“Four more years” is not what most college football fans wanted to hear.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock announced last week that the four-team playoff will continue through the 2025 season. The 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick will continue to work on an expansion model, but there remain several obstacles in the way.
A 12-team model that was proposed in the summer did not pass through all those commissioners. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12, which formed the Alliance this offseason, were against the plan, while the other seven conferences and ND were in favor. The Alliance was not going to budge, and that was that.
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So, what’s the holdup and how do we fix it? Sporting News looks at the issues that need to be ironed out before expansion.
Problem: Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was visibly frustrated after the commissioners’ last meeting on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis. He said some of the expansion debate considered the number of teams in the CFP.
”There are holdouts for four, there are holdouts for eight, there are holdouts for 12,” Bowlsby said. “It’s been a frustrating process. I think four has worked, so there are those that are comfortable with four.”
The 12-team model gained the most traction, but one of the major holdups is automatic qualifiers. The original proposal had the six highest-ranked conference champions making the CFP. A “five-plus-one” model had the five Power 5 conference champions and a Group of 5 champion making the field with six at-large bids.
This is the biggest issue between the SEC and Big Ten.
Mark Keenum suggests that the biggest obstacle in expansion is some leagues (namely the B1G) wanting AQs for P5 champions.
Despite representing a P5 conference (SEC), Keenum called that proposal unfair.
“That is a real sticking point. I don’t know how we get it resolved. “
Solution: This is a head-scratcher. The Big Ten and SEC are going to get the most at-large bids if they give six automatic bids in a 12-team format. Using the six highest-ranked conference champion model, here is what the at-large bids would have looked like from 2015-2021:
So why are the Big Ten and SEC at an impasse? The SEC and Big Ten will have the most at-large bids, and the Big Ten’s Alliance buddies in the Pac-12 and ACC will still get teams in.
That’s not going to change given Oklahoma and Texas’ move to the SEC. If it’s about getting the best 12 teams in the CFP, then the six highest-ranked champions model might be more beneficial than giving every Power 5 conference an automatic bid. The model the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 want isn’t going to hurt the SEC either. They need to find a compromise here, and either plan works.
The SEC and Big Ten are in a position of leadership given they are the top two revenue-producing conferences in the FBS. This “Big Two” needs to work together, and Bowlsby took a veiled shot at SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren by invoking their predecessors on Jan. 10.
“Everybody is more concerned about their own silo than everybody else’s,” Bowlsby said. “I do think the first time around Jim Delany and Mike Slive got past their individual concerns to do what was best for college football. That’s why we have the playoff. That has not happened this time.”
Problem: Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith caused a stir last week when he said he would prefer the Buckeyes have “home” playoff games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in an expanded format.
That might have been a signal as to what the CFP committee is thinking. “Home” playoff games might be regional indoor games. In Big Ten and Big 12 country, that means Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ford Field in Detroit and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
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Those could be potential sites for first-round games, and the committee could use the current New Year’s Day Six rotation for the semifinal matchups each season.
The CFP tried pushing the idea of first-round games on campus, but what’s the incentive for the four teams that get a first-round bye? They deserve a home game, too.
Solution: It’s easy. Put the first two rounds on campus. Please. In doing that, college football would create the next-best thing to the NFL playoffs, which is riding the momentum of one of the most-exciting postseasons of all time.
Why can’t we do that in college, too? After all, Las Vegas played a wild card game at Cincinnati. San Francisco won a road divisional round game against Green Bay. The regional weather factor would add the importance of getting a second-round bye.
This is football. It’s supposed to be outside. Imagine Georgia at Ohio State or Oklahoma at USC in the second round. Or better yet, Alabama making the trip to Boise State. Seriously, why can’t we do that?
“I don’t want a hard surface for the players,” Smith said. “And I know the fans would love to have it in the Shoe and maybe it’s snowing or we’re playing whoever, but that surface is a whole new ballgame. And I would prefer to have the indoor elements and have a clean field.”
There just isn’t a universe where the Buckeyes playing a second-round playoff game in Indianapolis is more exciting than The Shoe. What if it was a Michigan rematch? But like it or not, Smith is on to something.
That’s the compromise college football fans might be told to make, even if it’s a ridiculous one. Those first- and second-round games might end up at regional locations similar to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s not as dramatic when Alabama makes the trip to Boise in men’s hoops.
Problem: CFP chair and Mississippi State president Mark Keenum told SI’s Ross Dellenger that the Rose Bowl continues to insist on its afternoon slot on Jan. 1. The Pac-12 and Big Ten have ties to the bowl game.
The Rose Bowl is an influential piece of the puzzle given its history and tradition, including the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1.
Solution: Call the Rose Bowl’s bluff. Yes, the “Granddaddy of Them All” has a strong tradition rooted in the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Yet, arguably the two-most memorable Rose Bowls of the 21st century were matchups between USC and Texas in 2006 and Georgia and Oklahoma in 2018.
Those were postseason matchups. Traditions change, and the Rose Bowl can still be a huge piece of the CFP puzzle. You could even make them an every four-year venue for the championship game.
Imagine the NFL not expanding its playoff because a game has to be played at Lambeau Field. The Rose Bowl is awesome, and the scenes and history can still be a part of college football’s next chapter.
But the BCS went to the four-team playoff, and another round of expansion is coming. The Rose Bowl cannot (or at least should not be able to) hold that process hostage forever.
– There is the question of TV rights and revenue distribution, but the CFP has to have a plan first. ESPN has the rights to the four-team College Football Playoff and New Year’s Day Six through 2025-26, but an expanded playoff could create opportunities for other networks or streaming services. Where FOX and other networks or streaming partners fit in remains to be seen.
– Player safety is another question that gets brought up, but an expanded playoff would be an incentive for players who are opting out of bowl games to participate in the postseason. Another work around would be to trim the regular season back down to 11 games or eliminate conference championship games.
– What about the bowl system? Those other bowl games can still be played. More football never hurt anybody, and viewership went up on the lesser bowls this season.
None of these talking points are an impediment to expansion.
At least not after the next four years.