Ideally, the people that run the College Football Playoff wouldn’t be discussing expanding the soon-to-be expanded College Football Playoff before the soon-to-be expanded College Football Playoff has even officially expanded.

Then again, this is college football. Nothing seems to happen on time — either fast or slow.

Tuesday, the format for the expanded 12-team playoff that will determine the champion in 2024 and 2025 was finally announced — just six months before the start of the season.

By Wednesday, the powers that be (which is increasingly just the Big Ten and SEC) were laying out options to expand it to 14 teams in 2026 and beyond. The proposals include additional automatic qualifiers, disproportionate revenue sharing and all sorts of other ideas that would benefit … the Big Ten and SEC.

A better idea would be to allow the sea change of the 12-team model to play out for a year or two — maybe kick the tires on what works and what doesn’t, what needs change and what doesn’t.

Jumping from four teams to 12 is already a shock to the system. It is almost assuredly for the better, but a test drive wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The Big Ten and SEC, however, aren’t willing to find out things such as how the selection process plays out, what the impact on the regular season will be, how home field playoff games work and if extending the college football calendar deep into the new year is a good idea. Next season’s title game will be played on Jan. 20.

There is power to grab and money to be guaranteed. Why wait?

Let’s start with what is coming for the next two seasons — a 12-team model that provides an automatic bid to the five highest-rated conference champions. It is a near mathematical certainty that the four highest will be the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC. The top four will receive first-round byes.

The fifth auto bid will go to the best champion of a so-called Group of Five league. It’s a chance to nationalize the event, bring in a Cinderella element and, most notably, avoid lawsuits of exclusion. It’s a good deal for the sport as a whole — give a quality 12-1 Mountain West champion a chance.

The rest of the field will feature seven at-large bids, which every non-champion (including independents such as Notre Dame) can earn. Seeds 5-8 will host seeds 9-12 on campus in mid-December. The winners will play seeds 1-4. The next three rounds will be at neutral sites — generally traditional bowl locations.

It should be rocket fuel for the sport.

There is no current playoff agreement for the 2026 season and beyond, however. A new contract, both between the conferences and with a broadcast partner, needs to be reached.

So there is already talk of expanding to 14 teams.

That would include up to four automatic bids for both the Big Ten and SEC, which would provide both revenue certainty, more teams in the bracket and other competitive benefits, such as the perception of superiority over the ACC and Big 12, among others, on the recruiting trail.

It’s the next step in the Big Ten and SEC becoming the true Big Two of college athletics.

It feels unnecessary, especially at the moment.

Yes, two more playoff games should yield more television money. How much though? Reports have ESPN offering $1.3 billion annually for the 11 games of the 12-team format, or an average of about $118 million per contest.

What are two more first-round matchups worth? Maybe $100 million each per year? That’s certainly good money, but not when it gets divided up into so many slices.

Do the SEC and Big Ten really need additional automatic bids? Are they concerned that their second- and third-place teams wouldn’t secure at-large spots based on merit? Historically they would — no one is disputing the strength and depth of those leagues, especially post expansion.

Are they trying to take out the subjectivity of the playoff selection committee by subjectively declaring they always have three or four of the best teams? Perhaps.

Or are they just making it increasingly clear that everyone else has to bow to their wishes or risk the consequences, i.e. a “playoff” featuring just the Big Ten and SEC?

One of the only positives here would be if more automatic bids led to the elimination of the conference championship games, which are mostly irrelevant and would allow for the playoff to finish in early January rather than compete with the NFL postseason. That would require the Big Ten and SEC to walk away from money making events though.

Some patience would be preferred.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey visits the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Alabama and Texas , Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey visits the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game between Alabama and Texas , Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, along with Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti, are now the driving forces in whatever happens to the future of the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

The problem is there may not be much time for it. The original sin came back in 2021, when the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 formed what it dubbed “The Alliance.” It was a political response to the SEC adding Oklahoma and Texas to expand to 16 teams. The Alliance was so threatened and upset that it grouped up to oppose pretty much anything SEC commissioner Greg Sankey supported. That included a 12-team playoff with six automatic bids that would have begun with the 2023 season. The Alliance voted it down.

Then the Big Ten raided the Pac-12 (which no longer really exists) and The Alliance was done.

As such, rather than having at least one season of experience to base decisions off — 2023 — or having a long-term agreement in place for the 12-team playoff, we get this strange stopgap featuring far different power dynamics.

There are no longer dueling super powers to check each other. The Big Ten and SEC are bigger, richer and stronger than ever and aligned in doing what’s best for them.

That might not be what’s best for the entire sport, however, as expansion of the expansion before the first expansion would suggest.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here