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Volume 21 No. 26
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ESPN content with CFP’s four-team format

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SPN’s top programming executive said that the network is not agitating to expand the College Football Playoff, saying he is content with the current four-team format.

Clamor to increase the number of teams invited to play in the CFP from four to six or even eight increased this year when the University of Central Florida finished its season undefeated and did not receive a CFP invitation or even any serious consideration. A championship game with two schools from the same conference also created angst from people who would like to see a bigger playoff field.

But speaking on this week’s SBJ/SBD Media Podcast, ESPN Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling Burke Magnus said ESPN is “not at all” advocating for the current four-team format to expand, worried that any expansion could weaken college football’s regular season.

Because so much of its fall schedule is dominated by college football, ESPN finds it especially important to keep the regular season relevant. Magnus pointed out that ESPN has invested more in college football than “any other category that we do,” given all of the rights deals the network has with various conferences.

“I would worry a little bit that conceivably any change might bring with it some unintended consequences relative to the regular season,” Magnus said. “I also look at the totality of college football and making sure that they don’t unintentionally water down the competition during the regular season such that playoff bids are determined in advance or that we go back to the automatic qualifying business of the BCS, which was not the sport at its best.”

Magnus reiterated that ESPN has “nothing to do with” any decision on changing the CFP format, saying that those decisions rest with conference commissioners, university presidents and CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock.

But Magnus said ESPN would be happy leaving the CFP at four teams. He said the debate about who should be included in the four-team playoff creates even more interest in the games, which usually rank among the most-viewed shows in cable TV history. This year’s Rose Bowl, for example, brought cable TV’s fifth-largest audience of all time, Magnus said.

This year’s College Football Playoff has brought fresh calls for expanding the field of teams.
Photo by: ESPN IMAGES
“Part of the beauty of the College Football Playoff is that four teams is going to, quite arguably, exclude somebody who might have a very good case,” Magnus said. “Whether that’s Ohio State or UCF or whoever it might be — USC was the champion of the Pac-12 and they were out this year, too. By design, there’s going to be people on the outside looking in.”

Magnus hyped ratings for all of ESPN’s bowl games, which are up this season. He said ESPN is not affected by low attendance figures for some bowl games and suggested that it’s not a problem in general.

“Every year, what I call the ‘there’s-too-many-bowls’ crowd starts agitating on things like how many people are in the stadium or do these teams at 6-6 or 7-5 ‘deserve’ to be playing in a bowl game,” Magnus said. “College football is unique in that there’s great reward for teams to play and to experience a bowl environment.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.