With college football stuck in realignment chaos, CFP committee punts on playoff changes

Pac-12 commish George Kliavkoff makes first public appearance since conference's collapse

DALLAS — His bag slung over his shoulder and his strides long, George Kliavkoff briskly moved through the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, quickly passing a group of reporters before darting up an escalator to the airport above.

“I’m running to catch a flight!” he said through a smile. “I’m focused on this year and on us winning a national championship! See you guys!”

As quickly as he appeared, he was gone.

Kliavkoff’s first public appearance since his league began to splinter was nothing more than a flash in the pan. The Pac-12 commissioner burst from a room in which conference commissioners met for six hours Wednesday to discuss the expanded playoff. There is “nothing new” to discuss as it relates to the Pac-12’s future, he said before shuffling up the escalator and disappearing from view.

Lingering like a dark cloud over the industry, the Pac-12’s uncertain future delayed any significant decisions or discussion at Wednesday’s meeting of College Football Playoff leaders.

Will the Pac-12 even exist?

Is the ACC acquiring Stanford and Cal?

How many FBS conferences will there be when the 2024 football season begins?

“We have to have some clarity,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who chaired the meeting of commissioners. “We don’t have full clarity right now. … You’ve got to consider circumstances have changed. I want to see what the circumstances are at some point.”

Though decisions were not made, there exists alignment in a possible format change to the expanded playoff: the 5+7 model.

In this scenario, the 2024 and 2025 expanded playoffs will remain a 12-team event but its qualifying figures will change. Instead of six automatic qualifying spots for the six highest-ranked conference champions, there would be five. Instead of six at-large berths for the next six highest-ranked teams, there would be seven at-large berths.

Such a model preserves at least one spot for a Group of Five champion and honors what MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher describes as the “bedrock principle” of the expanded playoff: the value of conference champions.

What will the College Football Playoff look like in 2024 and beyond? It remains to be seen. (AP)
What will the College Football Playoff look like in 2024 and beyond? It remains to be seen. (AP)

“It’s important that is continued as we move forward,” Steinbrecher said Wednesday. “Depending on how many conferences we have, you can have conversations of numbers of champions and at-larges. I felt good coming out of that conversation.”

Any format change was only briefly discussed during meetings. This was a previously scheduled gathering — slated well before the current realignment wave began — in which commissioners were expected to finalize details of the 2024 and 2025 expanded postseason.

They accomplished some things. For one, they approved to continue providing a $3,000 travel stipend to the families of each player participating in the CFP. They hired a company, Collegiate Sports Travel, to assist in lodging logistics for the four on-campus first-round games.

They also met in executive session for more than an hour discussing the search for Bill Hancock’s replacement. Hancock is retiring. Commissioners are expected to choose a search firm by the end of next month, the first real step in a process that is expected to move quickly.

Hancock described Wednesday’s meeting as productive and “cordial,” an interesting note given the circumstances. Commissioners gathered as realignment is shaking the sport. Still, there are uncertain aftershocks ahead:

  • The ACC is pursuing Stanford, Cal and SMU as possible new members. The league’s presidents were scheduled to meet Monday night and potentially vote before a fatal shooting on North Carolina’s campus postponed the meeting. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, whose school has one of 15 ACC votes and who sits on the CFP committee, says he’s unsure when the presidents’ meeting will be rescheduled. The expansion decision “is at the presidential level,” he said. Notre Dame has supported the expansion proposal. ACC commissioner Jim Phillips did not attend Wednesday’s meeting in person. He participated through video and, no, said Hancock, he did not discuss the ACC’s expansion situation with his fellow commissioners.

  • AAC commissioner Mike Aresco and Mountain West commissioner Gloria Nevarez are pursuing Oregon State and Washington State as expansion members. Nevarez has already appeared before officials at both schools for an expansion presentation. Aresco says the league continues to “evaluate” the addition of Oregon State and Washington State and that more discussion is needed with his league members to ascertain whether there is enough support for the measure. He will still “probably” visit both school campuses for a presentation, as previously planned.

  • Aresco says his league has “contingency” plans if SMU were to leave the American for the ACC. The league doesn’t have to add a replacement and can play with an odd number of teams, he said. However, the AAC has vetted several expansion options. Aresco declined to reveal those programs, though Army is thought to be a favorable target.

Aside from realignment, the format change is of the most interest. Commissioners are expected to begin meeting monthly over changes to the format and other measures that Yahoo Sports detailed earlier this month.

Any change to the format for the 2024 and 2025 playoffs — for now the 6+6 format — requires a unanimous vote among the CFP Board of Managers, made up of one school president from each of the 10 FBS leagues as well as Notre Dame’s president.

Any adjustment to a format that excludes automatic qualifiers would likely eliminate any Group of Five team from advancing to the CFP. A best-of-12 format, for instance, will receive pushback from a host of commissioners, most notably Aresco.

“The access is critical and that’s going to be our mindset,” he said Wednesday.

No decision is expected until “the dust settles” on conference realignment, Hancock said.

No one — especially Kliavkoff — knows the answer to that.