Extended college football qualifier seems inevitable

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The rubber stamps stayed put on Tuesday.

College executives, who once had to use them to extend college football playoffs, had previously canceled trips to a Hilton hotel near Chicago. Instead, after the top leagues spent the summer slipping away, the future of the playoffs remained in motion the very day some had hoped to include the equivalent of a college sports treaty signing. .

It’s hard to predict how long the playoff leadership will be volatile. The gut feeling of many leaders, however, is that the most likely outcome is one they’ve been contemplating for months: expansion, eventually.

Because as monolithic as college sport can sometimes seem, tribalism can prevail for a time in the industry. Last year, the Power 5 conferences briefly split over whether to play football during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the debate over expanding the Silver Print playoffs from its four-team format sparks more church postures and form changes as college football contemplates an even richer future.

There is no guarantee of a deal, and in an interview on Tuesday Bill Hancock, executive director of the playoffs, said the debate was “very complex” and that the stakes were “too high to stand. rush into anything “. But history and math suggest that this interlude may ultimately turn into a messy race to a deal for more football and more money, even as there are lingering concerns about the health and time demands of athletes. .

There have been arguments over everything from automatic qualifying to where the playoffs should be played. Executives have evaluated at least 63 different scenarios, with the recent focus on a 12-team format that would invite hundreds of millions of dollars more in TV money each year.

“I don’t think there’s a conference that said it doesn’t promote expansion; the question expands to what and works on the issues, ”said Mike Aresco, commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, whose 2021 headliner is Cincinnati seventh.

“Could you finish four and not extend?” ” he added. “It’s possible, but I think there is momentum.”

The Aresco league, which will lose Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston to the Big 12 Conference before the end of 2024, has reason to be hopeful as much. While Hancock has always warned that expansion is uncertain, many other executives have spent weeks suggesting the playoffs are on track to a 12-team format.

Then came the surprise round of conference realignment, including planned Oklahoma and Texas moves from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference by July 2025, and all kinds of heritage. Still, many executives believe that three factors – money, competition, and timing – tip the scales toward the growth of the playoff field in this decade.

The crudest and most obvious of these considerations, of course, is rooted in arithmetic: a 12-team format would almost certainly make college football playoffs a more powerful financial force than the division’s men’s basketball tournament. I of the NCAA. While the NCAA is so baffled that it has a former Pentagon chief Robert M. Gates leading an effort to rewrite its constitution, it is still expected to take more than $ 870 million in television rights related to the basketball tournament. men’s ball of the coming season.

ESPN’s existing college football deal, a 12-year deal worth more than $ 5.6 billion that ends after the 2025 season, covers three playoff games per season. Executives thought a revamped playoff with 12 teams and 11 games per season would net more than $ 1 billion a year in television rights. Navigate, a sports affairs consultancy, went so far as to predict that such an expansive format would make the playoffs over $ 2 billion in annual revenue, including ticketing and sponsorship.

There is also an element of field competition in the minds of sports leaders.

Only 11 universities have appeared in the playoffs since they replaced the Bowl Championship Series in the 2014 season, and most conferences have always or consistently been excluded from the biggest games in college football. No team from the so-called Group of 5 leagues – the American, the USA Conference, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and the Sun Belt Conference – made the playoffs.

“Having just four teams in the CFP is a flawed system,” said George Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 freshman commissioner, in an interview this month at Ohio Stadium, hours before Oregon upset the team. ‘Ohio State, which contested for the national title last season. match after winning the Big Ten Championship.

“Just the way it’s set up, it’s designed – and I don’t think it’s intentional or smart – but it was designed for the rich to get richer,” added Kliavkoff, whose reservations Regarding the expansion proposal that went public in June helped slow its approval. “If you were invited to CFP in any of the first years, it makes recruiting easier, makes it easier to return to CFP, makes recruiting easier, and that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “

(Oregon, now ranked No.3 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, reached the first playoff championship game, but a Pac-12 team hasn’t even made it to a semi-final since the 2016 season. .)

But Kliavkoff is right that many fans are complaining about seeing the same teams over and over, even though closest Clemson coach Dabo Swinney could come to this season’s playoffs as a forward commentator. match. And at the end of the day, conferences are marketing and event planning juggernauts that respond to focus groups and the prospect of larger TV audiences.

Leaders also have time on their side to strategize and allay hurt feelings and get back on the downward trajectory they envisioned in June. A format change taking effect after the ESPN deal is concluded could be resolved in a year or two; a deadline is still months away, even though playoff executives want a change for the 2024 season, now seen as the first to put a new system in place.

Indeed, according to the stallion and the spinmeister, the power brokers could still act faster than in 2012 to replace the BCS officially quarrel over what has become the playoffs.

The same playoffs pretty much everyone is now looking for ways to develop.


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