During my weekly guest spot on Sirius XM’s “SEC This Morning,” co-host Peter Burns asked me about all of these home-and-home series that were scheduled recently.
I went back to a point I’ve made in multiple columns. That is, athletic directors are seeing the financial benefits and the interest for these matchups. It increases offseason interest, it fills the stadium in an age in which college football attendance continues to decrease and it makes it an attractive TV option for primetime on one of the major networks.
Those reasons could all be true, but at the root of this headliner nonconference matchups could be something else — the Playoff.
It wasn’t until Peter brought it up that it hit me. Oh, athletic directors are totally bracing for Playoff expansion and bulking up their nonconference schedules as a result. Duh.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. The 4-team Playoff is locked in through 2025, and according to CFP executive director as recently as 3 weeks ago at the organization’s annual meeting in Dallas, there are no plans for expansion right now (we’ll see about that).
But now would be the perfect time to prepare for expansion. In an expanded field — let’s say it’s 8 — teams would theoretically make the field with 2 or perhaps even 3 losses. Consider that all the more reason to beef up the schedule if there is an at-large bid at stake and it’s no longer just 1-loss or undefeated conference champs making the field.
I think Playoff contenders got the message, too. That’s why you’ve seen the following home-and-home series announced in the past 3 months:
You’ll notice all but 1 of those matchups are post-2025, too.
That doesn’t include Georgia, which scheduled a home-and-home series with Clemson and Texas at the end of the 2018 season. It also doesn’t include Alabama adding a home-and-home series with Notre Dame and Texas, which the Crimson Tide did around this time a year ago.
When Alabama was first adding all of those rare nonconference series, I wrote why there was clearly a change in Nick Saban’s scheduling philosophy and that more home-and-homes would be on the way. Shoutout to me for being right about that. But swing and a miss for me on assuming this was simply about that 2017 Georgia-Notre Dame matchup being a wakeup call.
Saban is always a step ahead when it comes to this stuff. As someone who made the 4-team Playoff every year of its existence, it’s safe to say Saban figured out the right way to schedule.
It’s why Alabama removed its 2016-17 home-and-home with his former school Michigan State for “business reasons.” In the current Playoff model, there was no need to play a nonconference road game when a lucrative neutral site game was sitting on the table. Alabama would be favored to win a neutral site game against anyone in America. That’s why the Crimson Tide haven’t played a nonconference road game since 2011 at Penn State, nor will they again until 2022 at Texas.
But now, if expansion is indeed coming down the road as many expect, it makes more sense to have these matchups added. In the current model, it’s extremely difficult to lose a nonconference headliner and still make the Playoff. Suffer a September loss and you basically have to run the table in conference play, which is extremely difficult for anyone, even Saban.
Here’s the list of Playoff teams who lost a nonconference game:
- 2014 Ohio State (lost to Virginia Tech)
Oh, that’s the entire list? Yep. And for what it’s worth, plenty of people still feel that even though the 2014 Ohio State team went on to win it all, it shouldn’t have ever made the field in the first place.
If and when the field expands, I guarantee you that list expands, as well.
It’s simple, really. The main hesitation that any contender has about scheduling headliner home-and-home series is that it could unnecessarily impact its postseason aspirations. I say “unnecessarily” because in this current model, you don’t need to beat some top-10 team on the road in nonconference play to make the Playoff. Does it help? Absolutely. Ask 2017 Oklahoma or 2017 Georgia about that. But our 5-year sample size in the current model doesn’t require them for Playoff participation.
My hope is that if the field does expand, it’ll punish the teams resisting the home-and-home movement. It should. There’s no reason teams shouldn’t have at least 10 Power 5 matchups per season, regardless of how many games they have in conference play.
Shoot, even Florida is getting on board with that belief. The Gators leaving the state for a nonconference road game is basically Halley’s Comet — it hasn’t happened in current students’ lifetimes. If that’s not a sign that the times are changing, I don’t know what is.
Any athletic director who comes out and adds one of these major non-conference home-and-homes is basically telling the college football world “we believe we’ll be competing for a Playoff spot when we play these games in a decade.” It’s bold. It’s fun. It’s smart.
It’s the future.