When Alabama and Georgia reached the College Football Playoff championship game, I wondered how many people would tune in across the country.
After all, this was essentially a second SEC championship game with the Bulldogs facing the Crimson Tide instead of Auburn. It sounded more like a regional championship than a national championship with the game being played at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
But more than 28 million college football fans did tune in. Monday night’s game drew a 16.7 overnight TV rating, a nine percent jump over last year’s national championship game between Clemson and Alabama.
People who stayed up past 11 p.m. to see the finish were glad they did. It was riveting football as the Crimson Tide rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit for a 26-23 overtime win behind backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who threw three touchdown passes after replacing starter Jalen Hurts.
Tagovailoa’s game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime to Devonta Smith was a thing of beauty. The freshman threw a perfect strike downfield and showed remarkable poise after Georgia sacked him for a 16-yard loss on the previous play.
It’s the stunning finish you’d want in every national championship game.
As good as the Alabama-Georgia game was, it’s debatable whether it was more exciting than the New Year’s Day national semifinal when Georgia rallied for a 54-48 overtime win over Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl.
The only dud in the College Football Playoff was Alabama’s 24-6 semifinal win over top-seeded Clemson, a game that had considerable buildup after the Tigers pulled off a thrilling 35-31 win over the Crimson Tide to win last year’s national title.
Finishing its fourth year, the College Football Playoff is clearly a major success. The three playoff games were easily the most watched of the bowl season, with the championship drawing 28.4 million viewers, the Oklahoma-Georgia semifinal drawing 26.9 million, and the Alabama-Clemson semifinal drawing 21.5 million.
The next most watched bowl game was the Orange Bowl as 11.7 million viewers tuned in to see Wisconsin beat Miami, 34-24.
So why not double the fun?
Wouldn’t an eight-team playoff create a massive buzz and draw even more viewers? It would spark greater interest during the regular season since more teams would have a chance to make the playoffs.
There would be one more round for a team to take a shot at knocking off Alabama, which has dominated college football with five of the last nine national championships under Nick Saban.
An eight-team playoff could include the winners of all five Power 5 conferences: the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and the Big Ten. At least one school outside the Power 5 should get a bid along with two more wildcard teams.
In this format, a UCF team that went 13-0 this season wouldn’t have to stage a faux national championship celebration like it did this year when Florida governor Rick Scott declared the Knights the true national champions. UCF even held its own national championship parade on Sunday at Disney World in its hometown of Orlando.
In an eight-team format, Wisconsin and Ohio State wouldn’t have had to complain about not getting in the playoff. You might still get a Power 5 conference winner — Pac-12, anybody? — that’s not as good as the third or fourth best team from another conference, but the debate would still be a lot of fun.
All six major bowls that are currently in the College Football Playoff semifinals rotation could host playoff games every year. Organizers of the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl would love it.
I don’t expect the NCAA to change its current format any time soon. It took forever just to get a four-team playoff. But I think the change will eventually come, and college football will be better off for it.