The next step for the College Football Playoff is not expanding to eight teams, but instead adding a third-place game at the national championship site.
The initial argument against doing this is probably something like “A third place game? That would be just a glorified exhibition game.” I counter with: that’s all bowl games are in the first place. Bowl game statistics have only become an official part of a player’s career stats in the past 25 years or so precisely because the NCAA treated bowl games as glorified exhibition games for about 80 years.
Other arguments against a third-place game include things like injuries and making a team play an extra game. Yet for the teams playing in the national championship, the added chance of injury and the season extended by one more game is certainly not seen as a negative, even though it’s as true as it would be for a third-place game.
In the NCAA Basketball Tournament, third-place games were the norm for decades. When teams traveled by train to the Final Four location, it was seen as folly to go there to just play one game. Thus, the third-place game for the teams that lost the semifinals was established. There were even third-place regional games for a while. The NIT, the original postseason basketball tournament, didn’t get rid of the third-place game until sometime in the last decade.
If the football third-place game was at the same site as the championship game, then fans and media who made the Final Four could book two trips at the same time, or just pick one or the other. You could argue lack of interest among the fan bases for the third-place game, but I’m pretty sure that 55,000 Alabama and Florida State fans would show up in Dallas next week if that game was taking place. Finding at least 55,000 football fans to go to a showcase game hasn’t really been a problem recently.
Let’s say the third-place game was Saturday night and the title game was Monday, like the basketball Final Four. Wouldn’t it be interesting this year to have the most hard-core Oregon and Ohio State and ‘Bama and FSU fans all in the same place at the same time? Sure, there would be a chance for idiots to do idiotic things, but every day is a chance for idiots to do idiotic things.
I can imagine many Oregon and Alabama fans sharing wings and beer and lamenting that the dream matchup for the past several years isn’t going to happen, with Buckeye and Florida State fans enjoying that Florida isn’t involved.
If the football playoff is really for the fans, then a third-place game doesn’t just make sense, it’s almost required. Oh, and it would mean more TV money and exposure for schools and conferences. Maybe I should have just started with that.