Will Commissioners Cost Schools Billions By Delaying Playoff Expansion

CFP National Championship

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Monday was supposed to be a big day in college football. Just three months ago we were all giddy when news broke that a select group of college football leaders were recommending the College Football Playoff expand to 12 teams. We celebrated the idea and started coming up with the format, who got automatic bids and where the games would be played. Then media industry people added how much an expanded playoff would be worth. And then it all came to a crashing halt. 

The day a reporter in Hoover, Alabama at the SEC Media event posted a story that Texas and Oklahoma were headed to the SEC things changed. Many wondered if the news was true and quickly we learned it was and then egos were bruised. Suddenly whispers became loud voices about tapping the brakes on any idea to expand the playoff. Suddenly we cared about one conference getting too many teams in, how long the season would be, the health of players and impacting the spring semester academic schedule. Really?

CBS' Dennis Dodd details why there seems to be enough support to delay a scheduled meeting next week of the College Football Board of Managers. But how did we get here?

Just three months ago it appeared everyone was on board. Commissioners openly talked about it being the right time to grow the field of four. There appeared to be an agreement that the top G5 team deserved a spot in an expanded field. And everyone started counting the cash. Ahh, the money. We will get to that in a moment. But is this really about bruised feelings? Did Greg Sankey's business decision, whether he acted with ESPN or alone, to add two major brands upset the other P5 conference commissioners that are willing to dig in the sand and not move forward expanding the playoff? Apparently so.

If the ACC, Big Ten or Pac 12 could have gotten Oklahoma and Texas, does anyone believe they would have passed up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? And the Big XII certainly would have preferred to keep the Sooners and Longhorns. So now we want to show how angry we are at Greg Sankey and cancel the party?

We are worried about a 17-game schedule for two teams? Not 130 teams, two teams? Does anyone remember the medical studies done before we got a four-team playoff? Of course you don't remember reading it. And you won't remember reading the medical study on a 12-team playoff either. Are we suddenly concerned about the playoff impacting the academic schedule in the spring? Stop it!

Let's get to the money part of this because it always comes down to money. Currently each P5 conference gets $66M to divide money among its members. Media industry experts predict a 12-team playoff could see revenue triple or more. That means about $200M per conference and possibly more. Back in June, everyone said the earliest we could have an expanded playoff would be in 2023. The current ESPN contract runs for five more years. Imagine being able to grow your money pot from $66M to $200M per year and make, what could be, an extra $250M-$375M for your conference but deciding to be stubborn and stick it to Greg Sankey.

The contract with ESPN is an obstacle. They have exclusive rights for the remaining five years and there is a sense among some in college football that ESPN has too much control over the game. MEMO TO ALL: THEY HAVE HAD CONTROL OVER THE GAME FOR MANY YEARS!!!!

But the thought is if the College Football Playoff, in an expanded form, could be offered on the open market and a new deal had multiple media partners that even more money could be made and if other companies could get a piece of the playoff they would spend more money during the regular season. I happen to agree with that. But you can also be creative now and be proactive.

Would ESPN be willing to pay for the additional games in an expanded model now? Would they really pass on more playoff games starting in 2023? I don't know but would think not. How much would they pay? I don't know. It's challenging financial times at ESPN but the cuts are not coming in college football. The network is all in on college football.

ESPN has no reason to let anyone out of the current playoff TV contract. But if the powers in college football want to squeeze as much money as they can they need to be creative and get to the table and start hammering out plans for the remaining five seasons of the current deal.

In a pandemic and post pandemic world, I don't know any athletic department that is content with its current revenue and would pass on a few more million or tens of millions. Whether we like it or not, money drives this game and TV is the means to that money. 

My guess is there will be no meeting next week and the conference commissioners, who need to be unanimous in voting for any change, will punt for a few months. Maybe some conference commissioners will feel like they are showing Greg Sankey he doesn't rule the game. It doesn't make sense. The SEC is expanding to 14 teams and if you think a 12-team playoff means the league will get four teams in every year, so what? It's not like the SEC stacks the selection committee. You know how many SEC people sit on the selection committee this season, next season and two years from now? One.

Tapping the brakes seems like a good idea to some. But good luck telling those ADs they don't need that extra money they could make. After all, some of those ADs need those millions for those coaching buyouts we all love...

Final thought: Why do we call it fall? The term applied to the current season dates back to the 1500s and came about because of the many leaves that fall to ground.

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