On Aug. 30 in Dallas, the college football leaders were scheduled to finalize details of an expanded postseason format scheduled to begin in 2024.
Items on the agenda included things like ticket distribution, team accommodations, and other important but boring things about first-round matches on campus.
Now, after yet another wave of realignment rocked the college athletic scene, the meeting is expected to take on a different tone. Many university leaders say the CFP’s governance structure, revenue distribution model, and most notably its playoff format are all ripe for reexamination after last week’s realignment turnaround.
The Pac-12’s imminent dissolution is expected to reopen the debate among conference commissioners over the 12-team playoff model — a decision that took more than 18 months to reach. The collapse of the Power Five conference is unprecedented in the supplement era, leaving many CFP officials with questions of their own, such as…
• Will Pac-12 commissioner George Klyavkov appear at the meeting, and if so, how much impact will his vote have if the league doesn’t exist in 10 months?
• If the Pac-12 no longer exists, how is the league’s CFP revenue divided among the other nine FBS conferences, or perhaps, is it only distributed among the four power conferences?
• If the Pac-12 is rebuilt, will it be considered a powerhouse conference and entitled to the same revenue as those leagues receive?
• Finally, with or without a rebuilt Pac-12, how will the game format change?
“It’s too early to say,” said CFP executive director Bill Hancock, who recently announced he will be retiring after the 2024 season.
Others are more assertive.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said the format should be “reconsidered” on “The Paul Finebaum Show” last week. In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Sankey said three aspects of the CFP should be re-examined: the weighted decision-making process, the revenue distribution model and the format.
While many of the commissioners expect and understand that such a conversation should happen, one does not agree to any change to the agreed-upon 12-team format. The format—described as the 6+6 model—includes automatic access for the 6 highest-ranked conference champions (6 AQs) and at-large spots for the next 6 highest-ranked teams (6 AQs).
“We’re going to fight the adjustment. We’re going to be against it, but we understand he has to come,” said Mike Aresco, commissioner of the American Athletics Conference, historically the most successful of the G-5 championships.
Several CFP decision makers — college presidents and commissioners — have spoken to Yahoo Sports in an effort to answer some of the nagging questions produced by the latest wave of realignments. And while the most interesting potential change has to do with this shape, it’s far from at least the only effect of a defunct or severely diminished Pac-12.
In recent meetings, the SEC chairmen explored and plan to continue examining the CFP case, and sports league directors are expected to discuss the topic during this week’s Annual Meetings in Asheville, North Carolina.
As the dominant football force in the country, the SEC and its commissioner loom large in the CFP chamber. This is true of the Big Ten as well, which became the first league to reach 18 members with the addition of Oregon and Washington.
With fewer conference powerhouses and 34 teams combined, the Big Ten and the SEC are expected to retain more influence in the CFP room, with the ten FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick controlling most of the decision-making. The Group of Commissioners (managing committee) reports to the Board of Directors, an 11-person group of university presidents and chancellors representing each of the ten conferences and Notre Dame.
Most people would expect the SEC to want to…
• A change in the revenue distribution model to reflect the number of member schools in the Association. For example, the Big Ten will have two more schools than the SEC and the Big 12, which will have two more schools than the ACC. In past years, the CFP distributed an equal amount to each Power Five league, meaning that schools in leagues with fewer members got a larger discount than schools in leagues with more members.
• A change in the weighted voting system. For Designated Competition Commission decisions, the group uses a weighted voting system that gives more power to the Power Five/Notre Dame (80%) than the Group of Five (20%) using assigned units. How Pac-12 units will be distributed is in question. One CFP decision maker suggested that the Big Ten and the SEC would want a majority of the units, creating more distinction between them and the ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame.
• A change to the 12 teams format, which is believed to require consensus. “The Big Ten and the SEC don’t stand at 6+6,” said one CFP decision maker. They both would probably say, ‘Let’s just look at the rankings with all the many. “
At the center of the format argument is a familiar point of discussion: automatic qualifications or not?
Eliminating automatic qualifications is a particular way of provoking backlash from the Five commissioners as well as lawmakers in Congress, both from states without a Power Five school and those closely associated with G5 programs. (Keep in mind, the NCAA and Power Five commissioners have been pressing lawmakers for no-enforcement legislation in Congress.)
Aresco said of the group of five, a term he avoids using 65 in our group. “You want this to be a national championship. I’d like to keep it at six (automatic qualifiers), but I understand you have to have a discussion. It’s really the key to keeping the automation going.”
“CFP is one way that the sport will remain relevant at the national level. When you have all the outstanding teams concentrated in two conferences, even they have an interest in remaining a national sport.”
According to the decision makers, two figures loom as the most likely topics of discussion:
• 5+7: The number of teams is still 12, but the automatic qualifiers are down from six to five and the top spots are down from six to seven. The five highest-ranked conference champions receive AQs and the next seven highest-ranked teams receive BIG points. This still guarantees that one champion from the pool of 5 will receive a bid into the playoff. With nine conferences, the 6+6 model will ensure that at least two of the Group of Five champions receive a bid.
• Top 12: In this scenario, the top 12 teams are seeded into a playoff match in the same way that the four-team playoffs do now. There are no automatic qualifications. Last fall, CFP Chairman Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi, proposed a Top 12 model, but it didn’t garner enough support to pass it.
Says one CFP official, “I hope it’s as simple as 5+7, but it could be a fight.”
fight, you say?
CFP is quite used to those. Enmity and disagreements have lingered in the CPC Commissioner’s room for years now. Three of the new commissioners—Kevin Warren (then Big Ten), Kliavkov (Pac-12) and Jim Phillips (ACC)—disagreed over the process by which a subcommittee of various CUC commissioners developed the 6+6 expansion model.
The latest wave of realignment, triggered by the departure of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, divided the room even further and led to the formation of the Coalition, a verbal agreement between the Pac-12, the ACC, and the Big Ten that unofficially ended when the Big Ten acquired USC and UCLA.
A year later, a more significant shift in reorganization destroyed the powerhouse conference.
On August 30, the commissioners will meet in person for the first time since that event. Will you be friendly? friendly? Will they make the necessary adjustments to the format quickly and easily?
“easy?!” asked a CFP insider. “No. Not for this group.”