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Mullen talks playoff expansion, exhibition spring games

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Gator gathering at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Monday: UF coach Dan Mullen, left, and former Gators quarterbacks Tim Tebow, center, and Jesse Palmer.

It’s only a matter of time before the College Football Playoff expands from the current four-team format. 

That’s according to Florida coach Dan Mullen, who said Monday on ESPN that playoff expansion will come at a price for the bowl system. 

The games have already lost their luster with the playoff, and Mullen thinks moving to eight teams will only make them more insignificant. 

“I think what we have to do to expand the playoffs is we have to be able to let go of the bowl system,” Mullen said. “Now for a lot of people, that will be a sad day. … What bowl games mean are really special.”

Mullen described himself as a college football nut whose favorite day growing up was New Year’s Day because there were “games all day long.” He told the story of when his 2014 Mississippi State team went to the Orange Bowl and had a beach day in Miami. 

“I had a bunch of guys come up to me and say, ‘Coach, I’ve never seen the ocean before. This is the coolest thing.’ Now the experience of going for a week to a bowl game to experience those things, enjoy the whole festivities is great,” Mullen said. “But with the playoff, maybe I think that’s moving college football in a different direction from that and we have to be ready to accept that if we are going to expand.”

The bowl experience, Mullen believes, is one that future players will miss out on with the growing trend of postseason opt-outs on teams that don’t make the playoff. 

Mullen offered up this alternative: exhibition spring games. 

“Bowl games started as an exhibition,” he said. “You know what would be a really interesting bowl game is come down here after spring ball and do an exhibition. We can come right out here and you could see, I don’t know, Florida-Southern Cal in May. 

“A spring game. You could do it right out here and I think you’d have a pretty good fan base, pretty much excitement that kicks off leading into the season. That could be a way to maintain some of the energy and excitement around bowl games.”

ESPN analyst David Pollack asked Mullen how he felt about eliminating conference divisions, playing eight league games and playing one team from each of the Power Five conferences for 12 total regular season games. Every conference champion would advance to an eight-team playoff along with three at-large bids. 

“What you just did is you completely changed the whole system,” Mullen responded. “The issue for people is with change comes discomfort. One thing we do have to start looking at possibly in college football, within the next five years I think it might be very different than what a traditionalist is used to seeing. 

“You have name, image and likeness coming. Are we paying the players and how is that working out? The expansion of the playoffs and changing realignment. It’s gonna change. I think you have to be ready to just embrace the change and then let’s kind of start over maybe and say, ‘Moving forward this might be the best way to do it.’”