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No, a four-team G5 wild card playoff is not a good idea

Air Force HC Troy Calhoun is the latest voice to give legitimacy to a G5 playoff. It’s still a bad idea.

81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Western Michigan v Wisconsin Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Air Force football’s head coach Troy Calhoun stirred the ever-boiling offseason pot early Friday with comments concerning the possibility of a Group of Five postseason, a la the College Football Playoff.

Per The Gazette’s Brent Briggemen, Calhoun adovcated for an adjustment to the current College Football Playoff system:

It was the sports fan – and Air Force/Group of Five advocate – in Calhoun who pitched his latest idea for the College Football Playoff.

Calhoun would take the field to eight and break it down like this:

1. ACC champ

2. Big Ten champ

3. Big 12 champ

4. Pac-12 champ

5. SEC champ

6. Wild card

7. Wild card

8. Group of Five playoff winner

That Group of Five playoff would consist of four entrants. He didn’t specify how those four would be determined. Maybe it would be the top-rated champions among the Group of Five. Maybe the top rated regardless of conference.

Point is, as a fan, he wants this process to be open to all involved, and he routinely cites Cinderella stories from other college sports as an example.

“I think it would, really, bring a wholeness that would be splendid for the spirit of college football,” Calhoun said.

Sean Frazier, Northern Illinois’ athetic director, has discussed the possibility of an altogether separated Group of Five Playoff (which, as we’ve pointed out in the past is a terrible idea), so Calhoun’s suggestion could be seen as a bit of a compromise.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

First off in this scenario, it still only leaves one guaranteed space for a Group of Five team to make it in, even despite doubling the field of potential contenders. One could certainly argue that the two “open slots” at 6 and 7 could be claimed by G5 schools, but let’s be real: every year the CFP has been in effect thus far, most of the controversy has been because of two Power Five programs being “snubbed” from the Final Four contenders. So it stands to reason that the two schools seen as “most deserving” out of the Power 5 conferences would nab those spots, especially since in this scenario the conference champions of each Power Five conference have a guaranteed spot.

This leads to another problem: having the one guaranteed space is good! It’s certainly better than the zero the Group of Five conferences have at the moment. But it’s the how that’s the issue. The logistics of the deal are impossible.

Think of this eight-team playoff as the current playoff system, except that it includes two of the New Year’s Six bowls. At the end of the regular season, prior to bowl season, the final CFP poll comes out and determines where the top contenders are going. Currently, the highest-ranked G5 champion is guaranteed a spot in a rotating NY6 bowl.

Calhoun’s system would put four G5 programs (again, there’s no specific criteria for deterimining who is “the best” in this scenario) in a separate Wild Card-esque playoff to se who gets the one guaranteed spot. It would take at least two additional weeks in the season to make that happen and it would hold up the rest of bowl season as well, seeing as the lower bowls might like to nab one of the “contender” teams.

Under Calhoun’s proposed system, not only is there no specific program in this spot, it forces the program to incur more expenses should it advance.

The numbers have shown that even the bigger G5 programs seen as contenders are struggling with costs incurred in order to just keep up with flaggling P5 programs. Under this system, the school would be forced to keep up with expenses, meaning the potential to lose even more money despite “winning”, so to speak. So, would the cost be ultimately worth it for G5 teams, even if the national prestige would be a boon to the program and its university?

All that is even before we get to player safety and scheduling conflicts.

In order to make this work, G5 teams would have to significantly shorten their regular seasons, lest they risk the injury of their own student-athletes. Under Calhoun’s scenario, a qualifying team might have to play anywhere from 14-18 games, minimum. With the science out on the risks of concussions and mental health, there’s an ethical dilemma to deal with on that front, especially given that the student-athletes are (again, to be noted) amateurs.

Shortening or adjusting the schedules could also result in the loss of money games that are key to keeping some G5 programs alive from a financial standpoint. These money games can also boost schedules for G5 teams looking to prove a point. The potential for a shortened schedule in this scenario really cuts into the opportunities for G5 programs like a double-edged sword.

In short, there’s no way for any G5 program to win going this route. Especially when the award is “bring[ing] a wholeness that would be splendid for the spirit of collegiate football.”

There might be a scenario in the future where a G5 playoff works on its own or as part of the current system, but this way is an asinine and short-sighted move that only puts the game and its participants at risk.