Big Ten coaches weigh in on potential playoff expansion

Do you like playoffs? 

So do at least two Big Ten coaches queried about the subject Monday at the Big Ten Football Media Days. 

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was probably the most enthusiastic. 

“Thoughts on the playoff system? I guess the first thing that comes to mind is more would be more,” Harbaugh said. “More would be better in the playoffs. Four right now, go to eight and eventually get to 16.” 

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New Nebraska coach Scott Frost, who has a vested interest in the discussion because his undefeated UCF team would have almost certainly made an eight-team playoff last year, also is a proponent of doubling the size of the postseason. 

“Getting it to four teams was an improvement,” said Frost, who quarterbacked a Nebraska team that split the 1997 national championship with Michigan one year before they would have been matched up in the BCS. 

“But it's hard to look at last year's college football season and not feel like an eight-team playoff isn't where we should go. I think that's my opinion. I think it should be five conference champions and three at-large teams. That would give a surprise conference champion that plays well at the end of the season a shot. It might give a team like we had at UCF last year a shot.”

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Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck had a similar experience to Frost, coaching Western Michigan to an undefeated regular season in 2016, but he sounded more content with the status quo overall. 

“The college football playoff has brought a completely new dynamic,” said Fleck, a former Ohio State graduate assistant who is entering his second season leading the Golden Gophers. “I was asked a question today — Do you feel like a group of five team should be able to do that if you go undefeated, now that you're not in the group of five? 

“I said absolutely. I'm a huge advocate of that. And I'm sure Scott Frost might say the same thing. But I think the ability for that to happen might not happen for a while. And I think the possibility of that ever happening is there. Maybe if you go 13-0 and 13-0, but they say that one last year doesn't affect necessarily this year. But I think that could start to turn the tide a little bit if you have a team that's 26-0. You force somebody to do something. But again I love where it's at. It's a very exciting time in our game.” 

Penn State coach James Franklin, whose team won the Big Ten two years ago but missed the playoff (at least in part) because it had two losses, also said he is fine with the way things are. 

“I like the current system,” he said. "I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't have a whole lot of problem with the system before it.” 

However, he and Fleck both expressed concern about not knowing exactly what criteria the committee uses to choose teams. 

A 16-team playoff might never happen, but eight does seem realistic if the logistics could be worked out. 

Frost has thought about that, too. 

“I think you could start the playoff earlier in December, not have to make the semifinal like a bowl experience,” Frost said. “That would allow the season to end about the same time that it does with the national championship game. I don't think it takes away from the regular season and the importance of those games. And as great as the evolution of that playoff has been, I'm always going to be an advocate for eight teams.” 

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