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Don't expect the College Football Playoff to expand anytime soon

On Friday, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips all but guaranteed the 4-team format will remain through the 2025 season.

If you've been paying attention to the process over the last few months, you knew that the plan to expand the College Football Playoff on the soonest possible timeline, in time for the 2024 season, was on life support. At a press conference before the national championship game on Monday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, widely credited as the masterminds of the 12-team proposal, barely hid their disdain after months of fruitless negotiations.

“It’s been a frustrating process," Bowlsby said. "Everybody is more concerned about their own silo than everybody else’s. The first time around (Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany and (SEC commissioner) Mike Slive got past their individual concerns to do what is best for college football. That’s why we got to a playoff. That hasn’t happened this time.”

But you don't have to pay close attention to the process to register the gravity of this quote, given Friday by ACC commissioner Jim Phillips.

"The membership of the ACC is very much aligned in its position that now is not the time to expand the College Football Playoff."

The Playoff would require unanimous approval to move forward with a new model, and what you have there is a lack of unanimity.

To back up: In June, Bowlsby, Sankey, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick -- empowered by the CFP's management board, comprised of college presidents -- unveiled a model for a 12-team playoff that would reserve six automatic bids for the six highest-ranked conference champions.

One month later, the SEC annexed Texas and Oklahoma, and all hell broke loose. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 sniffed around one another like dogs meeting unfamiliar dogs, then ultimately formed THE ALLIANCE, which has yet to produce anything of consequence beyond a cringy name. The Big 12 cannibalized the American, the American cannibalized Conference USA, Conference USA cannibalized the FCS, and down the hill the boulder went.

Throughout that process, FBS commissioners continued to meet, and continued to get nothing done.

"It's not just the ACC. There are issues everyone has," Phillips said Friday.

That is correct.

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who started his job in July, was publicly perturbed that more voices weren't involved in the R&D that led to the 12-team proposal. He also said that the CFP should ensure the TV rights to an expanded CFP should go on the open market, rather than doubling down with ESPN. (This is smart.)

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was publicly against the provision that granted auto-bids to the six highest conference champions, preferring a model that reserved spots for each Power 5 champ plus the highest-ranked Group of 5 champ, as the CFP and New Year's Six model does now. (This is not smart. When's the last time the B1G champion was ranked below the second highest-ranked G5 champ?)

Both commissioners were steadfast and adamant -- this is the polite way to say "annoying" -- that the Rose Bowl must be protected, no matter the cost to college football as a whole.

Bowlsby had an enormous problem with Sankey raiding his league's best two assets, but he put that aside to continue pursuing and promoting the 12-team format. (See his above quote about everyone worrying about their own silos.)

But, until today, no one had stood up, We're not in favor of CFP expansion and here's why.

So: why is the ACC against CFP expansion?

It's a wonder he didn't add climate change to that list.

Is Phillips wrong that college sports has issues to work through? No, of course not. But point to me a time when college sports hasn't had issues to work through. When you ask the University of Alabama and the University of Akron to share space under the same umbrella, you're going to have issues. 

Kicking the can down the road doesn't guarantee to solve those issues, but it does guarantee that college football's current problems -- namely, that over half the sport is shut out of the title race by Columbus Day -- continues. Sankey and Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, the SEC's representative on the board of managers, said Monday that the 4-team model has worked out for their league juuuuuust fine.

It also delays the extra $1.5 billion per year the 12-team playoff could generate

Phillips' comments on Friday guarantee that the league will have a target on its back until the current contract expires, after the 2025 season. And, unless Clemson manages to retool without Trevor Lawrence, Brent Venables, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, there's no guarantee the ACC will participate in the 4-team field through the end of the current 12-team contract.

Now, is it the end of the world that the College Football Playoff likely expands in 2026 instead of 2024? No, it is not. Arguably, delaying expansion hurts the leagues that need it the most. 

But with Phillips going public with his league's formerly private reservations, it means we're now prolonging this fight for a least another couple years. And once the current deal expires, only a simple majority will be required to win, not unanimity. 

"In (2026), we'll have a new model, I'm sure," he said.

Let the negotiating begin.