The quest to expand the college football playoffs stumbles

INDIANAPOLIS. College football’s expansion playoff ambitions stalled on Monday when the sport’s top influencers failed to agree on a plan for nearly seven months after some of them publicly proposed a 12-team format.

The playoffs, which feature four teams each season, could grow even more in the coming years and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the richest conferences in college sports. But adding games immediately after the 2024 season is becoming increasingly unlikely after months of turmoil as talks have been complicated at various points by disputes over possible playoff field lineups, fears of drawn-out seasons and mistrust stemming from a surprise round. conference membership shuffle.

Three days of meetings in Indianapolis, where an 11-member playoff steering committee met before the game on Monday night. national championship game between top-ranked Alabama and No. 1 3 Georgiaended just hours before the game without the unanimity needed to make significant changes to the playoffs.

“Have you ever watched the movie Groundhog Day?” Big 12 commissioner Bob Boulsby made the announcement after the latest series of meetings ended on Monday.

Most of the commissioners and college leaders left through alternative exits or bypassed the reporters by suggesting that they talk to Bill Hancock, the playoff executive, and Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, chairman of the playoff management board, a group of university presidents and presidents. who oversee the steering committee.

However, Bolsby could not contain his irritation.

While he didn’t slam the door on an outcome that would increase the size of the playoffs before the current deal expires at the end of the 2025 season, Bowlsby suggested the chances of a quick deal are fading. He made it clear that at least some of the opposition to the 12-team proposal he helped develop — a plan to offer bids to the top six conference champions as well as six teams at large — seems intractable so far.

“Let me just say that there is more localism here than there should be,” said Bolesby, the longest-serving member of the Power 5 commission. “Everyone is more worried about their bunker than anyone else,” he added.

Three newly appointed conference commissioners: Big Ten’s Kevin Warren, who arrived two years ago, and Pac-12’s George Klyavkoff and Atlantic Coast’s Jim Phillips, who took up their positions last year.

They were among those dumbfounded when the plan, devised by Bowlsby, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, was presented last June to other committee members (and the public) as something like accomplished fact.

The objections touched on several topics. One was the size of a playoff field; Phillips, for example, recently said that he would only support an expansion to eight teams, and he does not support any changes until the NCAA finishes rewriting its bylaws, which could happen next week. Other concerns were about how many beds would be guaranteed and what would happen to the existing bowls.

In a statement Monday night, Pac-12 said it supports six of the “most talked about” formats, including a system where the top 12 teams will receive playoff slots and another that will award entries. Power 5 Champions. Best Group 5 Champion and six teams at large. The league also said it is open to proposals for an eight-team format, such as including the top eight ranked teams.

But there is ingrained opposition to the eight-team approach.

“It is clear that none of the six most discussed expansion models received unanimous agreement, with most of them generating significant opposition, with every conference except Pac-12 indicating that they would be opposed to at least one of the proposed models,” Pac said in a statement. -12 said.

Sankey, who spoke to reporters more than an hour after the last meeting on Monday, said he was worried that some conferences that beat the drum to expand three years ago are now objecting to the proposal to do just that.

“I never really imagined that it would be just a rubber stamp, but I also know that when problems are identified, there must be a determination to work towards solutions, and solutions must be found,” said Sankey, who did not specify which exactly. the commissioners he spoke of.

He also said that if the talks get back to the start, there is no guarantee that the SEC will be willing to make any concessions it is willing to make now.

Any optimism for change was based on the huge financial returns that a bigger tournament would bring to the leagues. There are also major disappointments with the current system, which debuted in the 2014 season and replaced the Bowl championship series.

A total of 13 universities have made the playoffs, and some of them, such as Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State, have made it to the playoffs multiple times. (The 2017 season also ended with a title game between Alabama and Georgia.)

In addition, entire conferences – in fact, most of the ones that do playoffs – have always or regularly been eliminated. This season, for the first time in the Group 5 league, the team made the playoffs with Cincinnati finishing in fourth place. Florida Central was eliminated in 2017 and 2018 despite going undefeated in the regular season, as was Cincinnati in 2020.

But in addition to worries about games and competition formats, some administrators worried that the leagues would sacrifice millions of dollars if the playoffs expanded before his TV deal could go public. Rising tensions, a new wave of private maneuvers and open sniper fire have engulfed college sports after Oklahoma and Texas announced plans to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.

If and when the playoffs expand, a new media rights deal could make it the highest-grossing college sporting event, even surpassing the Division I men’s basketball tournament.

The playoffs and its three games in each season are currently included in a 12-year, over $5.6 billion deal with ESPN. Consultants estimate that an expanded 11-game-per-season tournament will raise over $1 billion a year from television rights alone; by comparison, the rights to last year’s 67-game NCAA men’s basketball tournament were worth more than $850 million.

Television rights are only part of what an extended playoff could bring. Combined with sponsorship and ticketing, the 12-team format could generate more than $2 billion in annual revenue, according to Navigate, a sports business consulting company.

Asked what he said about the process, that an agreement as simple as the playoff format could not be reached, Keenam, the president of Mississippi, said it was not easy.

“For the average layman, if you like, a sports fan, yes, why not?” Kinum said. “Twelve teams. Sixteen teams. Thirty-two teams. Whatever commands. How important is it?”

But, he noted, complex issues remain to be resolved. “It’s not just one school or one conference,” he said. “You have schools all over the country that are interested in this.”