To know how successful the first-ever FBS College Football Playoff semifinals were, one need only look to the television numbers.
The semifinal matchup between Ohio State and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl drew 28.3 million viewers. The other final four contest, between Oregon and defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl, had 28.2 million people watching.
Both games drew millions more viewers than the audience that watched last season's final BCS championship game between FSU and Auburn (25.6 million).
Yet that does not tell the real story of how successful the first FBS semifinals round was. This does: Of the four NFL playoff wild-card round games, three attracted audiences that were smaller or were dead even with the College Football Playoff semis.
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When it comes to mass-spectator American sports, matching the NFL playoffs in TV viewership is as impressive as it gets.
Which is why, sooner rather than later, you should expect the CFP to expand to eight teams. When there is that much TV demand, there is big, big money to be made. If we know anything about big-time college sports, it will eventually move to where the money takes it.
Currently, ESPN's contract to televise a four-team playoff (and the other bowl games aligned with the CFP) runs through 2025. According to The Wall Street Journal, that pact is worth about $470 million a year.
If you can get almost half a billion dollars annually for a four-team playoff, what could you get for seven games featuring eight teams to determine a national champion?
It would break the bank.
Adding four more teams to the playoff would not eliminate the controversy we saw this year between backers of Ohio State (the No. 4-seeded team) and the first two teams omitted from the playoff, Big 12 co-champions Baylor and TCU.
Wherever you have a threshold for elimination, there will be dispute. Instead of arguing about who should be No. 4, the debate would move to who should be No. 8.
The best argument against an expanded college football playoff was the one that Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith rendered to Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com last week — that requiring college athletes to go through another round of physical punishment from an additional playoff game is asking too much.
When Oregon and Ohio State face off for the national championship Monday night, it will be the 15th round of pounding the Buckeyes and Ducks players have endured. Each team played 12 regular-season games, a conference championship contest and will finish with two playoff games.
An NFL regular season is 16 games long. Adding a third playoff game to what already exists would subject the players for the two teams that reach the finals to an NFL-length schedule.
There are also obvious solutions.
You could pare the regular season down from 12 games to 11. Or you could clear the way for an eight-team playoff by getting rid of the conference championship games.
That way, you could still play a 12-game regular season (which most schools have built their budgets around) yet also go to an eight-team playoff without expanding the number of games the players now face. Lucrative as these league title games may be for conferences such as the SEC, the additional money that would be kicked off from an eight-team playoff should help compensate for anything lost.
In terms of selecting the contestants for an eight-team playoff, you could stay with the current model, having a selection committee choose the eight best teams regardless of league.
Or, you could grant an automatic bid to the champions (or the highest-rated team) from each of the so-called Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC). If you go that route, I'd like to see a sixth automatic playoff spot guaranteed each season to the highest-rated FBS team from outside the Power Five leagues.
You would still have two at-large bids left that would be available to any FBS team.
The advantage of automatic bids is it keeps all parts of the country engaged in the college football season, regardless of the varying strengths of conferences. It also helps ensure that the football regular season is never rendered as meaningless as the men's hoops regular season has been by the 68-team NCAA Tournament.
Bottom line: The four-team playoff is fine. Eight, however, would be great.