One of the Football Bowl Subdivision’s 10 conference commissioners is publicly pushing back on the Atlantic Coast Conference’s current resistance to expand the College Football Playoff.
In an open letter penned to the rest of college football this week, American Athletic Commissioner Mike Aresco questioned Jim Phillips’ hesitance to support an expansion of college football’s four-team playoff, the method by which the sport’s national champion has been decided since its inception in 2014.
While Phillips, the ACC’s commissioner since last February, has recently opined that now is “not the right time” to expand the playoff, Aresco wrote that the 12-team format recently proposed by the CFP’s working group is “fair, thoughtful, forward-focused, opportunity-embracing and practical in its approach” in addition to being a “unique opportunity to reshape college football with a modern postseason format that will profoundly enhance the natural stature of the sport.”
Phillips’ primary reasons for opposing expansion before the 2026 season (when the CFP’s media deal with ESPN expires) have centered on the health and well-being of student-athletes that would have to play more games in a season and the uncertainty of college athletics’ changing landscape. In his letter, Aresco challenged both.
Aresco pointed out that, in a 12-team format, the top 4 seeds would likely earn first-round byes while teams that lost in the opening round wouldn’t play more games than usual since the playoff game would act as their bowl game. He wrote that other steps could also be taken to reduce “wear and tear” on playoff participants, including more times between games and changes to the regular-season structure that would cut down on the number of plays in a game (eliminating clock stoppages after a first down, for example).
“In the highly unlikely event that a team that does not receive a bye in the 12-team format and plays four playoff games by reaching the championship game (two more than required under the current system), the team or teams with this opportunity would likely firmly embrace it, especially since those teams are likely to be the ones that have been excluded under the current four-team playoff,” Aresco wrote. “Those teams would also likely adjust their practice protocols to address health and safety concerns.”
As for college athletics’ shifting landscape amid name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation and the transfer portal, Aresco acknowledged “there is no question” such issues must be addressed. But Aresco opined they have no direct bearing on whether or not to expand the playoff.
“An expanded playoff is about enhancing opportunity regardless of what the future college sports landscape will look like,” Aresco wrote. “Second, these overarching issues will likely be debated long into the future and in fact are unlikely to be settled in any meaningful way in the next 15 months or so when the CFP decision-makers will have to reconvene either to develop a new playoff plan for 2026 and beyond, continue with the four-team model or abandon a playoff altogether if an acceptable model cannot be agreed upon.
“The ACC has said that it favors an expanded playoff eventually, which suggests that it believes that health and safety concerns can be addressed satisfactorily. The prevailing feeling is that the most likely outcome in 2026 and beyond is a 12-team playoff. The eight-team model that some conferences have supported, which would limit at-large participation, simply does not have enough traction to be a viable alternative. Therefore, if a 12-team playoff is a likely outcome anyway and there is unanimity in favoring expansion down the road, why not try to implement an expanded playoff sooner than later in order to afford deserving teams and their student-athletes the opportunity to play for a national championship? For many, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Why delay it, or, worst case, jeopardize it?”
You can read Aresco’s letter in its entirety here.
Photo courtesy of the USA Today Sports Network.
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