Opinion: Harbaugh spot on with desire for bigger playoff format


During Jim Harbaugh’s news conference Sunday night after the Wolverines accepted an invitation to play in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, the Michigan coach addressed a couple of rule/format changes he would be in favor of at least looking into moving forward.

The first question thrown at the outspoken U-M coach had to do with the decision to select Alabama over Ohio State in the four-team playoff format to determine the national champion. Harbaugh wasn’t going to defend Ohio State – that’s not going to happen. He might have stood up for the Big Ten and suggested a team from this great conference deserves to be represented.

But he went bigger picture.

“My reaction is that there should be more than four teams in the playoffs,” he said. “Eight teams. Twelve teams. Sixteen teams. I think 16 would be ideal. It would make us more like every other collegiate sport that has a playoff. I think (expanding the playoffs) is my first reaction.”

It also turned out to be his only reaction – at least during that news conference.

But, of course, he’s right.

In men’s soccer, Stanford will play Akron while Indiana faces North Carolina in Friday’s semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament. The tournament started with 48 teams in the field.

There are 16 teams in the NCAA hockey tournament in a sport where many universities don’t even offer the sport on the varsity level.

In volleyball, the champions of the NCAA’s 32 conferences qualify automatically, while the remaining 32 positions are filled with at-large selections.

Then there is college basketball, otherwise known as March Madness, which is so long that it doesn’t end until April. The tournament now features 68 teams in the field. It even has a four-team play-in tournament before the tournament.

Having just four teams in the biggest college sport on the planet, in terms of money, is ridiculous. Having a 16-team field (which would have excluded Big Blue this year) would create even bigger interest and financial success than basketball does in March.

As far as the schedule goes, teams could easily lose one of those early-season games that features Michigan playing the likes of EMU or Air Force or Appalachian State – sorry, bad example. The first round could be home games for the top eight seeds and then move to neutral sites for the next round.

And does Michigan really need a month to prepare for the Outback Bowl? There are plenty of days between the Ohio State game and the National Championship game to have a playoffs. Expand to 32, I say – could make for some interesting matchups.

The question around expanding the National Championship format goes to another issue when it comes to bowl games. Some players with NFL aspirations skip the bowl games altogether because of risk of injury, which could cost them millions of dollars. Is it worth risking all that money to win the AutoNation Cure Bowl or the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl or my favorite the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl?

But they might (should) play for their school if it means a possible National Championship.

Now back to the original question. Did the committee get it wrong by picking Alabama over Ohio State? Of course not. Alabama is even favored over Clemson in their semifinal game – the Buckeyes would be 10-point underdogs. Lets’ face it, Vegas knows a lot more about college football than you or I and they believe Alabama was the pick.

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