CFB Playoff: Expansion talks fail to move past stalemate

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images /

Fans of a 12-team College Football Playoff format were disappointed Monday. The College Football Playoff Management Committee and the Board of Managers made one small accomplishment. They conducted an actual vote.

Speaking about the vote, Big 12 Commissioner, Bob Bowlsby summed up opposing viewpoints as “entrenched.”

"We didn’t even get close. We have a lot of work to do … I am disappointed"

Bowlsby and CFB Playoff Executive Director, Bill Hancock shared somewhat different opinions on the result of Monday’s vote. Bowlsby stated there can now be no expanded format before the 2026 season. Hancock, as required by his position, said more diplomatically, expansion could still be accomplished in the 2024 or 2025 season.

Hancock did admit building consensus is getting “harder and harder.”

College Football Playoff expansion plan fails

Writing for CBS, Dennis Dodd summarized the obstacles in the way of an expanded format agreement.

"Up for debate are numerous issues, including whether first-round games would be played on campuses or at neutral sites, how teams would qualify for the field, which bowl games will be included in the process and what revenue distribution will look like among conferences."

Not to criticize Dodd’s reporting, but the simple phrase “how teams would qualify” does not come close to the depth of disagreement over automatic qualifiers. From the outside, it appears even if every other detail was worked out, the disagreement over auto qualifiers would make Playoff expansion impossible.

The issue is not as simple as the SEC vs. everybody else. Bowlsby, representing the Big 12,  Craig Thompson of the Mountain West and Jack Swarbrick of Notre Dame, have in the past sided with the SEC’s Greg Sankey. That coalition appears to be holding.

It is, however, some combination of jealousy and fear of the SEC that is the major impediment to moving forward with an expanded format.

Led by the Pac 12 and likely still supported by the Big Ten and the ACC, the plan to stymie continued domination by the SEC is automatic qualifiers for each Power Five conference champion. In recent months, Sankey has said if that is the deal, the SEC is content staying with the current, four-team format.

Apparently, Pac 12 programs have no fear of looking like they are afraid to compete. With the slippage of Clemson this season, maybe the ACC also fears a future where, in a given Playoff cycle, no Pac 12 or ACC teams make the expanded field. The likelihood of that seems almost impossible.

Next. Value of Playoff expansion to Crimson Tide. dark

From an SEC perspective – particularly an Alabama Football perspective – if the ‘other’ conferences would focus more on building competitive programs, automatic qualifying might not be an issue. The alternative of getting auto qualifiers, only to have Pac 12 and perhaps ACC teams frequently embarrassed in the Playoffs, will diminish rather than enhance their conference brands.