ATLANTA — Expansion of the four-team College Football Playoff format has been a hot topic since last year, when a 12-team format was proposed by a working group that included current SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. That proposal included six automatic bids for the highest-ranked conference champions, as well as six at-large bids for remaining highest-ranked teams. That proposal wasn’t adopted, due in part to the changing landscape of conference membership around the country.
It certainly won’t be an eight-team model with five automatic bids for conference champions if Sankey gets his way.
“No, I’m not going to come back to that. I’m against that,” Sankey said Monday during SEC Media Days.
This echoes what his mindset was going into discussion of possible expansion last year.
“I walked into one of the first meetings when we were looking at the format and said, ‘If we want to expand to eight teams for the Playoff with no automatic bids, I’ll have that conversation’,” he said on Monday. “But moving to an eight-team playoff and granting what were going to be six automatic bids, reducing at-large access, is unwise.”
The process is evolving, however, and Sankey knows that he has to be flexible in the future.
“I had, as commissioner, moved people forward to the point we were supportive as a league,” he said. “If we’re going to go back to square one, we’re going to take a step back from the model introduced and rethink the approach, number of teams, whether there should be any guarantee for conference champions at all. Just earn your way in. There’s something that’s healthy competitively about that and creates expectations and support around programs. Where we go? We’ll see. We’ve had one initial conversation in late June. I walked into that meeting not very optimistic about the ability to talk through issues. I walked out much more positive about the path forward than when I walked in.”
Sankey is standing firm that the CFP expansion framework that he was involved in developing is the right approach to the meaningful postseason.
“The pressure was there to have conference access with some guarantee,” he said. “So the 12-team, six at-large, which increases the at-large access, and six conference qualifiers, not automatic qualifiers, but the guarantee that the six best conference champions was a really good balancing outcome.”
What will the future hold regarding CFP expansion? Sankey is one of the most powerful people in college athletics, and it doesn’t sound like he’s coming off of his stance on automatic qualifiers anytime soon.