An All-SEC Final Is the Latest Obstacle to Expanding the College Football Playoff

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An All-SEC Final Is the Latest Obstacle to Expanding the College Football Playoff​

The major conferences want a bigger playoff format to generate more money. Blowout wins by Alabama and Georgia show how hard it is to find two title-worthy teams.​

For eight seasons, the College Football Playoff format has shown that it is usually difficult to find two elite teams who can compete closely for the national title, much less four or more.
This year is no different. New Year’s Eve blowouts in the semifinals have set up a Jan. 10 title game between Southeastern Conference powers Alabama and Georgia, a sequel to their conference championship game last month. It’s the seventh time in the eight seasons of the four-team playoff format that at least one team from the SEC has reached the biggest game, and exact repeat of the 2018 title game.
No one is satisfied with how predictable the final weeks of the college football season have become. Yet no one can agree on how to fix it. Leaders in college athletics have generally moved toward expanding the four-team playoff—yet that’s where the consensus ends.
Talks of expanding to a 12-team playoff, which gained momentum earlier this year, have recently stalled in part because of the conflicting business interests of the big conferences involved and a broadly uncertain landscape in college sports. Even proponents of the expanded playoff have seemingly shifted into neutral. "We want more teams in the playoff, [but] we’re fine with four,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in December.
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SEC commissioner Greg Sankey presents the MVP trophy to Alabama quarterback Bryce Young after the SEC championship.​

PHOTO: GARY COSBY JR./USA TODAY SPORTS
Friday’s games hardly made the case that more games are needed to get down to the two best teams. Alabama beat Cincinnati by 21 points while Georgia bested Michigan by 23. They were the 10th and 11th of the 16 semifinal games since 2014 to be decided by 17 points or more.
Through eight seasons, the semifinal round has been decided by an average of 21 points—considerably higher than the 14-point margin of victory during the 16-year Bowl Championship Series era.
The size of the playoff field has been a hot topic of debate among fans since the format’s introduction during the 2014 season. Business discussions to expand the field did not begin happening among power brokers until 2019, as the College Football Playoff neared the halfway point of its 12-year $5.6 billion broadcasting contract with ESPN. That deal expires in 2026 and pays out about $470 million annually to the College Football Playoff, which then distributes the earnings among participating conferences.
The College Football Playoff management committee—which is made up of the 10 commissioners of leagues that compete in the top tier of Division I football and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick—charged a smaller working group with evaluating the pros and cons of various expansion models. Swarbrick, Sankey, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby spent the better part of two years mulling over new postseason formats, from six teams all the way up to 16.
Last June, they proposed a 12-team playoff that would award automatic invitations to six conference champions with the highest rankings and six at-large spots for the next highest-ranked teams. The top four teams would get a first-round bye, while the rest of the field would play games on the campuses of the higher-seeded schools.

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Georgia running back James Cook and offensive lineman Justin Shaffer celebrate Cook’s touchdown during the Orange Bowl.​

PHOTO: RHONA WISE/USA TODAY SPORTS
Such a model placated conferences that have regularly been left out of the four-team semifinal, like the Pac-12, as well as those who felt slighted in the rankings, like the American Athletic Conference, home to teams like Central Florida and Cincinnati. The model also would allow deeper leagues, most notably the SEC, to land upwards of four slots in the championship hunt.
Feedback was generally positive: more teams meant more games, and more games meant more broadcast revenue from ESPN or future broadcast partners. As stated in its current contract, ESPN will increase its payouts to the College Football Playoff should more games be added before 2026. This windfall would end up in the pockets of the participating conferences. The proposal had to get by a few more meetings and administrative hurdles, but it looked like all but a done deal.
Then Oklahoma and Texas announced in July that they planned to leave the Big 12 for the SEC—and everything got blown up. Playoff expansion was suddenly the least of everyone’s concern as a wave of rapid realignment sent commissioners into survival mode.

