweak with the top 2 seeds getting quarterfinal home games, there would still be 4 New Year’s 6 bowl sites that host Playoff games. That’s double the current number in the 4-team Playoff.
The New Year’s 6 bowls would rotate. Take the Peach Bowl, for example. Just for this argument, let’s say that the 12-team Playoff went into effect in 2023. Here’s what that schedule would look like:
- 2023: Host Playoff quarterfinal game (No. 3 vs. No. 6/11 winner)
- 2024: Host Playoff semifinal game (based on location to top remaining seed)
- 2025: Host bowl game between 2 of top 4 non-Playoff teams
And then the cycle repeats itself.
That’s not a bad deal at all. Yes, that non-Playoff game might lack a bit of juice, but how drastic of a change will it be compared to the non-Playoff games the Peach Bowl hosts now? I’d argue not much.
This past year under that proposed tweak, the 2 non-Playoff bowls hosted by New Year’s 6 sites would’ve been between UNC, Northwestern, Iowa and BYU. You could’ve split up the Big Ten West teams and had 1 game with future first-round pick Zach Wilson and another with other potential future first-round pick Sam Howell. That would’ve actually worked out really well because Wilson played in his non-New Year’s 6 bowl game and as a sophomore this past year, Howell also played in his non-Playoff bowl game.
That’s a much better idea than having the Playoff Round of 12 losers go play in a bowl game at one of those New Year’s 6 bowl sites. That idea is ambitious at best and downright laughable at worst.
This idea at least still puts money in the pockets of those important bowl games while incentivizing the desire to get a top-2 seed and not just a top-4 seed. It would also get the support of the heavy hitters at the table like administrators from Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson.
What made me think of this was when I played out the 2019 season with the 12-team model. The 8-9 matchup in the Round of 12 would’ve been Florida AT Wisconsin. If the Gators were able to somehow come out of the frigid, late-December Wisconsin cold with a win, they would’ve been rewarded with a neutral-site matchup vs. No. 1 seed LSU.
That in itself would’ve confirmed some of the fear about devaluing the regular season. Why? Well, go back to 2019. LSU beat Florida in prime time in the regular season. The Gators lost that matchup, and they didn’t even win their own division. Yet the only thing separating them from earning another all-or-nothing crack at LSU — this time at a neutral site — would’ve been beating a Wisconsin team with inferior talent? That’s not right. At least make the Gators run it back in Death Valley at night.
And I know. LSU would’ve won that game if it were played on the moon. But it’s the principle.
Now is the time to figure out all the potential holes in the system; not when this situation presents itself for the first time in Year 1 and those contracts are already in place.
Nothing with the 12-team Playoff is etched in stone. At least not yet.
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure even more boxes are checked before that happens.