Sankey: New CFP makes game ‘strong nationally’

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7: 41 PM ET

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    Chris LowESPN Senior Writer

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    • College football reporter
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
    • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

Despite his league winning 12 of the last 16 national championships, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said one of the most important components of an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff would be helping the sport not to be so regionalized. Sankey stated that his view was “how do you bring more people to November, including in our League.” “Our league would be fine, even at 16 teams with a four-team playoff. At 14, we’ve taken half the field a couple of times. This feat has never been done before. When we go to 16 and add Texas and Oklahoma, we’re not going to have less opportunity by adding those two. We’ll have more. We’re going to have more. But, we’ve excluded all of the West Coast and anything west of the Rockies for every year except two. We want college football strong nationally and that’s our responsibility. “

Sankey was a member of the College Football Playoff working group, and after another wave of realignment in August that included USC and UCLA moving from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, there is a renewed push to expedite the proposed 12-team playoff to the 2024 season. Currently, the four-team format remains in place through the end of the 12-year television contract that runs through the 2025 season.

Since the advent of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Oregon (2014) and Washington (2017) are the only two Pac-12 teams to make the playoff. At least one SEC team has been in every eight playoffs. Alabama and Georgia have faced off in the championship game two times — in 2017, with Alabama winning 26-23 in overtime, and last season, with Georgia winning 33-18. Sankey stated that while it is fine for us to win the championship every year we have to look at the game from a larger perspective. “I want to win, and I don’t intend to apologize for that. But, I’m also going challenge myself and others to see the bigger picture. “

Sankey acknowledged the fact that increasing the field does not necessarily mean more teams will win championships. Alabama won three titles during the CFP era. Clemson has two titles, Georgia one title. LSU one title. Ohio State one title.

“But the beauty of going to 12 is you could have as many as 40 teams with a chance to get into the playoff entering November,” Sankey said.

Sankey said the main obstacles in moving up expansion to 2024 remain lining up bowl dates, campus involvement, interaction of TV networks, not bumping up against the NFL and not extending the playoff too far into January. He remains frustrated that the current 12-team proposal is the same one that was first revealed in June 2021 but opposed by the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12.

” The unfortunate part for me is that instead of walking through these issues over the past year, people just said “No”, so now we’re trying move it along,” Sankey stated.

” All of a sudden things changed. It’s possible, but it takes people to join the table. Sankey joked that he is less confident now than he was last year about the possibility of playoff expansion being expedited. “

Sankey said that the SEC was always open to expansion.

“Go back to 2019 in Santa Clara [site of the national title game to cap the 2018 season], the presidents said they were going to control the decision, but you had clamoring from every corner but ours about expansion, either at the commissioner or presidential level on the board, every corner of the football universe but ours,” Sankey said. After understanding the needs of the people, we went through a process and were then asked to present a model to the working group. We did exactly what was asked, but we tried not to get into the ‘We can’t do that’ trap. We can’t do this. ‘”

And, now — after an overhauling of the college football landscape with expansion in the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC — the sport is right back to that same model, which includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams. Sankey stated that motivation has changed over the summer.

Sankey stated that the SEC would be happy with “no conference-directed acces” to the playoff. However, he also acknowledged the importance of conference championships and was open to compromise.

“If you’re the sixth best conference or seventh best conference and it’s close and you’ve got three or four teams vying for a championship in each, that’s all of a sudden 20 teams that have an opportunity, which is good for the sport,” Sankey said.

Sankey said former Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey was the first person to mention to him that 12 teams was the right number when they spoke at a Gator Bowl Hall of Fame function in January 2020.

“We had not even met yet as a subgroup, and Doug calls me over and says, ‘Hey, it needs to be 12 teams,'” Sankey recounted. “I was shocked because I hadn’t told people I thought 12 teams was the number, the right structure. Doug kind of confirmed what I was thinking. We needed to think beyond what was available at that time, which was six to eight teams. “

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