The expansion of college football qualifiers has entered the negotiation phase.
The road to a new format for deciding on the national major college football champion took a detour on Wednesday when the CFP’s management committee – 10 conference commissioners and the Notre Dame sporting director – failed to reach consensus on the proposed format of 12 teams.
Instead of preparing for college presidents who have the final say on a vote next week in Chicago, committee members revisited the possibility of an eight-team playoff and discussed other issues.
They are expected to meet again in Chicago, with presidents joining via Zoom, for what CFP executive director Bill Hancock called an “briefing”.
“It’s not late,” said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. “It was the natural course of action for this process.
The odds are still on the expanding CFP. Everyone involved would prefer this. But getting there will require compromises.
The 12-team proposal that was publicly unveiled in June is still very much at stake and probably still the favorite to pass.
Of course, it’s not as easy as eight or 12. The way the teams are chosen makes a huge difference. Automatic auctions for conference champions or nothing but seats in general?
The date on which a new format could be implemented is directly related to television rights. ESPN owns the playoffs until 2025. Having multiple network partners will likely increase the overall value, but it’s unclear if that can happen before the current deal ends.
Then there’s the Rose Bowl, one of the sport’s most valuable properties. Think of the Rose Bowl as a winter vacation spot with a mountain view in Southern California that the Big Ten and Pac-12 aren’t more eager to share than they already are.
“I am concerned that if everyone brings their Christmas list to the meeting and has to have everything on their Christmas list, we will have an unhappy Christmas morning as we make decisions,” said the Southern Conference commissioner -Is, Greg Sankey, at AP before Wednesday’s meeting.
HOW MANY TEAMS?
The 12-team plan was designed to increase playoff access, which in turn would increase the number of teams playing high-stakes games late in the season.
The proposal called for a selection committee to choose the top six conference champions plus six overall teams, regardless of conference affiliation.
With 12 teams, the top four seeds would get passes and the 5-12 teams would play at their home venues in mid-December, possibly as early as the week following the conference championship games.
This extra level of games creates potential problems such as teams playing during finals and schools in cold locations having to spend millions of dollars winterizing stadiums – some of which are unlikely to host a playoff game. There are also health and safety concerns regarding the players – the unpaid players – who participate in as many as 17 games in a season.
Reducing to eight helps solve these problems, but which ones?
Automatic bids for up to six conferences and two general places don’t work for the SEC, which, according to history, could consistently place three or four teams per season in an open field of eight. It probably doesn’t work for Notre Dame either.
Sankey said any format that decreases the number of general offers from the current four would be difficult for the SEC to support. A format like this could potentially leave teams ranked in the top eight – maybe even the top five – out of the playoffs for conference champions ranked much lower.
However, eight CFP teams without automatic auctions are a non-runner for so-called Group of Five conferences. The American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, the Mid-American Conference, the USA Conference and the Sun Belt already consider the CFP to be unfavorable to them.
“What’s the point of doing that if you’re going to leave out half of college football?” said AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco.
The whole point of going to 12 teams was to provide a solution to the access problem. So why not just stick to the plan? See above for concerns about this additional game series, but there are other sticking points, the most important of which could be the Rose Bowl.
THE GRANDFATHER OF ALL
The Rose Bowl has always been seen as a stumbling block in the evolution of college football playoffs. The Big Ten and then the Pac-10 did not even participate in the first iteration of the Bowl Championship Series, the Bowl Alliance. The Rose Bowl, with its big stage and precious New Years time slot, was quite good.
Over the years, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 have ceded access to the Rose Bowl and even a portion of its earnings. In an age when conferences compete furiously and need every penny to do so, the Pac-12 and Big Ten aren’t rushing to forgo more exposure and revenue at the Rose Bowl.
Ideally, the Rose Bowl and its partner conferences would want an expanded playoff built around a traditional Rose Bowl, matching Pac-12 and Big Ten as much as possible and starting Jan. 1 around 5 p.m. EST.
Is it easier with eight than with 12?
THE ROLE OF TELEVISION
ESPN’s current 12-year contract gives them exclusive rights to the college football qualifiers until the 2025 season regardless of the current format.
Is there a way around this exclusivity?
This is an important question that no one involved in the CFP has given a clear and public answer to, as the terms of the deal with ESPN are confidential.
The strategy for the CFP could be to offer some type of extension to the current deal at ESPN, perhaps allowing the network to lock in the semi-finals and / or the Championship game for another six years in exchange for the right to bring the new inventory —- eight more games in a 12-team format —- to other networks for bidding.
Bringing an expanded CFP to market has become particularly important for conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12) which are currently in partnership with Fox and ESPN. These leagues have their own media rights agreements coming up over the next four years.
Hancock said if the expansion target is implementation by 2024, the issues will need to be addressed in the coming months.
“I think we’re just answering questions,” Thompson said. “This is a very detailed, if not complicated, process that will take more deliberation, which we will do in Chicago.”
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