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Here’s what Big Ten, SEC could demand as College Football Playoff holds critical meeting in Texas

Wednesday is shaping up to be one of the more significant days in the history of the College Football Playoff. The 11 members of the CFP Management Committee (10 FBS commissioners, Notre Dame athletic director) will be tasked with hashing out the structure of how college football is going to look for most of the next decade.

While no resolution is expected on any single issue, this will be the meeting where “everybody puts their cards on the table,” a source familiar with the talks told CBS Sports. It also stands as the first meeting involving every conference since the Big Ten and SEC basically staked their claim to the future of the sport by forming an “advisory group” earlier this month.

“Look, it’s a shot over the bow a little bit,” one conference official said of the union.

Still to be determined is what stance the Big Ten and SEC choose to take. Either way, it’s all but certain those leagues will see increased stewardship in college athletics. It’s clear those conferences at least have some leverage to get more of what they want. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has long claimed his league alone could stage its own playoff if deemed necessary. He’s probably right.

For now, here is what the Big Ten and SEC will likely be seeking as the committee convenes Wednesday in Dallas.

Guaranteed playoff bids, favorable structure

The CFP Board of Managers (presidents, chancellors) on Tuesday formally approved the 5+7 model for the 12-team expanded playoff field, one that had long been assumed, discussed and delayed. However, that structure is only guaranteed to be in place the next two seasons. It has repeatedly been stressed that the slate will be wiped clean beginning in 2026.

Up for discussion will be the overall number of playoff teams with Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti favoring 16 instead of 12, according to multiple reports. No matter the bracket size, Wednesday looms as the start of a showdown with the Big Ten and SEC perhaps ready to flex their might.

Three sources told CBS Sports this week that they “wouldn’t be surprised” if the two conferences demand/propose to receive multiple guaranteed playoff bids annually.

That move alone would rock college athletics. No conference has been guaranteed a spot in the championship bracket since the BCS began in 1998. If adopted, such guarantees would be a tacit recognition of those conferences’ power to draw TV ratings while serving as an admission that they are college football’s primary stakeholders.

The Super 2 have a good case. The 34 combined teams in the Big Ten and SEC — starting in 2024 — would have represented an average of 7.6 playoff bids per year if the 12-team bracket was in place over the first 10 seasons of the CFP, according to CBS Sports research. Last season, nine of the 12 playoff teams would have been Big Ten or SEC members as of 2024.

Any move toward guaranteed bids based on conference alignment puts the squeeze on Notre Dame. Fewer at-large spots create fewer chances for the Fighting Irish to get in. Could this be what finally forces Notre Dame to join a conference?

Governance and weighted voting

Conferences lapsed into the 5+7 logjam because, under current CFP rules, votes on any substantive issue must be unanimous. The Pac-2 (Oregon State, Washington State) held out wielding their “no” vote on 5+7 like Bruce Springsteen wields a guitar (like a weapon).

Beginning in 2026, it’s almost certain there will be a weighted voting structure. And it’s almost certain that the Big Ten and SEC will seek weighted voting that exceeds even that wielded by Power Four conference peers, the ACC and Big 12.

Tiered revenue distribution

This issue has loomed since playoff expansion was approved in December 2022. The Power Five conferences currently receive approximately $80 million each from the CFP simply for being the Power Five. That distribution has been adjusted going forward with each Power Five school receiving approximately $5 million each. That weighs the distributions based on conference size, ensuring universities receive appropriately even pieces of the pie.

The Big Ten and SEC are unlikely to be amenable to that structure remaining in place. Don’t be surprised if those conferences are at the forefront of seeking a multi-tiered revenue distribution within the playoff system. That could be structured as such:

  • Top tier: Big Ten, SEC
  • Second tier: ACC, Big 12
  • Third tier: Mountain West, American
  • Fourth tier: Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt

There is already a bonus system in place for participating teams. Each of the 12 schools that make the playoff beginning in 2024 will have a chance to earn as much as $20 million for their respective conferences by advancing to the CFP National Championship. All four teams playing in the first round receive $4 million for their leagues with additional revenue of $4 million being distributed to each quarterfinalist and $6 million to each semifinalist and national title game participant.

Media rights agreement

ESPN seems determined to push through its reportedly proposed six-year, $1.3 billion offer for the expanded bracket beginning in 2026. One problem: not so much as a draft of such a deal exists.

Largely due to the above-listed issues, it’s unlikely a new media rights deal will be be finalized until ESPN (or any other partners) can determine which teams are most likely to play in the CFP. The first-round games have proved particularly sticky to price because of the presence of Group of Five teams.

It may not matter. The expanded CFP isn’t worth much more than $1.3 billion, no matter who is bidding, industry insiders tell CBS Sports.

Still, when you’re buying a house, you’d like know what’s inside. Oregon State and Washington State could form a new league in two years. The ACC may not exist in two years if Florida State is able to buy its way out.

That’s where the CFP is with its new TV deal.

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