The majority of takes I’ve seen about the current impasse over CFP expansion, like this one and this one, accept the premise that the SEC is the conference holding the most leverage whenever future expansion discussions take place. Needless to say, I found this contrarian take in the Los Angeles Times of interest.
Note that “of interest” doesn’t equate to convincing. It’s kind of hard to swallow an argument that’s based on a conspiracy theory of sorts.
Then, in July, the news leaked that Texas and Oklahoma were working to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, creating the first 16-team “super conference.”
From the moment that happened, I believed that the Longhorns and Sooners had been convinced by Sankey that a 12-team playoff was coming, opening up the potential that nearly half the field could come from the stacked SEC. Sure, UT and OU would want the windfall of revenue from the SEC’s annual distribution, but Oklahoma in particular wouldn’t leave its cushy path to the four-team playoff in the Big 12 to battle with Alabama, Louisiana State, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn for a maximum of two spots the SEC could claim each year.
The rest of the country should be thanking the Texas A&M folks who tipped off the Houston Chronicle to the backroom maneuvering. Imagine if Texas and Oklahoma’s intentions had stayed quiet and the commissioners had signed off on 12 teams first?
Instead, Sankey’s power play was out in the open.
This smoking hot take ignores so many things — that the Big 12 commissioner was also one of the architects of that 12-team plan, that it was the schools that approached the SEC first, not the opposite, for starters — that it’s hard for me to take seriously, but, hey, the dude’s on a roll.
You can bet Kliavkoff’s conversations with his presidents and chancellors are going much better than Sankey’s — particularly in Norman, Okla., and Austin, Texas. The Sooners and Longhorns could be staring at an even more perilous climb back to the national championship game, which makes me curious how Sankey’s posturing that the SEC would be fine staying at four teams for the CFP is going over.
I can’t see how campus leaders at LSU, Georgia and Florida would be happy about sharing minimal access with Oklahoma and Texas, and we know how Texas A&M feels.
Yeah, Sankey’s having a terrible time pointing out to his bosses all that new money rolling in. Meanwhile, Kliavkoff has a regular walk in the park with his guys.
… Kliavkoff’s work in that time is to continue to push his presidents to invest in football infrastructure; to max out the league’s upcoming media rights negotiations; to find a more financially friendly headquarters; and to make decisions with a football-first mindset. That isn’t exciting to the average fan, but it’s the real work at hand.
He’s got to sell that to do list after torpedoing a chance for his conference to obtain some degree of relevancy in the CFP for the next few years. Truly, an underappreciated genius is at work here.
Anyway, once you’re willing to swallow all that, the conclusion is just an easy step away.
The stakes of the expansion decision were much higher for Sankey’s league. He will continue to say otherwise, and when negotiations begin anew for the next CFP contract, he is likely to use the immense leverage that the SEC is so self-sufficient it could just start its own postseason.
Would that be an empty threat? Probably. Sankey’s constituents are deeply driven by a desire for regional superiority. College football can’t just mean more in the SEC if the conference can’t prove it against the rest of the union.
There will be an expanded bracket in 2026. Now there’s a chance Pac-12 teams will enjoy a more even playing field.
Or not. If the people running the sport have shown one thing over the past two decades, it’s that money trumps regional superiority every damned time. Plus, there’s no reason the SEC couldn’t have its own playoff and then face off against the Alliance’s champion for all the marbles. Money and regional superiority, for the win! But you keep dreaming otherwise, dude.