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For CFP Expansion Impasse to Pass, Warring Conferences Need to Make Peace

Shortsightedness and petty disputes have caused an unnecessary halt to the improvement of the worst postseason in sports.
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At the end of my colleague Ross Dellenger’s story setting up the College Football Playoff Management Committee meeting on Wednesday, an anonymous official involved in the proceedings said, “If this all falls apart, we’re going to get hammered publicly.” After they punted for the time being on expansion, I’m reaching into my toolbox to commence the bashing.

The warring crime families that are the FBS conferences must stop the bickering, stop the backstabbing, stop the posturing, stop the kowtowing to the bowls, stop the every-league-for-itself greed, stop the shortsightedness, stop the obfuscation and overcomplication. On the cusp of an improved playoff, they backed away. Now they need to regroup and push it through for the betterment of the sport as a whole and the fans who pay the freight.

Get over your rich and shifty selves. Come together and deliver an expanded playoff sooner, not later. If you can’t, you should all be thrown in the Dr. Pepper Fansville jail by sheriff Brian Bosworth and forced to watch re-runs of UConn games.

In June, a committee designated to study alternatives to the current four-team model delivered a proposal for a 12-team fandango. Brimming with good ideas (on-campus games) and good intentions (Group of 5 inclusion) but not without issues (how many games are too many), it was met with mostly positive reviews. That was notable in an industry that tends to hate the concept of radical change.

In retrospect, it was all too easy. We should have suspected, then and there, that the people in charge of the worst postseason in sports would screw it up on the way to delivery. College football is the auto repair shop that is still waiting on parts two weeks after your car was supposed to be ready. We’re left to fume, but there isn’t much else we can do.

Remember: it only took 145 years to deliver a four-team playoff. The Great Pyramid of Giza, built in ancient times, was a 20-year job.

The 11-person management committee had “a great meeting” in Dallas, according to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. “One of the best we’ve had,” he said, lauding the candor in the room. Others who were involved agreed. There certainly was a lot that required brass-tacks discussion.

This was the first opportunity for all the power brokers to get together face-to-face since the latest realignment spasm shook the sport. The Southeastern Conference shockingly adding Texas and Oklahoma as future members in July was such an aggressive event that it sent everyone scurrying back into their foxholes to consider the ramifications, then to come out with bayonets fixed. There are deep and abiding trust issues here.

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The Wednesday discussion only lasted three hours, so the Festivus Airing of Grievances had to be kept in check when it could have gone on for days—the Big 12 venting at the Southeastern Conference, the American venting at the Big 12, the Mountain West venting at the American, as trickle-down conference raiding progresses. Mostly, the commissioners had to discuss the pros and cons of more postseason games and a longer playoff and cold-weather football and whether ESPN can continue to hog the whole playoff.

And the dumbest consideration of them all: the sunset in Southern California.

The Rose Bowl, bless its antiquated and arrogant heart, would stand in front of world peace and a cure for COVID-19 if those things somehow necessitated moving the game off New Year’s Day at 5 p.m. Eastern. I am not anti-sunset—in a vacuum, the Rose Bowl golden hour is always one of the best things about bowl season—but allowing it to be the granddaddy of all flies in the expanded playoff ointment because it must be played at a certain time on a certain date is forehead-slapping stupidity. And the conferences that continue to carry water for that game and other bowl interests are accomplices in keeping college football from having the best postseason it can and should have.

If the Rose Bowl demands its time and date, fine. Let it be one of four New Year’s Day quarterfinal games in a 12-team playoff that has an opening round played at campus sites (no matter the weather). Let other bowls—if they must be involved—take the semifinals. If that’s not good enough for the Rose Bowl folks, tell them to enjoy their parade and freeze them out of the playoff altogether. They can keep company with the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and the Cheez-It Bowl as part of the ESPN white noise of holiday programming.

Of all people who should recognize this and leap to the largest feasible playoff model, it’s new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff. A plan that offers 12 playoff slots, including six guaranteed for the highest-ranked conference champions, is the blast of oxygen his wheezing league needs. But Kliavkoff has been slow to come around, with some involved individuals pointing to him as one of the big sticking points to a 12-team model that doesn’t bow down to the Rose Bowl.

It’s possible that much of the current impasse between the warring crime families is brinksmanship, with an end goal of leveraging ESPN out of its playoff broadcast monopoly. If Fox and/or others step up to diversify the media rights to the CFP, that’s good for just about everybody. And if everyone can come together after that, fine. “We got a better feel for the issues, and I think we can deal with them,” said one source.

While an expanded playoff still seems likely, it’s not imminent. More meetings are scheduled for next week in Chicago, but nothing final is going to be decided there. This will linger on, good ideas and good intentions stuck on a rack in the auto body shop, parts still on order, all of us fuming and waiting for the keys to a better postseason.

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