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Wanting ‘college football to be strong nationally,’ SEC commissioner Greg Sankey optimistic about expanding playoffs

Although his league has won 12 of the last 16 national championships, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said one of the most important elements of an expanded 12-team college football playoff would help the sport not also be regionalized.

“My perspective is how do we get more people in November, including in our league,” Sankey told ESPN. “Our league would be fine, even at 16 teams with a four-team playoff. At 14, we took half the court a few times. Nobody else did. When we go to 16 and add the Texas and Oklahoma, we’re not going to have fewer opportunities by adding those two, we’re going to have more.

“But we’ve ruled out the west coast and anything west of the Rockies for almost two years. We want college football to be strong nationally, and I think that’s the responsibility we we all have.”

Sankey was a member of the College Football Playoff task force, and after another wave of realignment in August that included USC and UCLA moving from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten, there is renewed pressure to accelerate the proposed 12-team playoffs for the 2024 season. Currently, the four-team format remains in place until the end of the 12-year television contract that spans the 2025 season.

Since the advent of the college football playoffs in 2014, Oregon (2014) and Washington (2017) are the only two Pac-12 teams to make the playoffs. By contrast, at least one SEC team has appeared in all eight playoffs. Alabama and Georgia have met twice in the championship game — in 2017, with Alabama winning 26-23 in overtime, and last season, with Georgia winning 33-18.

“I’m fine if we win the championship every year, but we have a responsibility to think about the game from a broader perspective,” Sankey said. “I want to win and I’m not going to apologize for it, but I’m also going to challenge myself and us collectively to think about the bigger picture.”

Sankey acknowledged that expanding the field doesn’t necessarily mean more teams will win championships. During the CFP era, Alabama won three titles, Clemson two titles, Georgia one title, LSU one title, and Ohio State one title.

“But the beauty of going to 12 is you could have up to 40 teams with a chance to make the playoffs in November,” Sankey said.

Sankey said the main obstacles to expanding the expansion to 2024 remain alignment of bowl dates, campus involvement, television network interaction, not clashing with the NFL and not extend the playoffs 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.

“What’s unfortunate for me is that instead of reviewing these issues over the past year, people have just said, ‘No,’ so now we’re trying to move things forward,” Sankey said.

“All of a sudden things magically changed. I still think it’s doable, but people have to come to the table.”

When asked if he was more confident than he was a year ago that the playoff expansion could be accelerated, Sankey joked: “After last year, I don’t use not much the word ‘confident’.”

Sankey pointed out that the SEC has been on board with the expansion all along.

“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’ve been complaining from every corner but ours about the expansion, whether it’s at the commissioner level or the chair of the board, every corner of the world of football except ours,” Sankey said. we worked through a process, understanding that people wanted an expansion, and then you’re told to come up with a model as a working group. We did exactly what was asked and tried not to be like ‘We can’t do this’. We can’t do that.'”

And, now — after an overhaul of the college football landscape with an expansion into the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC — the sport is back to that same model, which includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large. . teams.

“I guess the motivation changed over the summer,” Sankey said.

Sankey said the SEC would be okay with what he called “no conference-directed access” to the playoffs, but also understands the value of conference championships and was willing to compromise.

“If you’re the sixth-best conference or the seventh-best conference and it’s tight and you have three or four teams vying for a championship in each, all of a sudden it’s 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 hadn’t even met as a subgroup yet, and Doug called me up and was like, ‘Hey, it’s gotta be 12 teams,'” Sankey recounted. “I was shocked because I didn’t tell people that I thought 12 teams was the number, the right structure. Not everyone will agree, but Doug kind of reaffirmed what I thought, that we had to think beyond what was there, it was six or eight teams at that time.”

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