IRVING, Texas — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met Wednesday for the first time since a wave of realignment tore apart the Pac-12, raising the possibility that the number of automatic bids in the 12-team postseason format to be implemented next year could be tweaked.
With realignment still roiling the landscape of college athletics, the 11-member management committee that still includes Pac-12 George Kliavkoff could only have preliminary conversations about potential format changes after this season, which will be the last one with four teams in the playoff.
“Did we talk about things that have changed around us? Sure. Did that dominate the meeting? I don’t think it did,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “Everybody was friendly. It’s not the first time we’ve been through conference changes.”
Sankey has said changes in the number of major college football conferences and conference composition should prompt discussion about whether a 12-team model that reserves six spots for league champions is still the best format.
“I think we have to have some clarity. And we don’t have full clarity right now. Maybe we never will have full clarity,” he said.
The future of the Pac-12 is murky at best after six schools announced a little less than a month ago this would be their last seasons in the conference.
“I’m focused on this year. I’m just focused on us winning a national championship,” Kliavkoff said after the meeting at hotel in the Dallas-Forth Worth airport.
Further complicating matters, the ACC has been weighing whether to add Stanford and California for several weeks. It remains uncertain if enough ACC schools are on board with an expansion plan that would also include SMU of the American Athletic Conference.
AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said he has been communicating with leadership at SMU, but does not know if the Mustangs will be receiving an invite from the ACC. He said the American, which has 14 members, has been talking about contingency plans.
Aresco stressed the importance of keeping automatic entry to the expanded CFP for conference champions, no matter how realignment shakes out.
“So any setup you have, the access is critical. And that’s just going to be our mantra,” Aresco said.
Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher called honoring conference champions a “bedrock principle” and said he felt good about the conversation, even if the group didn’t dig deep into the issues.
“Depending on the number of conferences we have, I think you can have a legitimate conversation about the number of champions that are set here as well as numbers of at-larges,” Steinbrecher said.
The CFP management committee spent more than a year haggling over the expanded 12-team format before finally agreeing to adopt the plan that was originally unveiled in the summer of 2021.
“My opinion is that we did really good work all those years ago,” said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who was among a subgroup that crafted the 12-team plan.
The model calls for the CFP’s six highest-ranked conference champions to make the field along with six at-large selections, regardless of conference. The plan was devised to accommodate 10 Bowl Subdivision conferences, including a Power Five of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern Conference and Pac-12.
Since then, the Pac-12 has had four schools — USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — announce they will join the Big Ten in 2024. Four more — Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah — committed to the Big 12, also next year, after the Pac-12 was unable to land a media rights deal that members believed could keep them competitive with Power Five peers.
The Pac-12 is down to Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford and California, and two of them could also be out the door soon, too.
Before the upheaval of realignment, the management committee was expecting to focus over the next few months on logistics for the debut of the 12-team playoff in 2024. One of the items agreed upon Wednesday was to extend the CFP’s program of providing a $3,000 travel stipend per game for the families of 125 players per team to attend the games.
The next scheduled meeting is in the final week of September in Chicago, but more frequent meetings are likely to be added to address the fallout of realignment.
“You’d like to have the landscape settled,” Swarbrick said. “And it’s not settled.”