INDIANAPOLIS – Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby walked past a half-eaten chocolate birthday cake with his name on it in the hallway of the JW Marriott before briefing a group of reporters on the outcome of three days of meetings with the college football playoff management committee.
“There is no decision,” Bowlsby said flatly.
With that, there will be no celebration for the possibility of the expansion of the College Football Playoff. The 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held three-day meetings here and did not come to a conclusion on the 12-team playoff plan that was proposed in June.
“Everyone is more concerned with their own silo than anyone else’s,” Bowlsby said. “I think the first time, Jim Delany and Mike Slive overcame their individual concerns to do what’s best for college football. That’s why we have the playoffs. That didn’t happen this time.”
How do you merge those perspectives from the conference? CFP CEO Bill Hancock said automatic qualifiers and bowls continue to be drawbacks of the plan.
The bowls can be solved later. Automatic raters seem to be the most pressing problem. The fact that Bowlsby used the names of former Big Ten and SEC commissioners, and those two conferences generate the most revenue for the FBS, is no accident. That original 12-team proposal required the inclusion of the six highest-ranked conference champions. and the top six ranked teams after that.
It’s hard to sell that the CFP is geographically equitable for all schools when the reality is that the SEC, which had Alabama and Georgia in Monday’s CFP championship game, has dominated the sport since the Bowl Championship Series. The SEC has the strongest silo in today’s college football landscape, and Oklahoma and Texas are yet to come. Does that mean the SEC should commit to automated raters?
“As a conference, we support a 12-team playoff that is currently being discussed,” said CFP President and Mississippi State President Mark Keenum. “At the end of the day, if some of these issues cannot be resolved and we cannot achieve closure, for the sake of college football, we may have to stay in four teams.”
commissioner of the big ten Kevin Warren told ESPN.com before the matches that should qualify the champions of the Power 5 conference in the extended format. The conference is also part of an Alliance with the ACC and Pac-12.
Bowlsby is fighting the Big 12 fight, which will include four new members at BYU, Cincinnati, UCF and South Florida. Then there’s the Group of 5, which saw Cincinnati qualify for a four-team playoff out of the American Athletic Conference this season.
It’s less about the amount of teams, at least for now. If it’s clear an expansion is warranted, but if you can’t agree on 12, why not narrow it down to eight teams?
“There are reserves for four, there are reserves for eight, there are reserves for 12,” Bowlsby said. “It has been a frustrating process. I think four has worked, so there are those who are comfortable with four.”
Still, the 12-team plan has the most traction. This is the number of automatic qualifiers. How many conference champions should get an automatic slot? Would Power 5 conferences be guaranteed one of those classifieds? That is still the one worth watching, and the committee should be open to all ideas, ranging from six automatic qualifiers to no automatic qualifiers (an idea that was made impossible due to conference championship games, but which yet to be explored).
But there has to be movement at the next meeting. When asked about repeating the process in the last seven meetings since June, Bowlsby delivered an icy phrase.
“Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day?” he asked rhetorically. “There is more provincialism than necessary.”
If that behavior doesn’t stop, then the sport will suffer. The current college football playoff contract expires after the 2025 season. For the four-team format to change, all conferences would have to undergo one change. The four-team playoff will stay in 2022 and 2023, and it looks like 2024 and 2025.
“We still have four years to go, but we want to make a decision much sooner,” Keenum said. “It’s not just a school or a conference. You have it all over the country. There are conferences all over the country that have an interest in this, they have an interest in this. We are going to work through the process.”
So there is time, but there is more work than expected after a three-day stalemate. That’s where the disappointment should be.
“I feel like the majority of the group came away a little disappointed that we couldn’t make it to the finish line,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in SEC network after. “I heard it described as being in overtime right now. This could be a nine overtime game and we’re at the point where no one can score a two-point conversion.”
Well, the 10 commissioners and Swarbrick had better find the right game and work together to fix the AQ problem. The next meeting will be the eighth.
“We have fixed some of the problems,” Bowlsby said. “There are many large enough left that we have a lot of work to do.”
This was still a disappointment, and that was reflected in his tone. He came out of that group of reporters and someone yelled, “Happy birthday, Bob.”
Bowlsby shook his head and walked away.
He didn’t seem happy at all.