November 29, 2022

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The Sports Fanatics

College Football Playoff management bullish on expansion and home sites, deadlocked on auto bids

IRVING, Texas — SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been at the DFW Airport Hyatt three times over the last several months for various College Football Playoff Management committee meetings. 

“I’ve had the same exact room twice in this hotel,” Sankey said. “How many rooms are in this hotel? And I’ve had the same exact room twice. So there is a Groundhog Day factor.” 

The committee has reached agreement that the playoff should expand, with most in favor of playing games on campus. However, Brett McMurphy reports that the primary issue remains automatic Power Five bids, the same holdup as previous meetings. 

Since June 10 — when a CFP working group revealed a proposed 12-team model — the 10 commissioners that make up the FBS have met six times hoping to come to a consensus on the details. There was optimism that Dec. 1 could finally be decision day. 

“There isn’t any way to dance around it, we’re working through hard issues and we disagree sometimes,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “I thought there was a chance we’d get to the end right now. We didn’t.” 

The qualms most likely come from The Alliance, the tenuous agreement between the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten. Had the 12-team playoff existed in 2020, the Pac-12 would have missed out on an auto bid in favor of AAC champ Cincinnati and Sun Belt champ Coastal Carolina. That same situation could’ve theoretically happened this year, as No. 19 San Diego State and No. 24 Louisiana are within striking distance.

“We continue to make progress, but a variety of issues remain,” said Bill Hancock, the playoff’s executive director, in a statement. “The commissioners will meet again to see if the remaining items can be settled. The possibility of expansion is complicated and has multiple issues associated with it. Given the importance of the matter and our desire to achieve as much consensus as possible, we will continue our meetings to see if the differences that exist can be narrowed.

“There remains a strong consensus that expansion is desirable, whether it begins early, or possibly not until the 2025-2026 season is over.”

Bowlsby and Sankey were both part of the working group that revealed the plan in June, and both remain steadfast that the model they announced — 12 teams, six automatic conference champion qualifiers — remains the right one. However, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson noted that an eight-team model has not been eliminated from consideration. 

The next meeting will be in January, as both conference commissioners and other key individuals involved in the process converge around yearly meetings. However, it’s no accident that Hancock’s statement pointed to the 2025-26 season. 

After that school year, every part of the CFP expires — bowl contracts, television deals and the entire structure at large. Pushing a new structure until then instead of trying to move early would allow the management group to work from a blank slate. 

Of course, it would also mean at least four more four-team playoffs. There’s no telling where the sports could be by then. 

In the wake of Brian Kelly leaving a playoff-contending team at Notre Dame to take the job at LSU, Sankey was asked about his level of concern about the coaching carousel timeline. He pointed to the expansion of the Early Signing Period as short-term “siloed” decision making — quickly trying to solve one issue and creating another in response. 

As executives consider expansion, Sankey points to decisions like those as to why the CFP Management committee is being cautious. 

“I think one of the helpful parts of the continuing conversation is the acknowledgement that we need to look at the full picture of college football, not just the postseason but how that connects to the rest of the year,” Sankey said. “I think that is one of those unanimous perspectives is just an openness to think more collectively about our policy decisions and the implications.”