GREENSBORO, N.C. - To Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, the adoption of a four-team playoff to determine a national football champion is merely a step in the right direction.
Johnson, who won two FCS (then Division I-AA) national championships at Georgia Southern by outlasting 16-team fields, said he would prefer a similar format for FBS.
“You take 11 [conference champions] and then you add five at-large [teams], give ’em a chance,” Johnson said this week at ACC Media Days. “If your conference hasn’t done well, you become the 16th seed. You have to go play against No. 1, but at least you had a chance.”
Of eight ACC coaches who were surveyed, three agreed with Johnson in expanding the format, although they favored an eight-team playoff instead of Johnson’s 16. Two professed a wait-and-see stance and two would like to stay at four.
Besides Johnson, those favoring expansion liked the idea of giving champions of the five “power” conferences – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC – access into the field along with three at-large teams.
“If you win a conference with 10 wins, then you ought to be able to play for a national championship,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said. “If you go to eight teams, you can probably accommodate something like that. At four, that might not be good.”
Miami coach Al Golden and Virginia coach Mike London also supported expanding to eight teams.
“You’re talking to a guy that won the national championship [at Richmond] among 16 teams,” London said.
While an argument against a larger playoff holds that the regular season’s importance would be diminished, Golden contended that the automatic bids for conference champions and the chase for an at-large bid would retain the regular season’s importance.
With a four-team field, “one loss and you’re out for the most part,” he said. “But now you’re saying you’ve got to win your conference or apply this formula to be one of those next three [at-large teams]? I think that would be incredible.”
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney like a four-team playoff. Fisher allowed that an eight-team playoff could give a team more leeway to overcome an injury-plagued stretch of the season, but pointed to the NFL for a reason against it.
“Does the best team during the regular season win the Super Bowl?” he asked. “Most of the time, not.”
Both Fisher and Swinney minimized the need for an additional playoff round by contending that conference championship games are de facto playoff games.
“I think what we have really protects that regular season and it also adds a little bit of flavor to the end of the postseason and maybe solves a little of the debate,” Swinney said. “I personally don’t think we’ve spent a lot of time arguing about the fifth and sixth team. I’m sure that’ll happen, but it’s been more the second, third, fourth team.”
Neither Boston College’s Frank Spaziani nor Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe were sure. Grobe cautioned that an eight-team playoff would create a considerable physical burden for players.
“I think if we went to eight, we’d have to cut back to 11 games [in the regular season], get one of those games off the table maybe,” Grobe said.
Spaziani said he didn’t know why playoffs were necessary in the first place.
“The [BCS] system was [considered] so bad, yet college football was going like this in attendance, excitement,” he said, raising his hand in an upward arc. “TV exposure went up and up, [but critics said], ‘It stinks! It stinks!’ … I don’t know. What’s wrong with that?”
Starting in 2014, the college football world will find out. And if Johnson wants to lead the Yellow Jackets into a 16-team playoff, he’ll have to wait until his 19th season to do so. The four-team format is contracted to run through the 2025 season.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog