DALLAS — The proposal for a 12-team College Football Playoff cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the 11 presidents and chancellors who have the ultimate authority over the format authorized the 10 FBS commissioners to “begin a summer review phase” to determine the feasibility of an expanded field and work on the details of how and when it might be implemented.
This was an important step in the process, as the playoff couldn’t expand without the support of the presidents and chancellors who make up the CFP’s board of managers. The group, which has “authority over all aspects of the company’s operations,” includes a representative from each of the 10 FBS conferences, along with the Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins.
With some of the most powerful people in college football now backing further exploration of the proposed 12-team format, it seems to be a matter of when — not if — the postseason will grow again, but those within the room continue to caution that this is a long, unpredictable process. The board of managers and management committee aren’t expected to meet again until Sept. 28.
“I don’t think anyone in the room had a serious problem with the concept of this 12-team proposal,” said Mississippi State president and board of managers chair Mark Keenum. “But the devil’s in the details. We’ve got to get into the details before we can make an informed decision. … If we decide to make a change, when would we do that? When would it work for us? When would it be most feasible? We don’t know the answer to that. We just don’t know.
“I want to caution observers of this process to not rush to conclusions about what our board may decide,” Keenum added, while also lauding the current four-team system. “We still have a lot more information, more facts to bring to the table for the board of managers to make any decisions going forward.”
The next step will be full discussions with bowl partners and ESPN television executives, along with continued conversations with coaches, athletic directors and athletes. Keenum said the presidents want to know how a longer season that could reach 17 games will affect the athletes, their academic calendars and their well-being.
“That’s why we want to hear from them,” Keenum said. “We want to hear directly from them. … These are students, and they go to school, and they take exams, and we’re talking about the month of December, which can be a busy month academically for students. We’ve got to take all of those issues into consideration as we’re making important decisions on expanding or not expanding.”
Tuesday morning’s meeting at a Dallas/Fort Worth airport hotel was the second major presentation of the 12-team format in less than a week. The commissioners met in Chicago last week to determine whether they were all in agreement on the proposal, which was written by a subcommittee of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
The proposal, which was written after two years of research, calls for the bracket to include the six highest-ranked conference champions plus the six remaining highest-ranked teams as determined by the CFP selection committee. No league would automatically qualify, and there would be no limit on the number of participants from a conference.
“Our path versus somebody else’s path, I’m OK with our path,” said Swarbrick, whose Notre Dame team could not receive a first-round bye under the proposal. “We’re not playing in a conference championship game. We’ve got to play another game because we didn’t play that one, it’s OK. I think the path still gives us a really good shot when we deserve it.”
“I don’t think anyone in the room had a serious problem with the concept of this 12-team proposal. But the devil’s in the details.”
Mississippi State president and CFP board of managers chair Mark Keenum
West Virginia president Gordon Gee said “if all of the pieces come together, it makes absolute sense.”
“I’d like to be playing in November knowing we have a chance to be in the playoff,” he said. “I think for fans and student-athletes and for motivation and opportunity, it makes sense.”
Penn State President Eric Barron said he is “personally excited about providing more opportunities for students and for schools. We’ve got a lot of listening that we have to do. We’ve got a lot of things to look at in terms of feasibility, so we’re going to work hard at that.”
The playoff is entering the eighth season of a 12-year contract that runs through the 2025 season. CFP executive director Bill Hancock has reiterated that the playoff will not change this season or next, though it could happen as early as the 2023 season.
But there is a growing sense that it will take longer. Asked whether he thought the playoff could expand before the end of the contract, the SEC’s Sankey said, “I would temper my expectations.”
“Never say never, but we’ve got an opportunity to dig deeper as a group,” Sankey said. “Those answers are going to come.”