The Big 12’s Bowlsby accused the SEC’s Sankey of acting in bad faith during their working group sessions, which Sankey denies. Leaders of the three conferences left out of the preliminary working group—the Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten and Pac-12—became irritated and scrambled to assert their relevance by forming a loosely defined “Alliance.” Almost overnight, the power dynamic in college football shifted to the SEC vs. everybody else.
“Everyone knew there were four people involved,” Sankey said of the working group. “That was not a secret. No one complained until it [the 12-team proposal] was introduced.”
Meetings of the College Football Playoff management committee late in the summer and into the fall went nowhere. Everyone wanted a bigger postseason, but commissioners dug in their heels over the minutiae.
The working group stood by its initial 12-team recommendation. But Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren aired concerns about first-round games being held on campuses given how many schools in his conference’s northern footprint have miserably cold weather in December and January.
Warren and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff have advocated for waiting until 2026 to expand, a point at which networks other than ESPN could bid for the broadcast rights. He’s said that a television model that rotates between networks, like the one the NFL uses for the Super Bowl, could maximize profits.
“The Pac-12 is 100% in favor of expansion of the College Football Playoff, but there are issues at the margins,” Kliavkoff said in September.
Complicating matters, some football coaches, including Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, have come out against adding games to the schedule, arguing that they would put undue strain on athletes at a point in the season when injuries are especially likely.
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Alabama quarterback Bryce Young reacts after throwing a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl.​

PHOTO: TIM HEITMAN/USA TODAY SPORTS
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock has urged patience. “We continue to make progress, but a variety of issues remain,” he said in a statement in December. “Given the importance of the matter and our desire to achieve as much consensus as possible, we will continue our meetings to see if the differences that exist can be narrowed.”
Any change to the playoff format must be approved by the 11-person board of managers after the management committee presents an official recommendation. The board’s next meeting takes place on Jan. 10, the morning of the title game.
The reality of another SEC-dominated final could make the path toward expansion. But it also makes one important fact clearer than ever.
“In the end, whoever wins is likely to have to beat a good SEC team,” wrote Bowlsby in a text message. “It will be true with 4, 8 or 12.”
 

Tommaker

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They just want the $$$$. But as noted in numerous threads, both the portal and opt outs stand to change the landscape considerably. A team that's top 10 at the end of the season may be a bottom feeder come playoff time, which will NOT look good on the field or on the tube. (Interesting thought, what would the team/game have looked like if Aidan had opted out and Bell/Karloftis had played?) I don't think that kind of a system could be supported for very long.

You currently have 11 conferences; each conference has a playoff with it's top 2 teams to decide it's champion. After the conference champs are decided, you add one more team by vote/computer to get to 12. Use a random draw for who plays who. Use the lower bowls for the conference playoffs (total of 11) and then bowls for the rest of the the playoffs (6+3+1) for a total of 21 bowls. Quarter, semi and Championship games rotates through current championship bowls.
 

pboiler18

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A regional championship game. A Rematch. 90% of the country looks at this game with a collective yawn.
Lol. You really think these aren’t the 2 best teams in the country?
maybe it’s regional because the south generates the best football talent year in and year out?

This isn’t a brain buster here. The BIG and G5 schools who EARNED THE RIGHT TO BE THERE LOST. You think this is some “set up?”
 

FirstDownB

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Lol. You really think these aren’t the 2 best teams in the country?
maybe it’s regional because the south generates the best football talent year in and year out?

This isn’t a brain buster here. The BIG and G5 schools who EARNED THE RIGHT TO BE THERE LOST. You think this is some “set up?”
Not a setup. I didn’t say that anywhere. Just not a matchup that’s going to generate a lot of casual fan interest outside of the southeast.
 

pboiler18

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Not a setup. I didn’t say that anywhere. Just not a matchup that’s going to generate a lot of casual fan interest outside of the southeast.
I wouldn’t disagree….but it’s who won the semis…

You had a G5 team in for the first time (and deservedly so IMO) and a BIG team that wasn’t OSU. If you want other matchups….those other teams gotta start actually competing.

