A CFB Playoff muscle flex by the SEC and the Big Ten

The 2026 CFB Playoff structure and payouts are unresolved. Will the SEC and the Big Ten push through opposition from other conferences?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the SEC and the Big Ten made a power move about the future control of college sports, especially college football. A coalition was defined by the two conferences as having only a consulting role, with no independent authority. It is nonetheless anticipated the duo will wield more real power than an earlier feeble attempt by the B1G, the ACC, and the Pac-12 to drive changes in college football.

The 'advisory' coalition appears poised for bold action to restructure college football. That future restructure could lead to a new entity splitting with the NCAA. Or it might lead to a new division in the NCAA's college football structure where rules and enforcement are determined solely by members of the new division.

It may be true that SEC Commissioner, Greg Sankey and Big Ten Commissioner, Tony Petitti don't already have a fully crafted plan to change college football. What is certainly true is that the two conferences have the power to sever their relationships with the rest of college football. If a completely new entity evolves, the biggest drama will be how many 'other' programs the SEC and the B1G will allow to join.

This week the two conferences will be flexing more muscle. The 2026 CFB Playoff (and beyond) is undetermined and more discussions and debate will occur in Dallas. Based on current rules, changes require unanimous votes. But the reality is the Pac-12 remnants and the Group of Five representatives can only block changes for the 2024 and 2025 Playoffs.

A big issue is keeping the current 6+6 format, with six conference champions and six at-large teams, or going to a 5+7, with seven at-large teams. In the past, Greg Sankey has said he would be comfortable with no automatic qualifiers. There is no indication, he will seriously try to accomplish a format that gives no added value to conference championships. Fair speculation is that Sankey and Petitti want a format with no obstacles to prevent four or more teams from a single conference from making any Playoff field.

Even more contentious than format and qualification debate is how future Playoff money will be distributed. Asked for comment before the Monday and Tuesday meetings began, Greg Sankey threw down a quiet gauntlet.

"We don’t know as a group what the CFP structure looks like from 2026 and beyond. That’s on our mind."

Greg Sankey

The message behind Sankey's words is the SEC and the Big Ten are capable of creating a new CFB Playoff beginning in 2026. Outside of SEC and B1G teams, what would be left for the rest of college football would be greatly diminished. The two conferences could handpick programs for added expansion into their leagues. It is possible a 48-64, member group of SEC and Big Ten teams would split from the rest of college football.

What drives future decisions is simple. It is money. Future massive amounts of Playoff largess will not be shared equally with lesser conferences. The 'big dogs' are the B1G and the SEC, and they will eat all they want.

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