Last August, Kliavkoff, Phillips and Warren formed “The Alliance,” which at the time was meant to form scheduling partnerships, bring together like-minded academic institutions and stabilize a landscape that was again uncertain with another round of realignment — none more drastic than Big 12 co-founders Oklahoma and Texas announcing their intent to eventually bolt to the SEC. That move set the stage for the already-dominant league to become the Power 5’s first 16-team superconference.
Sankey, whose dual roles in conference realignment and playoff expansion have been questioned by some, has repeatedly pointed out his conference never advocated for a bigger playoff. On the contrary, he described the league’s willingness to even engage in a conversation considering expansion “an enormous give.” Scott, the former leader in the Pac-12, and former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany initially made the biggest push for expansion.
Nobody will forget, though, the day Oklahoma and Texas decided to join the SEC.
“There was an initial burst of enthusiasm and support when it came out,” Aresco told ESPN last month. “But I think the expansion, the realignment — the realignment definitely threw a wrench into it. I don’t think it should have in the end because I think it’s a good plan and I think we need it for college football. But I do think that paused it to some extent.”
Sure, it’s petty, cut your nose off to spite your face thinking. Worse, though, they’ve all started coming up with rationalizations to justify it. The ACC commissioner wants a holistic review of the sport before moving on (that could take decades; not that that’s a bad thing as far as I’m concerned) although it’s suspected that his real motivation is to force Notre Dame to join his conference. The Big Ten commissioner wants a guaranteed playoff spot for his conference winner, no matter what. And the Pac-12, which needs playoff expansion more than any other P5 conference, refuses to let the Rose Bowl go without a fight.
And all it cost them was money. A lot of money.
“I think people in the long term operated against their broader self-interest,” Swarbrick said. “That’s always an odd circumstance and it is frustrating. The things that got in the way were things that were important to people. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out the balance between those issues and the larger benefits. Everybody has their own view.”
They’ve torched the short term, so now it’s on to the next deal after the current one expires. The rules change for that move.
Hancock told ESPN in January that in Year 13, they need a majority of the management committee to agree to it — including three of the Power 5 commissioners. Everyone else at that point can choose whether they want to participate in the playoff.
Also from January is the sound of a man high on his own supply.
“You guys can all determine for yourself what subset of those 11 people would have to say, ‘We agree’ for that to become the College Football Playoff,” Kliavkoff says. “Once you do that and by definition, because it’s going to be expanded, it provides more access for everyone, I think you could then go back to the people who weren’t part of the group that came up with the new proposal and say ‘We’d also like to start that in ’24, not in ’26.’ Everybody would go ‘We’re O.K. with that.’”
“Everybody” is doing some heavy lifting there. Meanwhile, Greg Sankey sounds like a man preparing to play the long game.
Sankey’s stance is the SEC already made a concession by agreeing to expand in the first place. The SEC has never been left out of the four-team playoff. When Georgia beat Alabama in the championship game last month, it was the second time two SEC teams played for the CFP title.
But Sankey has acknowledged a bigger field could boost interest in college football nationally.
Now, he said there is no guarantee the SEC will remain supportive of expanding beyond four.
“From our perspective, we’ve given. We’re going to have to go and rethink our position based on how others have approached the conversation that, really, they initiated,” Sankey said. “And I don’t expect that to get any easier.”
This is another reminder that the people running college sports are not as smart, generally speaking, as they think they are. If Greg Sankey’s a little shrewder than the new Jeds, that’s as smart as he needs to be.