Not only do the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences want a seat at the table, they want a rather large one. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren made that clear.
“We’re still unpacking this information, but I do think whenever a decision is made, we need to make sure we have an inclusive voice,” Warren said.
Warren’s comments came after the trio of Power Five conferences came together to officially announce their alliance, a collaboration, the commissioners said, that was supported by presidents, chancellors and athletic directors at all 41 schools. Among the goals for the alliance is to have that voice when it comes to the potential expansion of the College Football Playoff, which is what Warren’s comments were referencing.
The playoff has been at four teams since its creation in 2014, but with five power conferences and the Group of Five leagues getting left out year after year, expansion has always seemed like a formality. A working group recently proposed a 12-team playoff that still has to be reviewed by the CFP board of managers, which is scheduled to happen Sept. 28, with a final decision coming at a later time.
That working group consists of SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. In other words, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 weren’t involved in those expansion discussions.
Are Warren, ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips and Pac-12 boss George Kliavkoff all in favor of the proposed expansion?
“We haven’t made a final decision about where we will fall,” Phillips said.
Said Warren, “I’m a big believer in expanding the College Football Playoff.”
“The Pac is 100% in favor of expansion of the College Football Playoff,” Kliavkoff answered.
As aligned as the three conferences are supposed to be, it’s not surprising that Phillips, Warren and Kliavkoff would look out for their best interests here. The ACC and Big Ten have been represented in the CFP each year — for the ACC, it’s been Clemson each of the last six — but if you’re Phillips and Warren, why wouldn’t you want to expand the field with the possibility of getting even more of your teams in?
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 has only been part of the playoff once — Washington in 2016 — so Kliavkoff doesn’t have much choice other than to advocate for more teams if his league wants to have a better chance of participating more often in the future.
So why isn’t Phillips yet singing the same tune as his colleagues?
“I think as we all got together in Dallas in June, it was that we were going to spend the rest of the summer until the third week of September when we reconvened about resocializing the playoff. What did we like about it? Did we have issues with it? did it make sense? Too many games? What did it do to the bowl structure and the bowls system itself?
“We want to take the whole entire period in order to really vet it thoroughly.”
So it’s not that the ACC is necessarily against expanding the field. The league, as Phillips put it, simply wants to “collect as many data points as possible” before making a decision as to what that might look like alongside the Pac-12 and Big Ten, whose bosses share the same sentiment.
The commissioners said they’ve been talking to athletic directors, coaches and student-athletes at institutions in their respective conferences to get their input. After spending Monday at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Kliavkoff said he was in eastern Washington on Tuesday visiting another Pac-12 school.
“We’re all doing this work so that by Sept. 28 we have very good feedback to provide back for the broader committee,” Kliavkoff said.
Expansion could take on other forms. If not 12 teams, it could be eight or six. Or perhaps it stays at four, though, at this point, that’s the least likely outcome.
But whatever decision the alliance ultimately makes, Warren said, needs to have the well-being of the student-athletes at the forefront.
“We need to think through the length of the season,” Warren said. “Health and wellness issues, not only physical but mental. Primarily the academics. How does this impact final exams? In the Midwest, we’re in cold-weather climates. We need to make sure our stadiums are winterized. How does this impact our network partners? All these different issues need to be reviewed, analyzed and assimilated. We’re working on that now.”