Mike Leach wants more teams in the College Football Playoff, but that’s a bad thing for the sport

The Cougars coach says the field should be bigger than the current four teams, but this isn’t college basketball. Even expanding to eight teams could weaken the regular season and the bowl system.

Mike Leach’s playoff-expansion rant might have been his most entertaining of the season, and considering he’s the best quote in the Pac-12, that’s saying something. There was a Huck Finn reference, an aside about him being unable to find groceries when his wife is watching football, and a call for a 16-team — or possibly 64-team — college football playoff.

It was 10 minutes of unprompted gold that caused much of the country to spit out its drink in delight. Only thing is, his idea wouldn’t be nearly as fun as his speech was.

There is no doubt that when you look around the sports world, the adrenaline spikes exponentially when the playoffs start. TV ratings surge, fan intensity skyrockets, vocal cords take a thrashing.

Friday

WSU @ California, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

When I see the reactions to a home run in October, a buzzer-beating jump shot in March, they remind me of something — every college football game.

If there is one distinction that separates college football from every other sport in the country, it’s the value of that regular season. It’s what prompts those field-rushing moments — like the one we saw in Pullman two Fridays ago — and creates tell-your-grandkids-about memories.

Ask yourself this: Excluding extraordinary circumstances like a pitcher throwing a perfect game or Kobe scoring 81 points, have any of “the greatest games ever played” taken place in the regular seasons of other sports? Not many. In college football, on the other hand, the game of the year could come in September just as easily as it could in January.

Leach doesn’t buy the idea that an increased field would diminish interest or lower TV ratings, but there is a tipping point for this kind of thing. The NCAA basketball tournament might be the greatest spectacle in sports, but most of the nation zones out before it starts.

If the College Football Playoff were to expand to eight teams — which would reward late-bloomers like last year’s USC squad — maybe the sport could maintain its unique regular-season allure. But even then it’s pushing it. Besides, is the current setup really a problem?

Obviously, the BCS was flawed for a number of reasons. Leaving the fate of the national-championship game in the hands of computers is begging for disaster, as is a format that left out undefeated teams multiple times.

And though there is still controversy with a four-team playoff (as there would be with eight, 16, or 128) there are generally enough weaknesses on an excluded team to justify its omission. There was no excuse for denying an undefeated Auburn team the chance to play for the national title in 2004. There certainly was an excuse to deny a two-loss Penn State team last year.

Also, I’m not sure that a 16-team — and certainly not a 64-team — playoff would enrapture fans the way Leach thinks it would. The beauty of the basketball tournament is that a) game after game comes down to the last few seconds — which doesn’t happen as often in college football, and b) about 20 to 25 teams can legitimately win it. In college football? You might have five or six.

Leach notes how high schools and lower levels of college football have 16-team playoffs, and that those systems work out fine. But high schools and lower levels of college football also lack the regular-season notoriety that the FBS has. They need an expanded playoff to create buzz. The FBS doesn’t.

You also have to consider the fact that adding more games — especially games of that magnitude — could negatively affect player safety. Plus, a 16-team field would eviscerate a bowl system that helps support the dozens of schools that don’t make the playoffs.

The bowls should still mean something, from both a financial and emotional standpoint. The CFP has already dampened the significance of a few of them. Quadrupling the field would effectively destroy them.

Still, it’s fun to have these types of discussions, and nobody discusses them quite like Leach. And to be fair, an eight-team field might be the best solution.

For now, though, the setup is fine. The regular season is college football’s best asset. It can’t risk giving that away.

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