SEC-only playoff concept sign of the times, college football changes inevitable

ATHENS — SEC fans tend to live in a world where it’s the SEC teams first and then everyone else.

It turns out they might not be the only ones with this view.

One of the ideas reportedly up for discussion at next week’s SEC spring meetings in Destin is an SEC-only postseason.

It sounds crazy until it’s not, considering how many changes are already underway.

New world

College football is in the midst of a major upheaval in that the 2021 season could essentially be seen as the conclusion of the BCS era that began in 1998.

Recruitment courses and player retention are now more influenced by money than ever before – overboard via NIL.

Program leaders have lost influence, and more and more coaches are raking in the cash by turning away from the pressures and challenges of more challenging managerial situations.

The SEC appears to be up against the “Alliance” formed by the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 ahead of the 2021 season.

The Alliance flexed their muscles last year by scrapping plans for an extended 12-team playoff.

The idea that every conference could be represented in the playoffs, with all conferences and programs benefiting from additional revenue, seemed like a win-win.

Instead, fears were raised that the playoffs would allow the SEC to differentiate itself even more from the rest of college football with up to four of the 12 teams in the playoffs.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has been understandably frustrated and has publicly stated on numerous occasions that the four-team model works well for his league.

But Sankey and the SEC leadership cannot be naïve in assuming that 40 of the 65 Power 5 schools represented in the alliance are essentially working against the SEC.

SEC envy

ESPN reported that a college official confirmed that the “collegiality” between the five conference commissioners no longer helps with “Sankey in such a catbird seat now.”

No doubt there is apprehension and jealousy at the SEC, which is set to expand to 16 teams with Texas and Oklahoma by 2025 at the latest.

The SEC has never been stronger among its competitors as three different teams have won the last three CFP championships, including last season’s showdown in the CFP championship game between Georgia and Alabama.

The SEC matched its own record (set last year) with 65 players selected for the 2022 NFL draft — Georgia set a new mark with 15 players from its CFP championship team.

The SEC has drafted more players than any other conference for the past 16 consecutive years

Recruits have taken note, and now that the NIL comes into play, the SEC once again seems to have the advantage.

Application of the NIL favors the kind of deeper-pocket programs that the SEC prides itself on, especially given how the SEC’s athletic departments prioritize soccer.

Part of the prioritization of football stems from the league’s rich heritage and sheer love of the game, but the financial model is such that former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer coined the phrase, “Football is the engine that drives revenue.”

Blue sky thinking

FWAA President and ESPN-CFP reporter Heather Dinich recently suggested that talk of an SEC-only playoff was a bluff.

“It seems like a pose to me because Greg Sankey was upset when the college football playoffs didn’t get widened,” Dinich said on ESPN’s Get Up. “Remember there was an 8-3 vote where the Pac 12, ACC and Big Ten voted against expansion at that point for various reasons.

“Greg Sankey is still angry about it, and to me, it’s a not-so-subtle message that’s like, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be as accommodating this time about talking about expansion again.'”

It could be Pose, or it could be another step towards the likelihood of a super conference.

Sixteen SEC teams may or may not be enough for the league to hold its own playoffs.

But who says what the SEC will look like in 10 years?

The “Blue Sky Thinking” that Sankey refers to will encompass several scenarios from which others will develop.

Talk of an all-SEC football playoff might seem far-fetched now, but as college football has seen over the past year, things can and have changed quickly.

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