Saturdays in Athens

by George Somerville

Tuesday 15th June 2021

In this edition of Saturdays In Athens we look at a story which hit the headlines this week which will impact not just the SEC but all conferences – College Football Playoff Expansion!

Pac 12's Crystal Ball

Photo Credit: USATSI/ CBS Sports

When new PAC12 Commissioner, George Kliavkoff canvassed for an expanded College Football Play Off during his inaugural speech, many thought he was pleading for change which would effectively save his Conference from irrelevance. However, few I suspect thought that change would happen quite so quickly. Or perhaps George has a crystal ball. Or maybe the Man from Vegas had the inside track from the get go.

For this week a working party – snappily called the “Sub-group of College Football Playoffs Management Committee” – presented a proposal to change the current four team playoff to a twelve team format. And so a College Football playoff expansion was born. The press release issued by the sub committee was quite clear in that the proposal will not conclude in time for the coming season.

So What is Proposed?

College Football Playoffs
Image Credit: College Football Play Off Committee

The proposal as set out would see the four highest ranked conference champions seeded 1-4. These teams would receive a first round bye. The next 8 ranked teams would play each other in the first round. The proposed format does not guarantee conference champions a place, instead opting for a bracket where the six highest ranked conference champions will be included along with the six other highest ranked teams, thus making up the twelve team playoff. 

The sub-committee, which was formed of Bob Bowlsby (Big 12 Commissioner), Greg Sankey (SEC Commissioner), Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame Athletic Director) and Craig Thompson (Mountain West Commissioner) said via a press statement,

“The four-team format has been very popular and is a big success. But it’s important that we consider the opportunity for more teams and more student-athletes to participate in the playoff,” the working group said. “After reviewing numerous options, we believe this proposal is the best option to increase participation, enhance the regular season and grow the national excitement of college football.”

The proposal sets out that the first round would be played in the two weeks after the conference championship games. Winners would progress to the quarter finals which would be played over 1st or 2nd January.

Interestingly, Notre Dame – perhaps the most famous independent school of them all – will not be eligible for one of these seeded places. A position which has caused quite a stir. Not least because the Fighting Irish Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick was instrumental in pulling the revamp of the playoff together. After 24 hours of hearing the maelstrom of comment about the school’s independence, Swarbrick is on record as saying,

“I look forward to never hearing again about how we played one less game and don’t have a conference championship”.

What About the Bowl Games?

Photo credit:Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

And this leads us to at least one of the biggest pressing questions. What happens to the NY6 bowl games?

The proposal doesn’t go as far as to suggest or recommend which bowl games would be used as the quarter finals,  although it does make recommendations that conference teams should be allocated to their traditional bowl games if those bowl games are to be used for the quarter finals. This would in theory mean less restructuring of the current bowl contracts which are in place.

Next Steps....

Photo credit:

The proposal will now sit with the ten FBS commissioners for discussion and their approval, or otherwise. If the proposal gets the thumbs up then the presidents and chancellors of the schools which represent the College Football Playoff’s Board of Managers will be asked to vote on the proposal. This meeting is scheduled for June 22. A further meeting is scheduled for the Playoff Board of Managers in September, providing approximately three months to tweak the proposal for a final vote.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said,

It’s the first step in a long process that won’t end before September,”.

Hancock added that he expected no change to the playoff format this coming season or next.

On @thecollegechaps podcast this week, we debated the merits of an expanded play off format which you can listen to below.

It may well be a long road, with some twists and turns still to come. Still to be overcome is a contract with ESPN to air the CFB playoffs, which still has seven years to run. And how to fit in the additional games to an already lengthy season where student athlete health should be paramount.

But change is a comin’…