Outside of results, the semifinal matchups were some of the more intriguing we have had in awhile. All of these semi games usually end up as 3YD blowouts.
 
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SEC commissioner, Greg Stanley, is insisting on a 12 team format, which will give the top four teams (Bama and Georgia for the foreseeable future) a bye. A bye in college football is a huge advantage because of injuries. Hopefully the other conferences insist on a 8 or 12 team playoff.
 
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DAG10

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I wouldn’t disagree….but it’s who won the semis…

You had a G5 team in for the first time (and deservedly so IMO) and a BIG team that wasn’t OSU. If you want other matchups….those other teams gotta start actually competing.

Outside of results, the semifinal matchups were some of the more intriguing we have had in awhile. All of these semi games usually end up as 3YD blowouts.
The system is stacked against "the other teams"...that is precisely the point...it is the SAME teams EVERY year, and, now with NIL and the transfer portal, it will remain the case.

OSU is the one school capable of crashing the party on occasion, but, even if they do, they generally don't match up, and, it is just a case of them being in it with 'Bama/Georgia...it remains the same teams.
 

pboiler18

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The system is stacked against "the other teams"...that is precisely the point...it is the SAME teams EVERY year, and, now with NIL and the transfer portal, it will remain the case.

OSU is the one school capable of crashing the party on occasion, but, even if they do, they generally don't match up, and, it is just a case of them being in it with 'Bama/Georgia...it remains the same teams.
How is the system stacked? Are there teams that were deserving of a bid that didn’t make it?
 

DAG10

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I wouldn’t disagree….but it’s who won the semis…

You had a G5 team in for the first time (and deservedly so IMO)
How is the system stacked? Are there teams that were deserving of a bid that didn’t make it?
Perhaps there were...how would we know?

In the end, would it have mattered? It was going to be Georgia and Alabama pretty much regardless, and, most would have said that in August.

The system is stacked from the standpoint that 'Bama may have gotten in even with 2 losses, and, that the committee has the power to set the matchups with consideration of who they want to see in the ultimate championship game (i.e., avoid the 'Bama/Georgia rematch in the semifinals).

Expansion is not the answer, nor even necessary...again, 90% of the time (if not more), it is going to be 2 SEC teams playing in the Championship game.

In truth, the conferences would benefit from eliminating the conference championship game...especially the SEC, but, others as well.
 
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indyogb

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It'd be nice if USC, Nebraska, Michigan or some other 'sleeping power' could put something together to challenge the near SEC hegemony. Until that happens, expansion is kind of pointless. Expansion or not, I wouldn't mind seeing the semifinals played at the site of the higher seed, rather than using the bowl games.
 
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DAG10

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It'd be nice if USC, Nebraska, Michigan or some other 'sleeping power' could put something together to challenge the near SEC hegemony. Until that happens, expansion is kind of pointless. Expansion or not, I wouldn't mind seeing the semifinals played at the site of the higher seed, rather than using the bowl games.
Not likely to be Michigan, and, next to impossible that it would be Nebraska (for sure with Scott Frost, but, really with anyone for that matter).

USC is a potential sleeper with Lincoln Riley now...Carroll showed what is possible previously, and, the PAC-12 more or less sucks so he should indeed dominate...the question will just be if the fact that the conference does more or less suck is enough of an obstacle to keep them out of the mix...but, that is the one school/program that I could see entering the picture and being involved.

Between Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M...the SEC is ALWAYS going to have a school in the mix, and, most years, two of them...again, if they did not have a conference championship game, they could almost assure themselves of that. Then...maybe Clemson (although they fell off the map like a rock this year)...maybe Ohio St....maybe USC now...ND is a longer shot now with all of the conference changes, but, name brand keeps them in the mix.

So, again...you will have the same teams every year outside of someone (who has no chance to actually win, ala Cincinnati this year) maybe sneaking in every 5 or 10 years.

Playoff expansion would just result in even more SEC teams participating, and, other schools/programs that have no genuine chance...expansion is not the answer at all, especially for other conferences.
 
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