Despite Voting Against CFP Expansion, Big Ten Officials Publicly Reverse Position

After voting to end a proposal in February to increase the CFP field for four to 12 teams, Big Ten commissioner says he wants expansion, but on his terms.

By Matt Stevens - IlliniGuys Football Writer/Analyst

August 4, 2022

(Cover photo courtesy Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

INDIANAPOLIS -- While contradicting a vote from just seven months ago to terminate a proposal to expand the playoff field in college football, Big Ten Conference officials are now publicly very much in favor of the notion.

During his question-and-answer portion of his address at the league’s media day at Lucas Oil Stadium, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren stated on July 26 he was “I'm 100 percent supportive of College Football Playoff expansion”. However, it was Warren, along with two other Power Five Conference commissioners, who voted in February against a proposal by a sub-group of College Football Playoff's management committee to change the current four-team format to a 12-team event.

“I'm 100 percent supportive of College Football Playoff expansion,” Warren said. “I'm excited that we now will have some new members in the room who will have very creative ideas…We have meetings coming up in September and October to talk about these issues.”

This bold, declarative statement may have come as a surprise or simply taken a cynical about-face position to Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey after he was part of the committee subgroup back in February that spent over two years creating the 12-team format.

“There are 1,000 football players roughly from eight teams that could have been part of a national championship, and I think they all would hunger for that opportunity," Sankey told ESPN in February when the proposal couldn’t get unanimous approval needed to be implemented. “Yet they won't be."

The four members of the working group was Sankey, then-Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson, and Notre Dame athletics Director Jack Swarbrick.

And there begins the contention as far as Warren and Big Ten officials currently see it.

The reversal of position from February to now comes from two issues surrounding the format of a future CFP system: 1) A dispute over representation involved in a future playoff format and 2) The format of how many teams the field will have and the qualification criteria.

College Football Playoff board chair Mark Keenum, who currently serves as Mississippi State University president, confirmed to multiple national media outlets in February that the 12-team expansion proposal vote was 8–3 and the three "no" votes were the commissioners of Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac 12 Conference.

“Here is my reaction to the playoff talk. I wasn’t in favor of 12 because I didn’t like that we didn’t have any say when they came out with that recommendation,” Barry Alvarez said on July 26.

Alvarez, the former Wisconsin head football coach and athletics director, was named Big Ten special advisor for football in Aug. 2021 shortly after retiring from his UW athletics director post.

It should come as no surprise that the three no votes came from the three conference commissioners who just a few months earlier created ‘The Alliance’. ‘The Alliance’ was supposed to be an informal allegiance of support between the three power leagues and the 41 universities despite ACC commissioner Jim Phillips confirming in the introductory media conference in Aug. 2021 that no signed documents or contracts existed in the pact.

Needless to say, after the University of Southern California and UCLA announced their official intention to leave the Pac 12 for the Big Ten starting in 2024, any unofficial association between the three conferences has ceased to exist.

When Sports Illustrated reporter Ross Dellenger asked Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff on July 29 whether ‘The Alliance’ would continue, Kliavkoff responded with a clear-cut, one-word answer of “No.”

“It’s clear that UCLA and USC made a decision for short-term financial gain at the expense of their student-athletes,” Kliavkoff told The Athletic on Friday. “It’s 100 percent clear to me. It’s really unfortunate, and I think they are already regretting it, given the pushback that they’ve gotten from almost every corner of their communities. I think they will regret it more as time goes on.”

And with the trust and confidence of the informal coalition all but a distant memory, Warren used the platform of his league’s media days to begin public declarations that his soon-to-be commanding league was in favor of a bigger tournament to decide the sport’s national championship.

Warren even went as far as to point out new Big 12 Conference commissioner Brett Yormark as a “marketing wizard” and somebody he hopes can be an ally in future playoff expansion discussions.

“I'm excited that we now will have some new members in the room who will have very creative ideas. Even in the Big Ten Conference, our new presidential representative will be Dr. Kristina Johnson, the president at the Ohio State University, who she was a student-athlete herself at Stanford. She's a businesswoman, has over a hundred patents from a business standpoint, incredible leader,” Warren said. “Then we have a new commissioner, Brett Yormark, in the Big 12 Conference…Brett is a marketing wizard, very innovative. So I'm excited.”

As far the bracket format itself, Warren allowed news to leak to national outlets that his interest likely begins in a 16-team model.

“The fact is, I can live with 16. I can live with 12. I can live with eight. We just need to have more than four," said Alvarez. “I think we need more access. College football needs more access to the playoffs. People need more opportunity. It used to be, when it was just two, that every game was important. Now, you still see people lose interest when someone loses a game early because well, they're out of the playoff.”

The CFP contract ends after the 2024 season and Keenum has said he feels the process needs to be finalized by May 2023 in order to begin the planning for regular season schedules, bowl schedules, TV schedules and sites for the CFP games.

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