SEC’s Greg Sankey doesn’t think realignment moves have stalled playoff expansion talks

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The College Football Playoff management committee meets Wednesday in Dallas to continue discussions over the expansion of the current postseason model.

The group, which is composed of the 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, has been gathering information on a proposal submitted by a working group in June to expand the format from a four-team model to 12 teams.

But after an initial groundswell of enthusiasm for the move, momentum behind a change suddenly has slowed, particularly after Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving the Big 12 Conference to join the SEC in 2025. That move led to the Big Ten, Pac-12, and ACC forming an alliance, with hopes of strengthening their overall position in the college landscape.

The defection of Texas and Oklahoma led to the Big 12 extending membership offers to BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.

With another wave of conference realignment in full swing, support behind expanding the playoff to 12 teams seems to have dwindled.

West Virginia president Gordon Gee said he believed the 12-team model is on “life-support” after the recent moves by the SEC. Gee, who is also a member of the College Football Playoff board of managers, said he wouldn’t vote on such a move and he believes other members from the Big Ten and Pac-12 won’t vote for the plan either.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey doesn’t believe the momentum for the 12-team expansion has stalled.

“No. There are plenty of people who criticize and I can’t respond to every Power Five AD. I’m comfortable with the process,” Sankey told the Orlando Sentinel Saturday. “The ghost in the room is somehow these membership transitions and playoff format are entangled. They’re not. We can stay at four [teams]. I can go to 16 [SEC] teams and stay at four truly. This is about looking at the big picture of college football.”

Sankey was one of four members of the subcommittee that put forth the 12-team expansion proposal in June.

“The task was to put our conference logos aside and think about football,” he added. “My first statement was four [teams] have worked, are working, and will continue to work. But I’ll participate in the conversation.

“My sense from my colleagues is there’s an expectation for conference champion access; we don’t have that. You can’t provide conference-championship access and minimize the potential for the best teams to participate. Those are not always mutually exclusive.”

The current proposal calls for six spots reserved for conference champions, with the four highest-ranked conference champions receiving first-round byes. The remaining eight teams would wind up facing each other in quarterfinal games on campus sites.

Having spots for six conference champions means better access for those conferences outside of the Power Five leagues. But it also opens the door for having some higher-ranked teams being left out of the mix in order to accommodate a Group of Five team.

“You’re going to put the 20th-ranked team in and leave out the seventh-ranked team. I don’t think that’s a sustainable model,” Sankey said. “That was the kind of conversation the format subcommittee had, not hypotheticals about conference membership change.”

Sankey said he never believed when the 12-team model was first presented that it would move forward quickly.

“There’s a lot of complexities to this, and membership transition is a piece but I don’t think it would determine it,” he added.

But he’s never been shy in sharing his thoughts that the current four-team model has worked for his conference.

SEC teams have made eight appearances in the seven years of the playoff, with seven appearances in the national championship games.

“I’ll stay with four if that’s what people want,” said Sankey. “The four best teams have worked. Now it’s left people out. We’ve had the fifth-ranked team several times — our student-athletes, when I asked them, said, ‘I would play an extra game to have access to that national championship format.’ ”

But that doesn’t mean that Sankey is against expansion. He’s spent time discussing the impact of expansion with Tennessee athletics director Danny White, who campaigned for expansion when he was the AD at UCF.

“I’ve had a couple of visits just about that experience and to address expansion,” Sankey added.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Matt Murschel at mmurschel@orlandosentinel.com or follow him on Twitter at @osmattmurschel.

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