San Jose, Calif.—Those fans wanting a major change in the format of the four-team College Football Playoff are probably going to be disappointed after the CFP committee meets on Monday.
That was the word on Sunday from two of the Power Five commissioners—Greg Sankey of the SEC and John Swofford of the ACC.
Given the controversy surrounding this season’s selections, there has been a push by some to expand the field from four to eight. Monday night’s national championship game between Alabama and Clemson will wrap up the fifth year of a 12-year contract to hold a four-team playoff.
The 10 commissioners of the FBS conferences, plus Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, meet annually on the day of the national championship game. Also joining the meeting are 11 college presidents who will make the ultimate decision on any format change.
Based on a number of people I talked to here, the best that comes out of Monday’s meetings, if you’re an eight-team advocate, is that the commissioners will agree to talk about it again in the future.
“If we don’t at least talk about it we’re not doing our jobs,” said Swofford, who wants to keep the format at four teams. “But right now, just talking to folks involved, I just don’t see a real appetite for it (going to eight.)”
Sankey is also a strong proponent of the four-team format and will go into Monday’s meetings with the facts and figures to support the SEC’s position.
“We went into this (12 year) agreement with a set of principles on what we’re trying to achieve,” said Sankey. “No one has shown me a reason why those principles should change.”
Critics of the four-team format have been passionate in their belief that it doesn’t serve enough people and that it limits participation to an elite group of schools. They believe an eight-team system would make room for the UCFs of the world. UCF did not make the playoff in 2017 or 2018 despite going undefeated in both seasons.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, whose champion has been left out of the playoffs for three straight years, has expressed a willingness to at least discuss the eight-team playoff. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Athletic that everyone should “keep an open mind” about possible ways to change the format.
There are numerous logistical issues with an eight-team format, particularly on when and where to play the quarterfinal round. The round of eight would certainly be played on campus right around the time of final exams.
Others have suggested that conferences do away with league championship games in order to free up a Saturday on the calendar for the quarterfinals. The SEC has made it abundantly clear that it will not consider such a thing.
Then there is a matter of what to do with the Group of Five conferences. Some have suggested that the highest-ranked champion of the Group of Five be given one of the playoff spots. This would spark a lot of discussion from the Power Five conferences.
And what about giving the winner of each power five conference an automatic spot in the playoffs? Unless each commissioner knows he’s guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, what would be the purpose of blowing up the system?
Bottom line: It looks like the commissioners will talk on Monday and agree to continue to talk about it.
“If we don’t talk about it at all we come across as having our heads in the sand,” someone close to the situation told me.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the CFP, summed it up thusly when talking to reporters on Saturday.
He said the CFP committee “Will think about whether to think about a format change. They’ll ponder whether to ponder.”
Hancock told TMG College Sports that the current 12-year contract does not have a "look in" clause that would allow it to be changed before its expiration. But history has shown us the committee can do whatever its wants should the right set of circumstances come about.
“I wouldn’t have great expectations coming out of this meeting,” said Swofford.
The CFP will have its next formal meeting in Dallas next spring. Further discussion on this issue will likely take place then.