No college football playoffs auto betting? Greg Sankey sends a message that should scare everyone but the SEC, Big Ten


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Back in January, the day his two schools (Georgia and Alabama) were due to compete for the national championship again, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey took the final step to create a new college football playoff.

12 teams took part in it. The field will consist of six guaranteed bids for the top six conference champions, plus another six selected by the committee. The top four champions will receive a bye in the first round. First round games will be played on the campus of the higher seeded team, the rest will be played at neutral venues, mostly traditional bowl games.

With the current four-team CFP model expiring after the 2026 season, it was a fair, exciting, fair and highly lucrative option for the future.

It was supposed to not only cost $1 billion in media rights in the future, but also provide television value and competitive prominence to every major conference, and even help the minor leagues. Likewise, it would turn major conference title games into hugely valuable de facto playoff games.

It has been a lifeline for certain leagues and sports in general.

However, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 formed the so-called “Alliance” to block it, confusing and insulting Sledgey and others who were working on the plan (Bob Bolsby of the Big 12, Craig Thompson of Mountain West and Jack Swarbrick Notre Dame).

Six months later, the Big Ten blew up the alliance by raiding the Pac-12 on behalf of USC and UCLA.

At this point, ACC and Pac-12 will be crawling over embers to bring the 12-team Sledge model back to the table.

As the two leagues grapple with how to get more out of the upcoming media rights talks and position themselves as equals to the SEC and the Big Ten, they can only berate themselves for not taking the proposed golden goose. Because this deal, or any deal even remotely beneficial to them, may never come back.

Sankey said on Monday that there is “no need” for the SEC to add more teams and destabilize other conferences. However, he made it clear that when it comes to the future of the playoffs, what was once on the table is now forgotten. It’s a whole new world.

“If we are going to go back to square one, we are going to take a step back from the model presented and rethink the approach,” he said.

The old plan was a compromise. This created a bigger, more eventful playoff, allowing access to the conference champions without reducing the number of expanded teams.

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks at SEC Media Days Monday in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Under the current four-team model, all four teams are chosen at large. A move to eight, but an automatic bet on five or six conference champions meant fewer seats at large. So 12, with six guaranteed and six open, was the way forward.

“[It] was a really good balancing act,” Sankey said.

However, it was rejected, at least in part, because the ACC and Pac-12 made a terrible miscalculation that they could trust the Big Ten and that guaranteed offers would always be available in future plans.

Now that the SEC and the Big Ten have clearly established themselves as the two big dogs of the future, there is no longer a competitive balance between conferences.

“Things have changed,” Sankey said.

This should scare everyone but the SEC or the Big Ten. A new playoff is approaching, but every league’s chances of making it into it, or cashing in on the media rights that automatic bidding would provide, are in a precarious position.

The SEC and the Big Ten don’t need to expand their membership to stifle other leagues. The bigger playoffs and the credibility of multiple teams participating year after year (plus the income that comes with it) could slowly do that for them.

The SEC and the Big Ten can now offer an eight-team bidding model that can easily be combined annually with five, six, or even seven schools from those two conferences. If the criterion for overall consideration is, say, schedule strength, then other leagues with fewer powerful programs will struggle for a steep hill just to qualify.

In particular, Pac-12 should have foreseen this. Under the current system, he didn’t have a wide selection for five seasons. Despite this, he voted against the establishment of at least one school each year.

“[We’ll consider the] number of teams,” Sankey said. “[And] whether there should be any guarantees for conference champions at all. Just earn your way.”

No auto bids? Just to make your way?

“There is something healthy about it in terms of competition, and it increases expectations and support for programs,” Sankey said.

In terms of creating the most competitive field for the playoffs, he’s not necessarily wrong, though leaving everything up to policy and committee perception isn’t ideal.

However, this will come at the cost of the long-term viability of non-SEC/Big Ten leagues, not to mention sports in general. The uneven balance in recruiting and income will only widen.

Back in January, one league (or Notre Dame) could veto a new playoff plan. Any change to the four-team model during its current 12-year commitment must be unanimous. However, this deal ends in 2026. There is no flashing.

A new playoff must be created, and for this the SEC and the Big Ten, by virtue of their national competitiveness, will lead the discussion. Everyone else will have to go along. There are no more equal partners.

On Monday, Greg Sankey wondered aloud whether guaranteed access was needed.

If the ACC and Pac-12 didn’t listen to him back in January when he offered them the lifeline they foolishly discarded, they better listen now because the alarm bells are ringing.

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