This past week, a great deal of media attention was directed towards the national championship game for the FBS division of college football. During player interviews, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware made headlines with his defense of teammate Christian Wilkins’ groping of Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel during the Tigers’ Fiesta Bowl win.
Amidst the juicy soundbites about Wilkins and Samuel, however, Boulware responded to a well-placed question from Dan Wolken of USA Today regarding FBS playoff expansion to 8 teams, theoretically adding another game to the playoff bracket, stating, “If we had to do another game after this, God no. I’d literally die.” Some grammarians might object to Boulware’s millennial-speak of misappropriating “literally” in place of “figuratively,” but I’m not so sure he is using the term inaccurately here, and although hyperbolic, Boulware’s answer is only mildly so.
Following two duds of semifinal games and a thrilling Rose Bowl between USC and Penn State, both of whom had an argument for making the four-team playoff, pundits have been fantasizing about what playoff expansion would look like in the FBS. Formats vary, with some arguing for a six team bracket with byes for the top two seeds (similar to the NFL’s wild-card and divisional playoffs), while others espouse an eight team tournament. Regardless of the format, extra games would have to be played (by some, if not all, as would be the case in the six-team format) if playoffs are expanded, and that’s where Boulware’s comments carry weight in my eyes.
We’ve already heard the objections NFL players make to adding more regular season games as well as having to play on a Thursday night after a Sunday match-up. The notion that football is a brutal, grinding sport with real-world consequences for its other-worldly-seeming players is becoming more and more accepted as NFL-bound athletes skip games for safety and players have more outlets to voice their true feelings and experiences. To this end, it is important that same growing consideration is extended to the student-athletes that are being asked to do more on the gridiron.
For some, pointing to the Football Championship Subdivision’s playoff format of 24-teams and five rounds of play is the exemplar of what is possible in the larger FBS. “If they’re able to execute it, why can’t FBS?” some wonder. Where this model breaks down, however, is the already-bloated schedules of FBS teams. Alabama played thirteen games prior to starting the FBS playoff, and will end the season having played fifteen. The same is true of Clemson. If Boulware is concerned about adding a sixteenth game to his season, imagine the consternation at a seventeenth and eighteenth, the result if Clemson played in the first-through-final rounds of a 24-team bracket after their regular season.
Many are discussing the exciting prospects of FBS playoff expansion. There would be tremendous interest from fans and a huge amount of revenue generated. While that is well and good, athletic departments can’t forget to ask the most important component of such an enterprise what they think and to consider the long-term effects such a move would have on the bodies of athletes, most of whom will not play their sport beyond college.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.