Why the College Football Playoff is not expanding – and what’s next ESPN

For more than eight months, leaders of the College Football Playoff have been unable to unanimously agree on what the future format of the sport’s postseason should look like. This week, they finally agreed to disagree, recommitting to the four-team format for the next four years. Friday’s news ended all speculation about whether the playoff would expand before the current contract expires following the 2025 season.

That the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick were unable to agree to the specifics of a 12-team format was not surprising, considering that’s exactly what has happened during their past nine in-person meetings. (That includes three straight days of meetings before the national championship game in January.) Nothing changed Wednesday afternoon, when they had a critical videoconference to determine whether it was worth continuing to try to push forward in spite of their differences.

“Positions really had not changed, and we had time to think about it,” American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN on Friday. “It wasn’t a lengthy call, but we talked it over, and if positions hadn’t changed, it was going to be a tough sell.”

On Thursday, the 11 school presidents and chancellors who have the authority to change the playoff approved a recommendation from the 10 FBS commissioners and Swarbrick to remain at four teams for the remainder of the 12-year contract, which runs through the 2025 season. Because there are still two years remaining on the current deal, the vote to make any changes had to be unanimous. CFP executive director Bill Hancock joined this week’s discussions from Beijing, China, where he is a volunteer for the Winter Olympics.

Most people involved in the CFP expansion discussions who spoke to ESPN have described the process and its outcome as frustrating and disappointing — a 180-degree turn from when the original proposal was made public on June 10. The 12-team format was initially applauded by many fans, coaches, media members and others who follow the sport and have long clamored for a more expansive CFP system.

“There are 1,000 football players roughly from eight teams that could have been part of a national championship, and I think they all would hunger for that opportunity,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told ESPN, “yet they won’t be.”

How this evolved from celebration to stalemate can be traced back to arguably the most tumultuous summer in the history of college athletics. Only within the past few months, though, have other issues that slowed and ultimately derailed the plan been raised.

ESPN spoke with several commissioners and Hancock over the past two months to explain how it ended with the status quo.

How the 12-team proposal originated

The annual CFP meetings in January 2019 in Santa Clara, California, were different.

While publicly downplaying rumblings of expansion, the presidents and chancellors discreetly directed the commissioners and Swarbrick to study the possibility and report back in a year. It was the midpoint of the 12-year deal, and while there wasn’t any glaring issue with the current format, the presidents had agreed it was a good time to evaluate if it could be better. That June, the CFP organized the working group of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Sankey, Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

At the behest of the presidents, they began digging into “some 63 possibilities for change,” including models with six, eight, 10, 12 and 16 teams — each with a variety of scenarios. To settle on the 12-team plan they would ultimately unveil, concessions had to be made. Swarbrick agreed to a system in which Notre Dame as an independent would never get a first-round bye that was awarded only to conference champions. And yet, he said the relationships among the four participants “was as positive as any committee I’d ever served on.”

Two years after the working group formed, it presented a 12-team model that would include the six highest-ranked conference champions and the next six highest-ranked teams. When the subcommittee members explained it to the other seven commissioners for the first time, Thompson said, “There was great acceptance.”

Author: Lucy Green