How Would A Proposed 12-Team College Football Playoff Impact BYU?
PROVO, Utah – When BYU football was playing for a National Championship against Michigan in 1984, the pollsters in the AP and UPI determined college football’s best. Safe to say, a lot has changed since that season.
The word ‘playoff’ was rarely uttered by college football powers such as Jim Delaney from the Big Ten Conference. Then in 2012, they began embracing what they called the “p word.” From there, we’ve had a four-team Playoff at the start of the 2014 season.
What was believed to be a way to turn the sport into a national spectacle has been the opposite. A handful of teams has gobbled up the playoff bids. Since 2014, Alabama and Clemson have each combined for six appearances. Oklahoma and Ohio State have four bids on their resumes in the Playoff’s first seven years.
Forget a Cinderella run like BYU in 1984 happening again. It would be a miracle if anyone outside of the aforementioned juggernauts landed a Playoff bid.
It’s time for a change.
Coming out of a pandemic that hit athletic department budgets harder than ever, the time is apparently now for an expanded College Football Playoff.
The College Football Playoff Working Group proposed the 12-team format officially on Thursday. This new proposed Playoff sparked a wave of hypotheticals and questions for a postseason in a sport that has frowned on giving access to anyone.
The new 12-team Playoff could start as early as 2023 according to reports.
One of those teams with many questions is BYU.
How does this impact the Cougars?
Let’s try to sort through all of this.
Six Highest-Ranked Conference Champions
We all knew playoff expansion in some shape or form would happen what we didn’t know how the bids would be distributed. There was a fascinating twist. Instead of auto bids given to each Power Conference champion, the Playoff Working Group said the “six highest-ranked conference champions” would get bids. Plus the six highest-ranked at-large teams with no cap on the number of teams from one conference.
Having six highest-ranked conference champs in there means one team (at least) from the Group of 5 is getting into the Playoff. That’s huge. Even if it ends up being the 12-seed, that is big for Group of 5 programs to have a shot and play it out on the field.
What it doesn’t cover is Independents. Independents like BYU and, surprisingly Notre Dame, don’t have access to one of those six conference champion bids.
It begs the question, would this new proposed Playoff format be enough motivation for BYU to want to kick the tires on possibly joining a Group of 5 league like the American Athletic Conference? Or does an Independent BYU with a schedule that features many Power 5 teams pose a better path to one of the six at-large bids?
BYU has never been willing to sacrifice Independence for the chance at a New Year’s Six bowl. This is far different. This is now a path to playing for a National Championship.
College Football Playoff Committee
How the Playoff Committee will look under a proposed 12-team format is still to be determined. But one thing is for sure with the current committee in the four-team Playoff era; they don’t respect an Independent BYU that plays a weak schedule. As seen last year with BYU’s cobbled up schedule amidst a global pandemic.
How does a Playoff Committee view BYU if they navigate a schedule with six or seven P5 opponents and finish with an 11-1 record? Is that good enough to get an at-large? It would all be in the hands of the Committee.
2020 Playoff Chairman Gary Barta was asked last December if a Group of 5 team can ever make the Playoff.
Barta responded with reference to BYU, saying, “I look at, and I know BYU is not a Group of Five, they’re an independent, but I look at the schedule that BYU had pre-COVID, and they were scheduled to play five Power Five teams in their schedule. Looking at that schedule, if we would have had those five games to evaluate, that would have been an opportunity.
“So the answer is yes. They’re always going to be measured, every team is always going to be measured, the games they played, the games they won, how they played, and every team has an equal opportunity to be evaluated based on their body of work.”
Forecasting the future of BYU’s Independence in the proposed 12-team Playoff era
I think it’s easy for many to just jump to conclusions and say ‘go to the AAC’ and have guaranteed access to the Playoff. But I don’t think it’s that simple.
What about revenue? BYU doesn’t disclose the TV revenue they earn from ESPN as they are a private university. We can see data from the U.S. Department of Education and BYU reported $25 million in revenue for the 2019 calendar year. That’s only less than one Group of 5 program in UCF. UCF played in a New Year’s Six bowl that year. In total, the Knights reported $27 million in football revenue during the 2019 calendar year.
BYU didn’t go Independent solely for money. Exposure was a big talking point when the Cougars declared their Independence ten years ago this July. But money definitely has to factor into any decisions made.
BYU’s current TV contract with ESPN runs through 2026. The AAC is locked in with ESPN till 2032. The goal from BYU’s athletic department has, and always will be, moving into a Power 5 conference. Taking a step back to a G5 might close the door potentially on going to a P5 league forever.
Will scheduling become more difficult in a 12-team Playoff era? As nice as it is to picture multiple Group of 5’s making the Playoff, more times than not, it’s going to be the five power conference champions plus one Group of 5 team. That’s fine. But for BYU, will this make scheduling more difficult?
The last time a Pac-12 team got into the Playoff was 2016. That was a Washington team that had a non-conference schedule featuring Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State. I’m trying to point out that as long as the power conference champions don’t have a 9-3, 8-4, or worse record, they are probably getting in this 12-team Playoff. What’s the incentive for a Pac-12 program to line up a competitive BYU out of the non-conference schedule?
A lot of questions remain with this proposed Playoff. Where BYU fits into all of it could have a large impact on the future of Cougar Football going forward.
Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.
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