SEC does not want automatic bidding for college football playoffs

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The extended play-off may have chosen the two sides

A few months ago, college football fans rejoiced when an expanded playoff was announced and universally received as a one-off.

This model was a 12-team field that allowed the top six conference champions to enter, the six teams generally being the top-ranked teams remaining, then the conference champions being bid farewell to the quarter-finals.

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson was part of that deal with three others to submit models, and he’s struggled hard for the conference’s top-ranked six champions just to make automatic bids for championships of strength.

“I fought for two years in that room — biased — to get to the six and six, of which I represented 60, so I’m not willing to give up on that,” Thompson said back in January. “By the same token, what qualifies some of the other conference champions to secure a place if they haven’t done it in six or seven years, so why do they deserve that guaranteed access? Just because they won the league?”

This model would have been perfect because it essentially guarantees the Power 5 tournaments – at least those conferences created before UCLA and USC go to the Big Ten.

Only twice since 1998 has a strong conference team been outside the top six conference champions. Those years were very unique. The first was in 2011 when Pac-10 went to Pac-12 adding Utah and Colorado, where the SEC added a few schools, plus Nebraska and others going to the Big Ten.

That year Big East/AAC had an auto show and was out of the top six, the other year was in 2020 during the COVID-19 season and Pac-12 was out of that.

It was the two years that it happened very rarely and I did in unique situations. This makes it strange that new Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has been set on automatic bidding for power conferences.

“It’s very important that we have automatic playoffs for the five conferences,” Warren said. “It’s just a schedule requirement…I strongly believe that if you win the Big Ten Championship, you should have the opportunity to participate in a National Championship….I feel very strongly about that as I am standing here today.”

Back in January, Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Greg Sankey was in favor of this 12-team format because he was part of the four-man group that included Thompson, Big 12 commissioner Bob Paulsby and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick.

At the time, he realized that having a very exclusive playoff that sometimes included SEC teams wasn’t good for the sport.

Sankee was basically throwing in the rest of college football because he knows college football is better if there’s a watershed path for tournaments that usually close after the first few weeks.

However, this fake alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 prevented the move from moving to 12 allowing the four-team model to continue and Sankey to participate in the SEC.

Sankey knows he has strength in the room and a four-team model has worked well for him and his league. The expansion will likely get more teams from the SEC into the field, but a larger field also means more chances of losing.

Which is why Sankey in his SEC media days is now looking at and now saying there shouldn’t be any automatic bids for any new version of the college football playoffs.

“If we were to go back to square one, we would undo the model that was introduced and rethink the approach,” Sankey said. “[We’ll consider the] difference number. [And] Whether there should be any guarantees for the champions of the conference at all. Just earn your way.”

Sankee was fine before and liked the plan as a compromise because he saw that giving an automatic six best conference bids would always mean that his team and the powerhouses would earn a spot 99% of the time. The big six bids likely allowed the SEC to get additional teams into the field.

The landscape has changed as the Big Ten has grown in size, but Sankey’s comments about not expanding or giving up automatic bidding isn’t really new.

Now, it appears that in a save-and-go with an invite on a playoff where the teams committee picks, the SEC will likely help get at least four teams into a 12-team field.

This is not good for college football. Teams that are eliminated early or even before the season are not good. Giving teams to fight for something and earn a playoff point would make the Washington State vs. Stanford random match more rewarding if the winner were to earn a place in the conference title game.

This would make all of the conference title games more interesting too and even at the group of five level where they know the best champion enters and if there are really many good teams, it’s even possible that one of the big six berths will crash.

Keeping them on the team selection committee would likely only favor the powerhouses. It took Cincinnati two years to make the playoff for a group of people to pick the Bearcats.

Then there’s the possibility that he’ll only stay on four teams which is a really bad scenario not just for the Mountain West schools but for all of college football. The SEC’s new Big Two and the Big Ten could legitimately take all four places and push people away from the sport.

To maintain the health and growth of the sport, the playoff must go to at least 12 teams and have some form of automatic bidding for conference champions.

Perhaps an option to have both ways is to get a final automatic bidding arrangement for the conference champions. Make sure any champion in the conference is in the top 20, and choose the top five or six rated league champions from that pool. This gives more teams an option to enter and provides some flexibility if there is disruption to the title game.

Nobody wants the sport to be smaller with fewer teams playing for a title. The playoff should include some automatic bidding to keep more fans entertained. Wouldn’t it be fun to see if the old Boise State, TCU, or Utah teams that made BCS also get a chance in the playoffs as the #9 seed and win some games to spark more interest? Or a new guy like last year’s Pete team with Kenny Beckett firing at Jordan Addison?

College football is at its best when more and more people are watching the big games and the real name of the game is the one who makes the most money. So more people watching the sport equals more money, and one way to help with that is to allow more teams to participate and it won’t dampen the playoffs if the league champions get a playoff bid.


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