ATHENS — College football needs the “seismic shift” of an expanded playoff of up to 32 teams to adjust to the changing landscape of revenue shortfalls and athletes’ name-image-likeness rights, according to Mark Richt.
“The bowl system as we know it seems to be struggling, and I think the struggles will get worse as far players not showing up and maybe even teams not showing up,” said Richt, a former two-time SEC Coach of the Year at Georgia and ACC Coach of the Year at Miami.
“A lot of the bowl cancellations last year was Covid related, but truth be told, there’s a lot of kids asking ‘why are we doing this?’ And they are getting a bigger voice. What happens when they call a team vote, and say, ‘Coach we don’t want to play in this game.’ "
To Richt’s point, opt-outs have become more common in the non-College Football Playoff bowls each season.
Georgia has had first-round NFL draft-bound team captains opt-out of its New Year’s Six bowl games each of the past three seasons.
On each occasion, the Bulldogs’ players have said they would not have opted out if the Bulldogs were still in national championship contention.
The COVID issues of 2020 have also had a drastic effect on athletic budgets. Football gate attendance was severely limited amid social distancing, in turn reducing revenue and leading to other programs being cut and athletic department furloughs and layoffs.
The University of Georgia, with its $100 million reserve fund, was one of the very few that did not have to make substantial cuts.
But the majority of other athletic departments have yet to recover and might not ever get back to what they once considered “normal” operations.
Richt suggested to DawgNation that increased revenue from a 32-team playoff could be just the right tonic.
“It may take something like that, some out of the box thinking, to make this thing work,” he said.
The College Football Playoffs are currently a four-team set up contracted through 2025, but at this year’s CFP spring meeting the management committee heard results from a four-person workgroup that studied 63 different playoff possibilities that included 10- 12- and 16-team playoffs.
Richt’s idea is for 32 teams, involving more programs, but likely also affecting the regular season even more.
“You would have to shorten the regular season, which would make some people crazy,” Richt said. “But if there was that type of (32-team) playoff system, there would be a lot of revenue, and that would lead to more revenue sharing across the board that would compensate for not having that extra game or two.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke of the challenges that adding the College Football Playoffs has created for the bowl system early this month on the All Things Covered Podcast.
“I’ve always been one that bowl games and playoffs are going to have a tough time coexisting together,” Saban said on the podcast.
“Bowl games have always been a positive thing for college football players because a lot of people get a lot of self-gratification for having a good season. Maybe you didn’t win a championship or whatever, but you get a chance to go to a good bowl game and have some fun. It’s a really good, positive reinforcement for college football players.
“When we had a two-team playoff, if we made a four-team playoff, that’s going to take away from the bowl games and all the people are going to talk about is the playoff. My issue is not with expanding the playoff, it’s the more you expand the playoff, the less important bowl games become. Nobody talks about bowl games now. All they talk about is who’s in the playoffs and who are the four teams. That’s it.”
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, made it clear the expanded playoffs won’t be happening anytime soon.
“There will not be a new format this season or next season,” Hancock said in the ESPN story. “The timetable is certainly an important detail, but it hasn’t been determined yet.
“It’s too soon to predict the timing, but even if the board decides to alter the format, it may well not occur until after the current agreement has expired, which isn’t until after the 2025 season.”
Richt was ambivalent on the league championship games, and what role they may or may not play if or when the College Football Playoffs are expanded.
“It would be up to each league to decide how important that championship game is,” Richt said. “They can sort it out from there.”
Richt said there would be an added element of clarity in determining a national champion with a 32-team playoff, as well.
“You won’t have the UCFs or the Cincinnati’s, the undefeated or great Group of Five schools, getting left out,” Richt said. “Somebody could cry about being No. 33 …. But there’s no way anybody could say the best team didn’t win the national title.”