IRVING, Texas — The conference commissioners who oversee the College Football Playoff met in person on Wednesday for the first time since the latest round of conference realignment left the Pac-12 on the verge of extinction. And although the meeting was described by executive director Bill Hancock as “cordial,” the past month’s landscape-altering moves played a role in the proceedings.
The commissioners discussed potential format changes to the approved 12-team CFP model, which includes six designated spots for conference champions and six spots for the highest-ranked at-large teams. It is possible the format could change to five champions and seven at-large teams, if the Pac-12 were to dissolve and leave just four power conferences and nine FBS conferences in total. But that requires further discussion, commissioners said, as do any potential changes to the current revenue distribution formula.
“Did we talk about things that have changed around us? Sure. Did that dominate the meeting? I don’t think it did,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said outside the DFW Grand Hyatt conference room. “Everybody was friendly. It’s not the first time we’ve been through conference changes.”
“To the matter of conference realignment, we’re going to have to wait and see,” said CFP executive director Bill Hancock. “We’re going to have to wait until the dust settles before making any decisions about how that might affect CFP. The fact is, we just don’t know yet. No one knows how conference realignment is going to wind up, and it would just be premature to make any decisions about it.”
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips attended the meeting remotely due to travel issues. Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff attended in person despite the uncertainty surrounding both his league and his own job status. Kliavkoff oversaw the collapse of a proud, century-old conference, losing eight of 12 members over the past 14 months with perhaps two more departures coming in the next week. If the ACC decides to expand, it will add Stanford and Cal (potentially alongside SMU from the AAC), leaving the Pac-12 with just two members: Oregon State and Washington State. If that is the case, the two will likely end up in the Mountain West or American Athletic Conference.
Hurrying out of the meeting to catch a flight, Kliavkoff was chased down by reporters near the escalators. The Pac-12 commissioner shouted out that he’s “focused on this year” and “focused on us winning a national championship” before disappearing from view.
“I feel bad for George,” Sankey said after Kliavkoff walked by. “I talked to him the Saturday after all the change. I called (Washington State athletic director Pat Chun). I called (Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir) just to say I don’t have anything to offer other than empathy, because it’s a tough situation.”
Sankey said the conversations on Wednesday were healthy, and that Kliavkoff participated fully in the meeting. But the uncertainty lingered, and it affected the commissioners’ ability to fully vet new ideas or make significant decisions. Many seemed open to or even outright supportive of a 5+7 model, with five conference champions and seven at-large teams.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said rewarding conference champions is a “bedrock principle” and should be part of any CFP model moving forward. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, the only non-commissioner on the CFP management committee, said he and his colleagues who worked to propose the initial 12-team model two years ago did “really good work.” He also noted that it’s tough to seriously consider change without knowing what FBS football is going to look like.
“You’d like to have the landscape settled,” Swarbrick said. “And it’s not settled.”
Will ESPN broadcast all the College Football Playoff games?
The expansion to a 12-team model creates four additional postseason games to broadcast. ESPN, which has the rights to the New Year’s Six games and the national championship, has first dibs on the four additional games as part of the contract through the 2025 season. Hancock said the group has talked with ESPN and other broadcast networks about what will happen to those games but has only just started down that path.
The possibility of multiple partners for 2024 and ’25 remains on the table. Fox has said it wants a piece of the expanded CFP, whether in 2024 or in 2026 when the entire contract is up for grabs. Former Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and Kliavkoff had pushed hard for multiple broadcast partners in recent years, but Hancock said the support for multiple partners isn’t as strong now as it was in the past. Still, the more bidders there are, the more the price goes up. Hancock also didn’t rule out the possibility of streaming-exclusive options.
“We are talking to others about (the options) and ESPN is aware of that,” Hancock said.
The committee took the first major step toward figuring out lodging for first-round home sites, hiring Collegiate Sports Travel to work with schools to figure out the local options. Hancock said the concept is that the CFP will book hotels for teams, media and other dignitaries in dozens of college towns at some point before or early in the season, then narrow it down and cancel bookings as the CFP gets closer, because the four sites won’t be known until two weeks before games.
Hancock also pointed to college towns like Stillwater and State College that don’t have many local hotels. The first round, which will be played on the third weekend of December in 2024 and 2025, could overlap with winter commencements, making that even more difficult.
“No one’s ever done this before,” he said. “It’s never happened before.”
The committee officially expanded the current stipend of $3,000 per player family for 125 players on each team for travel to each of the four rounds. The stiped currently applies to the CFP semifinals and final and has increased and expanded multiple times since the CFP started in 2014.
The possibility of moving the season up for all teams to begin play in what is now “Week 0” won’t become a reality in 2024 or 2025, but the idea remains a down-the-road consideration for 2026. It would provide more idle weeks and allow the CFP to start earlier, avoiding some head-to-head matchups with the NFL in December and January. Swarbrick, fresh off Notre Dame’s Week 0 appearance in Ireland, praised the extra time.
“I think Week 0 is really good for the sport,” Swarbrick said. “I understand for schools on a quarter system, it’s one more week before the students get there and you’re already playing three weeks before they get there. But at a minimum, it always creates a two-bye year. … To always have two byes is so good for the student-athletes. If you’re around the locker room and see what they’re like by game eight, nine, 10, the second bye is so helpful.”
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)