Friday, January 28, 2022

Jim Phillips details ACC’s opposition to College Football Playoff expansion while calling for reform

ACC commissioner Jim Phillips detailed his conference’s opposition to College Football Playoff expansion during a call with media on Friday, citing the need for reform within college athletics. Phillips called for a “365-day review” of college football in 2022 that considers what projects to be an overall reorganization of the NCAA. 

The comments came three days after the ACC and Big Ten emerged as primary obstacles of proposed expansion to 12 teams before the current television contract expires after the 2025 season.

“To the ACC, we don’t have a College Football Playoff problem,” Phillips said. “We have a college football and collegiate athletics/NCAA problem.

“We don’t feel this is the right time [to expand]. It doesn’t foreclose in the future about having an expanded playoff.”

The ACC’s presidents, athletic directors and coaches “overwhelmingly support” delaying expansion at this time, Phillips said. He specifically pointed out that ACC coaches “are unanimous this isn’t the right time.”

He may not have identified his conference as the biggest obstacle to expansion before 2026 by taking this stance, but the ACC has articulated its opposition better than any league to this point.

Phillips called for a “holistic perspective” in that proposed year-long review which takes into account athlete welfare, impact on academics and length of season. Those topics, however, were thought to have been dealt with by the CFP Management Committee (athletic directors) in several meetings after the 12-team proposal was brought forth in June.

Expansion talks broke down on Monday during a meeting in Indianapolis ahead of the CFP National Championship. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey were upset at the result after months of meetings, as they were among the four-person subcommittee that proposed a 12-team playoff in June. 

“I’ve genuinely never assumed this would be a rubber stamp,” Sankey said earlier this week. “I also know, when issues are identified, there has to be resolve to work to solutions. If we can’t do it, we can’t do it. I don’t know if anybody has noticed, but [the SEC is] doing very well in the current system. I’m more than willing to continue forward [with four teams].”

Phillips called back to the comments by Sankey while addressing his league’s position. 

“The SEC said it, about staying at four,” Phillips said Friday. “That we feel is the best thing we can do right now until we get some of these things addressed.”

Several meetings have been held since June to decide, in essence, whether to expand the playoff two years or after it expires in 2026. It became clear, because of several issues, the commissioners were split to the point that expansion in 2026 may not be assured.

The FBS commissioners issued a report Monday to the CFP Board of Managers (university presidents), but since there was no unanimity from the commissioners, no action was taken.

Further complicating the matter, since the expansion proposal emerged in June, the NCAA has decided to rewrite its outdated constitution to take into account modern concerns such as NIL and enforcement. Also pushing against expansion from an ACC standpoint is the possibility of federal legislation, the landmark Alston v. NCAA case contested at the U.S. Supreme Court and the possible impact of the National Labor Relations Board in redefining what being a student-athlete” means.

The ACC’s stance began to crystallize in mid-November when those issues were dovetailing.

“We have much larger issues facing us than whether to expand the CFP early by two years,” Phillips said. “There’s too many unanswered questions.”

Phillips also became the first Power Five commissioner to suggest the composition of college football’s highest division may be reduced in that rewriting of the constitution. A new NCAA constitution is expected to be approved at next week’s convention, and it’s scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 1.

After that, a constitutional transformation committee will work on the details. Among those are expected to be the size of the Football Bowl Subdivision, which CBS Sports reported on in November. 

“We don’t know what Division I going to look like,” Phillips said. “We don’t know if we’re going to have another division. … How can we put together this CFP expansion when we have no idea where this transformation committee is going to take us?”

A 12-team playoff, as proposed, would create at least the possibility of a 17-game season for national championship game participants. The current maximum in a four-team bracket is 15 games. Early on, however, commissioners modeled the average 12-team participant as playing less than an average of one extra game per season. In fact, for the four first-round losers, that would be the equivalent of a bowl game.

Phillips shot down speculation that the ACC was delaying expansion as a way to create space for Notre Dame, who participated as an ACC member in 2020 due to scheduling issues caused by COVID-19, to one day join the league on a full-time basis. Staying at four or moving to eight teams would ostensibly increase the chances that the Fighting Irish are forced into the conference fold.

“It is absolutely, positively not true,” Phillips said. “One is not tied to another.”

The ACC contract with ESPN is written so that there is little for the league adding teams unless Notre Dame is involved.

The league had participated in the first seven College Football Playoff events before Monday with Florida State making an appearance in the inaugural playoff in 2014 followed by six consecutive appearances — and two national championships won — by Clemson. 

Phillips said a canvassing of Clemson players helped sway the ACC toward its current stance. 

“They don’t want to play any more games,” the commissioner said. “I don’t know what Georgia and Alabama felt like after Monday night, but Clemson student-athletes that have participated, they don’t [want to play more games].”

Last summer, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney voiced his opposition to expansion, saying, “I don’t think there’s 12 teams good enough.”

At this time, there is no future meeting scheduled among the commissioners. Monday was perceived as a sort of “drop-dead date” for CFP expansion before 2026. However, sources remained optimistic new talks could be scheduled in the future. 

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