Neal Brown excited for expanded playoff creating more access

MORGANTOWN — Since its inception, the College Football Playoff has been a who’s who of the sport’s most elite programs.

Over the 10 years of the four-team playoff, Alabama leads all teams with eight appearances. Clemson is second with six, Oklahoma has four and Georgia and Michigan have made it three times each. Only 15 teams total have ever made an appearance.

Nearly that many will make the playoff this season as the NCAA expanded the field to 12 teams beginning in 2024.

It’s a welcome change for every team in the tier below the blue bloods, the good-but-not-greats who were turned away at the door in years past.

“I think all the discussion on the playoff, what I don’t think there’s been enough talk about is just access,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said in an interview with the Dominion Post last week. “And so as the Big 12 changes, we have access.”

The Big 12 did well in the playoff the last 10 years. The conference made six appearances — Oklahoma four times and TCU and Texas once each — right in line with the ACC’s seven, ahead of the Pac-12 (three) and below the SEC (12) and Big 10 (nine).

That was the old Big 12, however, and the new Big 12 likely would not have done as well in the old format.

The Big 12 has had more parity and has been less top-heavy than the SEC or the Big 10 in the playoff era. With only four teams getting in, going undefeated was almost a prerequisite. Just ask TCU and Baylor, who were both left out with one loss each in 2014.

With 12 teams and automatic bids for the four power conference champions, the Big 12’s competitiveness no longer works against it.

“You have real access, and I don’t use the word parity, I think we’re gonna have the most competitive league,” Brown said. “What I mean by that is you could make a strong argument for probably up to eight teams that have a real chance to win the Big 12 this year at the start of the season. And we’re the only league where the bottom four teams have an opportunity to beat the top four teams. So I just think from week to week, everybody’s going to have a chance to win and that’s not the case (in every league).”

With Oklahoma and Texas leaving for the SEC, the new 16-team Big 12 is dead last among the Power 4 conferences with just two playoff appearances — TCU in 2022 and Cincinnati in 2021 as a member of the American. At least one Big 12 team is guaranteed to make the playoff from now on as the conference champion will receive and automatic bid.

“I don’t think we’d say we’re the best Power 4 League, because there’s some leagues that have been more top-heavy, and that have done better in the playoff era than we have,” Brown said, “But I do think we can be the most competitive league and week to week we can be the most compelling as far as anybody’s going to have a chance (to win).”

With more teams making it every year now, Brown sees the College Football Playoff as being less as a club only for the elites and more like March Madness or the College World Series, where any team that gets in has the chance to go on a run.

“To me, it’s no different than the College World Series or NCAA Tournament,” Brown said. “Once you get in, then you’ve got a chance. If you get in, you don’t have to be better, you just have to be better that night and then you just survive and advance. That’s what we’re excited about, the opportunity for access.”