December Delirium—my name for college football’s developing equivalent to March Madness—is still at least two seasons away, according to the latest report from the College Football Playoff Management Committee.
“Progress is being made,” said CFP executive director Bill Hancock after the committee met in Dallas in late October. “Will we get there? I don’t know.”
But last week’s outcomes, this weekend’s key matchups, and the conference championship lineup next weekend illustrate the exciting potential of a CFP expanded to 12 teams.
Texas Christian barely avoided its first loss with a fire-drill field goal on the last play to frustrate Baylor 29-28; and
Michigan also needed a late field goal to deny Illinois 19-17, and Ohio State and Southern California were pushed to the brink before winning shootouts.
Also, one-third of the top 25—Tennessee, Utah, North Carolina, Ole Miss, UCLA, Central Florida, Oklahoma State and North Carolina State—all lost.
Tulane and Cincinnati meet in Cincinnati on Friday for first place in the American Athletic Conference; and, among others,
Michigan travels to Columbus on Saturday to challenge Ohio State, winner of 15 of their last 17 head-to-head matchups, in a battle of Big Ten unbeatens that is one of this season’s marquee games; and,
Kansas State can clinch a rematch with TCU by beating in-state rival Kansas, and Southern Cal hosts late-blooming Notre Dame, which has averaged 39.8 points in five straight victories.
Southern Cal will play either Oregon or one of three longshots for the PAC 12 title;
TCU will play either Kansas State or Texas for Big 12 laurels;
the Michigan-Ohio State winner will face Iowa for the Big Ten championship; and
No. 1 Georgia faces Louisiana State for the Southeastern Conference crown, and Clemson and North Carolina decide the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
This year’s CFP likely will involve Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU.
But imagine the anticipation if the games to be played in the next nine days all had a bearing on which teams make a 12-team field for December Delirium. (Yes, the football playoffs will extend into January whenever they expand. But March Madness ends in April. So, there.)
Under the current plan, the expanded CFP will include the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams.
That means Georgia or LSU, Ohio State or Michigan (barring a subsequent huge upset by Iowa), Clemson or North Carolina, Cincinnati or Tulane, most likely Southern Cal, and probably TCU for the six conference winners.
At-large bids likely would go to Notre Dame, the losers of Georgia-LSU and Ohio State-Michigan, and TCU—if the Horned Frogs aren’t princely—plus some combination of Alabama, Tennessee, Penn State and Clemson (if North Carolina beats the Tigers).
University presidents and chancellors comprising the CFP Board of Managers, who grew tired of waiting for members of the CFP Management Committee to stop bickering, voted unanimously in September to expand the CFP to 12 teams—as soon as 2024. The 10 conference commissioners plus the Notre Dame athletics director who make up the Management Committee were left to figure out how to make it happen.
“It’s time,” said Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University and chair of the CFP Management Committee, when asked “Why now?” upon the Board’s September decision.
“We’re not naive to understand there’s added value by having an expanded playoff,” Keenum said, “but I can tell you from being part of these discussions from the very beginning, what motivated the presidents and me, as well, was that we needed to have an opportunity for more participation of teams in our nation’s national championship tournament.”
The 12-team format has been estimated to be worth $1.2 billion annually, compared to $600 million for the current four-team CFP.
“We do recognize the additional revenues that will be available,” Keenum acknowledged, “but that hasn’t been the driving force behind this ultimate decision. It has not been.”
The National Football League’s long-standing practice of scheduling some of its games on Saturdays once the college football regular season ends in early December is one major stumbling block.
Other hurdles include the revenue distribution formula, television contracts, conflicts with semester exams at some schools, the start of winter break and the availability of hotel rooms and other logistical support on what is short notice for that sort of thing.
“Every time you turn over one stone, you start tripping on other issues,” Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said last month. “It’s more challenging than I maybe would have imagined.”
Whatever. To quote a popular phrase commonly attributed to blue-collar workers:
“Git ‘Er Done.”
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at email@example.com.