Expanding the College Football Playoff only adds intrigue

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

When college football begins in earnest this weekend, the games will still be played over four quarters, the referees will still be clad in zebra uniforms and Saturday will still be the main day to park your behind on the couch.

As for everything else? It might just have changed, or be about to change, or have become subject to future change.

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, but there is no disguising that this has been a head-spinning period of flurried activity for the college game with a pair of primary effects.

For one, no one knows what is going to happen next, and any projections as to how an already chaotic landscape may look a few years from now are, by default, nothing more than guesswork.

The other is that interest, even before the delightful excessiveness begins, is off the charts — proving that all the shifts have done an unwittingly spectacular job of stirring up excitement.

Over Labor Day weekend there will be 83 games featuring FBS teams. Tonight, FOX will broadcast Penn State’s visit to Purdue at 8 p.m. ET. Things might be different, but the passion for college football remains undimmed, at big schools, small schools, big cities, tiny towns, and everywhere else. 

It was just two months ago that the summer’s absolute humdinger of a newsflash jolted out of Los Angeles with the revelation that USC and UCLA will join the Big Ten in 2024.

On Friday, a seismic move of similar weight could come, with the College Football Playoff’s management board to take part in an expansion vote that could see the playoff’s size triple — or even quadruple.

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And, if you want to get really technical, there are other, smaller alterations, such as divisions no longer being required to have a conference championship, specific transfer windows, and NIL regulations. Quarterbacks can’t even do the fake slide anymore, though Kenny Pickett left for the NFL, so it probably doesn’t matter.

But diving into the technicalities has never been what college football is all about. The Big Ten’s enhancement to a point where there is now a genuine Raw v. Smackdown rivalry between it and the SEC will hold no shortage of genuine fascination, even though the California teams don’t come in until 2024.

And a playoff expansion would reimagine what might be possible for any number of hopefuls, though again, the very earliest that could happen would be 2024.

Yet college football is its own strange beast, 131 teams all playing for the same prize but operating in a reality where only a few have a real shot at obtaining it. It is imperfect, but that imperfection has had no impact on its popularity. If anything, it gives the diehards even more reason to get invested in the process.

Realignment and restructuring are the headlining tales, but as important as the topics are, no one got into college football to look at maps and configure the merits of various bracket proposals.

Beyond the chatter, there are real stories all over the country, and that is where the real magic lies, in the places where glory is not expected every year, where the game is the purpose and the sense of community is what brings everyone back more than the quality of play.

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College football will always be more likely to face accusations of being chaotic than of being boring, and as a raw entertainment mechanism for occupying your time, what else can boast that its opening week stretches out from Thursday afternoon to Monday night, with barely a pause?

In a game where the players can stay for no more than a handful of years, maybe change is just part of the fabric. But after a summer of flux, the first weekend in September is upon us, which means college football is back, and so everything can start to feel familiar once more.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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