Here’s why 12 is the perfect number of teams for the College Football Playoff expansion

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This town likes the number 12. Its sports fandom reputation is defined by it. 

You’ll see that number on the backs of jerseys on Blue Fridays or Seahawks game days, and hear broadcasters regularly laud the impact of the 12th Man. 

But if this latest College Football Playoff proposal comes to pass, the rest of the country will have a similar reverence for 12. When it comes to playoff expansion, it’s the perfect number.

Last Thursday, a four-person sub-group of the CFP management committee recommended expanding the playoff field from four teams to 12. The proposal would give automatic bids to the six highest-ranked conference champions, then six more at-large bids. This comes seven years after the first CFP tournament, which has always featured four teams.

Calls for expansion have rung out for years, with some pushing for eight teams, others 16, and former Washington State football coach Mike Leach recommending a 64-team tourney. But 12 makes sense. Here’s why. 

1) It adds more intrigue to the regular season.

One could make the point that expanding the playoff actually devalues the regular season, as one or two losses once eliminated teams from the national-championship race. That Week 4 matchup between the top-ranked school and the third-ranked school often felt like a playoff game, because you knew the loser would likely be out of contention.

But this also took the wind out of almost every fan base by the halfway point in the season, as everyone knew their teams were done. But under this proposal? Pretty much every team in the top 25 will be relevant in mid-November.

That’s exciting for specific fan bases, but also the rest of the country. That 15 vs. 23 matchup doesn’t really matter under the current system. With the 12-team format, the whole nation would be intrigued.

2) There are still huge incentives for regular-season dominance. 

As for that hypothetical No. 1 vs. No. 3 matchup mentioned above, it will still matter. A lot. Under this proposal, the four highest-ranked teams will get byes in the first round. Nos. 5-8 will host their first-round games. Therefore, the difference between being No. 4 and No. 5 is enormous. Same goes for being No. 8 or No. 9. This is why every week will still have a playoff-like feel for those who are in contention. It will essentially mirror the NFL, where a single win or loss doesn’t necessarily define the season, but often has major implications for the postseason.

Hardcore college football fans will get up for just about any game its favorite team is playing. But this will keep droves of casual fans engaged for months on end.

3) It’s more fun for the players.

I’ve seen the argument that this proposal is all about money, and not about the student-athletes. That may very well be the case from the NCAA’s standpoint … but I’m not sure there’s a real victim here. To be an elite athlete, you generally have to be wired a certain way. And that wiring often translates into winning at (almost) all costs.

A devoted football player will still want to compete if his team is 7-3 in the middle of November, but if he knows a shot at a national championship may still be at play if his team wins its next two games, that’s incessant motivation. That level of intrigue simply doesn’t exist for the overwhelming majority of schools late in the year. This proposal would change that. 

This isn’t to say there won’t be some sacrifices. For Pac-12 schools not in the national championship hunt under the current format, going to the Rose Bowl is still a significant achievement. The prestige of making certain bowl games will be lost if the field expands to 12, but let’s be honest — that’s already lost much of its luster.

Outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott may have thought four was the perfect number, but I get the feeling he doesn’t speak for most of the Pac-12 schools or the country for that matter. 

Twelve is the number. It’s been the case in Seattle forever. Hopefully it’s the case for the NCAA, too.



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