Bradley’s Buzz: An expanded playoff? More like the SEC Invitational

We take heed of the College Football Playoff in its current form – four teams, two semifinals, one national champ. The sport itself needs to ask itself, “If this week’s rankings became the grid for a 12-team playoff, would we be happy with that?”

Because that’s coming. And nothing is strewn with more unintended consequences than college sports.

The 12-team CFP is intended to make more money. It will succeed in that. The top four teams – currently the only qualifying teams – will draw byes. The next seven teams, plus one Group of Five representative, will comprise a new Round 1. Those games will be staged at the better seed’s home, which means the chance of the lesser seed winning will be slight.

The quarterfinals will be staged in existing bowls. The No. 1 seed will have first choice of sites. Then the No. 2 gets to pick. The No. 4 seed winds up in Shreveport. (Kidding!) Then come the semis. Then the final.

As is, the maximum number of games a team can play in a season is 15 – 12 regular-season dates, conference championship, CFP semi and final. When the playoff arrives, the max becomes 17, which is the length of an NFL regular season. NFL players, we note, are professionals.

The thinking among collegiate administrators has changed from, “We must protect our noble student-athletes!” Today it’s: “Let’s make these semi-pros earn their NIL millions!”

The non-SEC Power 5 conferences – call them the Much-Less-Powerful 4 – want a playoff because the Pac-12 and Big 12 are tired of being left out and the ACC and Big Ten can’t bear to watch yet another SEC-versus-SEC final. Here’s where the unintended consequences kick in. Check the top 11 teams in the rankings announced Tuesday. Guess which league would comprise 41.7% of the field.

Old SEC slogan: It Just Means More. New SEC slogan: We Just Get More.

The new rankings have Georgia No. 1; Tennessee No. 5 and in prime position to make the field of four; LSU No. 7 with a chance to become the first two-loss team to be invited; Alabama No. 9 but with no chance to move unless LSU blows its next two games, and Ole Miss No. 11 with a Saturday date against Bama. How many of those five would beat Oregon? Five? How many would beat Clemson? Four, maybe five? How many would beat Michigan or Ohio State? At least three?

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss – only worse because the other four big leagues will lose so many games they’ll wonder if more money is worth more humiliation. (They won’t wonder for long. They’ll cringe all the way to the bank.)

Know what nobody ever says after watching a CFP semifinal? “Gee, I’d love to see those teams play again.” Only three of the 16 semis have been decided by single digits: Ohio State upsetting Alabama in the first CFP; Georgia over Oklahoma in overtime in the fourth; Clemson surviving Ohio State in the sixth. The 16 semis have been decided by an average of 21.1 points.

Know how often an SEC team has lost a semifinal? Once, that coming on the first night of the CFP’s existence. The SEC is 9-0 since. Average spread of those games: 20.7 points. Counting the final, SEC reps are 14-5 in the playoff The losses: one against the Big Ten, two against the ACC (meaning Clemson), two against the SEC (meaning itself.)

Book it now. This final will match Georgia against Tennessee, unless it’s Georgia against LSU. The last time Ohio State played an SEC team in a CFP game, the halftime score was 35-17. The only time Michigan played an SEC team in a CFP game, the halftime score was 27-3. As much as we try to convince ourselves that this year is different, it never is.

Expansion? Sounds great! Right up until the moment when you realize the only thing that’ll expand is SEC dominance, which is oppressive as is. Your four semifinalists in a 12-team tournament? SEC, SEC, SEC, SEC. Haven’t you folks heard that enough?

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.

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