'It could be done, but it would definitely be tough': Ohio State football players weigh in on playoff expansion

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch
When coach Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes won the national championship January 12, 2015, it was the 15th game they'd played that season, the longest campaign in OSU history.

Thayer Munford considered the recent proposal for the College Football Playoff to expand from four teams to 12 and the results from an enlarged bracket.

By adding more teams to the field, the participants will be asked to play more games in order to pursue a national championship. Teams without a first-round bye could be in as many as four playoff games. Seasons will swell to 16 or 17 games.

To balance the physical demands, the Ohio State left tackle views staging fewer games in the regular season as a practical solution.

“You should have a little bit more time off,” he said, “because it's going to be a long season.”

Munford and other Buckeyes players who met with reporters at Big Ten media days last week will be unaffected by playoff expansion. They’re all upperclassmen and will have left school by the time any new postseason model takes effect.

But their thoughts offer perspective for decision-makers throughout college sports, including Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who told USA Today last week he would seek feedback from players before endorsing the 12-team format.

Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison speaking at Big Ten media days, said expanding the college football playoff field would give an advantage to teams that stayed healthy.

Unique to Munford and teammates such as defensive end Zach Harrison and tight end Jeremy Ruckert is that they have playoff experience. The Buckeyes made the field last fall as well as in 2019, a season that featured 14 games. They’ve already trudged through some of the longer schedules.

None of the three players supported or spoke out against expansion, but acknowledged one of the realities: It’ll be grueling for players.

“It’s definitely going to take a toll on your body, but that's football,” Harrison said. “Football's a tough sport, and oftentimes the most healthy team at the end of the season is going to win the most games. I wouldn't say that's a knock against an expanded playoff. That's just something that needs to be factored in for the decision-makers.”

Ruckert pointed out it’s not unprecedented for football seasons to surpass 15 games, which has been the limit for College Football Playoff finalists.

Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Jeremy Ruckert speaks to the media during Big Ten media days at Lucas Oil Stadium. He had mixed feelings about an expanded college football playoff.

College Football Playoff expansion would create 15-game season

NFL regular-seasons have been 16 games for decades before moving to a 17-game regular-season starting this year. Ruckert suggested if most players strive to reach the professional level, expansion might make sense in that context — but only to a point. 

“You can you can look at it that way,” he said, “but for a college athlete dealing with the school, with all that stuff, I think it would definitely be mentally tough, physically tough. So it's just working on how to manage that and how to maximize your body and everything like that is something that you really think of. It could be done, but it would definitely be tough.”

The trend in college football in recent decades has been to add games. In the Bowl Championship Series era, teams played up to 14 games, which could include 12 regular-season games, a conference championship game and a bowl game or BCS title game.

The introduction of the playoff in 2014 brought the possibility of two playoff games, creating some 15-game seasons.

What Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on CFP expansion

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith doesn’t expect this shift to change, seeing it as unlikely any steps would be taken to drop games from schedules.

He noted that most of the 130 teams in the Bowl Subdivision will be unaffected by playoff expansion, and if the regular season was cut to help the dozen playoff teams, a swath of other schools would be hurt.  

“I don't think you can reduce it,” Smith said, “because that impacts all the other schools who aren't in it. So imagine we weren't in. We're taking away a game and taking away revenue. You can't do that.”

In order to address concerns about the physical toll of a longer season, Smith, a proponent of expansion, said he wanted to look at other areas to help players manage the slate. Some of the possibilities he mentioned include more bye weeks or reduced practice hours late in the season.  

“To me, we've got to figure out what's the date of the games, what's the spacing,” Smith said. “Players want to play. They don't want to practice. So when we get to that time, what's the practice rules? How do you make sure you they protect their bodies?”

Issues around player workload management loom around the corner.

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jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman