Why the College Football Playoffs Expansion Is Inevitable (And Why It Will Be 12 Teams Instead Of 8)
Dan Wolken explains why the College Football Playoffs expansion will happen and why there will be 12 teams rather than eight.
It’s good to be the king. With that in mind, let’s turn to the trial balloon launched by college football’s ruler, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.
How about a playoff just for the SEC?
Ohio State, Oregon, USC, Clemson, Notre Dame would look inside from the outside. The SEC champion would declare themselves the de facto national champion. And if other conferences have a problem with that, we will channel Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Southern Man doesn’t need them anyway.
No he does not.
But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. So here’s hoping the SEC-only playoff balloon doesn’t soar at next week’s SEC spring meetings in Destin. But let’s also hope the rest of the country thinks the SEC can go it alone.
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The fight for the college football playoffs
What we have here is a high stakes poker game. Sankey threw down a card this week when he told ESPN that the playoffs are a real possibility only for the SEC.
He wants to instill a little more fear in the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC, aka “The Alliance”. In February, it torpedoed the 12-team playoff proposal that Sankey had drafted. That meant we stuck with the four-team lineup through the 2025 season.
No one really wanted that, but negotiations tangled in disputes over automatic qualifiers, NIL uncertainty and Big Ten/Pac-12 allegiance for the Rose Bowl.
This did not please the king and his court.
“They want to do something with a more national focus,” Florida AD Scott Stricklin said. “But at the end of the day, the SEC is in a unique position. Given the strength of our league, we probably have more options.”
That’s a diplomatic way of saying that a full national playoff needs the SEC a lot more than the SEC needs a full national playoff.
All those big, shiny objects in SEC trophy cases back it up. And a members-only tournament has its charms.
The top six or eight teams were able to qualify, with first-round games played on campus. Miami or Atlanta or New Orleans or Nashville or Orlando could be fighting for the title.
The sale would be automatic. TV would write a huge check. Dolly Parton was able to present the championship trophy.
The downside is that many college football fans would be put off. They would resent the SEC if they grabbed the ball and went home. It would feel like the South would break away from the football union.
And what if the other conferences call for their own playoffs and the winner ends up looking SEC-esque?
What does the future hold?
Would a 14-0 beat Ohio State or Clemson Alabama or Georgia or whatever Billy Napier might come up with in a few years? We’d be thrown back 40 years to the days of “mythical champions” and polls that decide who makes the big enchilada.
Some may fondly remember the days of arguing about whether Georgia Tech or Colorado was the true champion, or Alabama or Notre Dame, or LSU or USC. That’s like lovingly remembering The Brady Bunch Hour.
The endless bickering led to the creation of the Bowl Championship Series that led to the College Football Playoffs, which led to more bickering since so few teams make the Final Four and so many are from the SEC.
Sankey agreed, but decided to play nice to the have-nots. A conglomerate of conference leaders developed the 12-team playoff, but The Alliance had other ideas.
It’s possible that all of this could lead to two playoffs. The SEC winner could play the non-Dixie playoff in a mega game, much like the old AFL and NFL meet in the Super Bowl. Such a mega game would generate Elon Musk-like cash, and the SEC would pocket half of it.
It’s possible that could happen. It’s also possible that it couldn’t.
At the moment everyone is looking at themselves at the expense of the overall product. I don’t think Sankey wants to do it alone. I also don’t think he only whistles Dixie when he’s floating an SEC-only playoff.
“I don’t think we should take anything off the table,” Stricklin said.
The SEC can afford to say that. Southern Man doesn’t need the others around. But college football is a lot better when they are.
David Whitley is the sports columnist for The Gainesville Sun. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWitley