SEC Wants No Automatic Bids For College Football Playoff
No auto bids is bad for college football
An expanded playoff might have chosen sides
A few months ago, college football fans rejoiced when an expanded playoff was announced and for once it was basically universally received.
That model was a 12-team field that allowed the top-six conference champions to get in, the six at-large would be the highest-rated teams left, and then the conference champions get a bye to the quarterfinals.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson was part of that deal with three others to present models, and he fought hard for the six highest-rated conference champions over just giving automatic bids to power leagues.
“I fought for two years in that room — biased — to get to the six and six, represented 60-some institutions, and so I’m not willing to just walk away and give that up,” Thompson said back in January. “And on the same note, what has qualified certain other conference champions to be guaranteed a spot that if they haven’t accomplished it in six, seven years, why do they deserve that guaranteed access? Just because they won that league?”
That model would have been ideal because it basically guaranteed the Power 5 leagues — at least those conferences as they were constructed pre UCLA and USC going to the Big Ten.
Only twice since 1998 has a power conference team been outside of the top six conference champions. Those years were very unique. The first was in 2011 when the Pac-10 went to the Pac-12 adding Utah and Colorado, the SEC adding a few schools, plus Nebraska and others going to the Big Ten.
That year, the Big East/AAC had an auto bid and were outside the top six, the other year was in 2020 during the COVID-19 season and the Pac-12 was outside that threshold.
The two years it happened, were very rare and do to unique situations. That makes it odd that new Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was dead set on automatic bids for power conferences.
“It’s just very important that we have the automatic qualifiers for the five conferences,” Warren said. “It’s just the demands of the schedule … and I strongly believe that if you are crowned the Big Ten champion, that you should have an opportunity to participate for a national championship. … I feel strongly about that as I stand here today.”
Back in January, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was in favor of this 12-team format as he was part of the four-person group that included Thompson, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick.
At the time, he realized having a very exclusive playoff that at times featured multiple SEC teams was not good for the sport.
“We all have a responsibility to make sure college football is strong across the nation…even though a four team playoff works for us, creating opportunities is a compelling reason to give a little bit.”
-SEC Commissioner @GregSankey
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) January 5, 2022
Sankey was basically throwing the rest of college football a bone because he knows that college football is better if there is a playoff path for leagues that usually are shut out after the first few weeks.
However, that fake alliance between the Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC blocked this move to go to 12 allowing the four-team model to continue and Sankey to go all-in on the SEC.
Sankey knows he has power in the room and that a four-team model has worked perfectly fine for him and his league. Expanding likely would get more teams from the SEC in the field, but a larger field also means more chances to lose.
Which is why Sankey at SEC media days is digging in and now saying maybe there shouldn’t be any automatic bids for whatever the next version of the College Football Playoff looks like.
“If we are going to go back to square one then we are going to take a step back from the model that was introduced and rethink the approach,” Sankey said. “[We’ll consider the] number of teams. [And] whether there should be any guarantee for conference champions at all. Just earn your way in.”
Sankey was fine before and liked the plan as a compromise as he saw that going six automatic bids to the best conferences would always mean his team and the power leagues would have a spot 99% of the time. The six at-large bids likely would have allowed the SEC to get additional teams into the field.
The landscape has changed with the Big Ten getting bigger, but Sankey’s comments about not expanding or ditching automatic bids is not really all that new.
Now, he seems to be in preservation mode and going with an invitational over a playoff where a committee picks teams will likely help the SEC get possibly get at least four teams in a 12-team field.
That is not good for college football. Teams that are eliminated early on or even before the season is not good. Give teams to fight for something and earn a playoff spot would make a random Washington State vs. Stanford game more meaningful if that winner would clinch a spot in their conference title game.
This would make all of the conference title games more interesting as well and even in the Group of Five level where they know the best champ gets in and if there are multiple really good teams, possibly even snag one of the six at-large berths.
Keeping it at just a committee selecting the teams likely will favor the power leagues. It took Cincinnati a two-year run to make the playoff for a group of people to choose the Bearcats.
Then there is the possibility it might just stay at four teams which would be a really bad scenario not just for the Mountain West schools but all of college football. The new Big Two of the SEC and Big Ten could legitimately take all four spots and push people away from the sport.
To keep the sport healthy and growing, the playoff must at the very least go to 12 teams and have some form of automatic bids for conference champions.
Perhaps an option to have it both ways is to have a cut-off ranking for the automatic bids for conference champions. Make sure any conference champion is in the top 20, and choose the highest five or six rated league champions from that group. That gives more teams an option to get in and provides some flexibility if there is an upset in the title game.
No one wants the sport to be smaller with fewer teams playing for a title. The playoff should have some automatic bids to keep more fans interesting. Wouldn’t it have been fun to see if old Boise State, TCU, or Utah teams that made a BCS game also get a shot at the playoff as a No. 9 seed and win a few games to create more interest? Or someone new like last year’s Pitt team with Kenny Pickett slinging the ball to Jordan Addison?
College football is at its best when more people are watching big games and the real name of the game is making as much money as possible. So, more people that watch the sport equals more money, and one way to help with that is to allow more teams to be involved and it won’t water down the playoff field if league champions get a bid to the playoff.