BILL HANCOCK: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you
for joining our call on rather short notice.
First, I want to thank the members of the working group for
their diligence over the past two years. They were delayed
by COVID, but they kept at it, and the result was the
recommendation that they presented today. We all owe
them a debt of gratitude. They’re with me today, Bob
Bowlsby, Greg Stankey, Craig Thompson and Jack
Today is an exciting day for college football fans. I do want
to caution you, per the release, that there’s much more
work to be done. There’s research to be done and many
conversations to be had, but the working group did present
its recommendation to the full management committee to
change the playoff from four teams to 12.
The four-team playoff has been a really big success since
it was created nine years ago, actually almost nine years
ago this week. And it remains a big success. It’s been
great for college football. We’ve been delighted with it.
But the presidents, our board asked the management
committee to review the CFP when we were six years in,
and the management committee has done just that.
This proposal at its heart was created to provide more
participation for more players and more schools. In a
nutshell, that is the working group’s message: More
Let me tell you what comes next and then we’ll be happy to
take your questions. This is just a proposal from a
subcommittee, and it’s a proposal that the subcommittee is
unified on and is very excited about. For the first time
today, they got to present their colleagues the entire
By the way, I’m going to call time out and say this is a good
time to remind you that the CFP management committee
that we talk about so much is the 10 conference
commissioners plus Jack Swarbrick.
But what’s next? Well, in the next few days, the 11
members of the management committee will discuss the
recommendation with people on campus, their
conferences, presidents, AD, coaches and
student-athletes. We want all their input.
The management committee will meet next week in
Chicago to decide whether or not to recommend this plan
or any other plan, frankly, to the presidents and
chancellors, the board of managers, 11 board of manager
members, and they are the people who will be in charge of
making the decisions.
If a favorable recommendation is made to those presidents
and chancellors they will receive the proposal at their
meeting on June 22 in Dallas, and if the presidents decide
to allow this proposal or any alternative proposal to be
considered, we anticipate that there would be a study
period over the summer to explore what we believe or what
we know to be many details that still remain to be worked
The earliest, and I repeat that, the earliest that any final
decision could be made by the board would be in
September. It certainly could be later, but the earliest is
So that’s it. We’re very excited about where we are,
couldn’t be happier with the working group’s work, what
they’ve done so far, and no matter what happens next,
college football will thrive, CFP will thrive, and frankly it’s
been heartening to see how many people care about this
great game that we all love so much.
We’ll be happy to take your questions.
Q. What are the implications for player safety here
with four teams playing 16 games and two playing 17?
JACK SWARBRICK: Well, I’ll take a first shot at that. One
of the things that was so attractive about the application of
the bye in this model was the positive impact it had in that
regard. When you add the bye to the fact that it’s unlikely
teams in the playoff will also play in a bowl game, that
means in the first round, a third of the teams or a third of
the total field of 12 will play the same number of games
they would have in a normal year with a bowl game.
The bye works so that the most any one of those teams
could play in addition would be one game.
The route to get to 17 in this model isn’t impossible, but
there have been a lot of things built in to make that highly
Q. Highly unlikely but still probable. What concerns
are there? Is this just take it as it comes?
JACK SWARBRICK: I’m not sure how it could be probable
because you’d have to assume to get to the maximum
number of games you played in a conference
championship, you still qualified for the playoffs in the first
round, and then as a 5 through 12 seed you ran the table.
Because remember, you’re netting out a bowl game you’re
Q. Jack, piggybacking off of that, you mentioned
about playoff teams playing potentially in a bowl game,
so is it possible that playoff teams that exit after the
first round could play in a bowl game?
JACK SWARBRICK: It’s not for the working group to
tackle that issue. My comment merely reflected the fact
purely from a scheduling perspective, regardless of what
might ultimately conferences might decide with regard to
their bowl games. There would be a real challenge in still
participating in the first round and finding a bowl spot.
Q. I’ll ask you specifically about Notre Dame. Two
questions: One, can Notre Dame qualify for a bye?
And two, if not, what are your thoughts on that?
JACK SWARBRICK: We cannot qualify for a bye. It’s
limited to the four highest ranked conference champions. I
look forward to never hearing again about how we played
one less game or don’t have a conference championship.
Q. Anyone in the working group, I was curious if
someone could speak to what 12 brings to the table
that an eight-team format does not.
GREG SANKEY: Well, I’ll offer some insight from one
perspective, and others have, no doubt, others.
My sense is there’s been an expectation for automatic
access. I don’t think automatic access works if you’re
reducing opportunities for those teams that are highly
ranked. In other words, going to eight and allocating a
certain number of AQs, thereby reducing effectively the
at-large numbers is not something that really resonated
from my perspective.
12 obviously finds a halfway point between those
conference champions that could have access, the six
best, and then six of the most highly rated teams. Now,
there’s going to be intersection between highly ranked
teams and conference champions, but ultimately that is
one of the opportunities that 12 presents.
I think it’s also important to note you’re going to have
teams that might be conference champions ranked outside
the 12, and one of the potential conversation points going
forward is that 12th ranked team not being a participant.
That seemed really difficult to do at eight. Not that it’s not
going to be problematic at 12, and when you look at
basketball, it’s problematic at 69 on the men’s side and 65
at the women’s side.
Overall the model presented some opportunities that
weren’t there with eight.
Q. I guess I could direct my question to the guys who
haven’t spoken yet to force them to have to. One very,
very short and simple one. When you talk about the
seeding not necessarily changing, that would mean 1
would always play the winner of 8-9. I just want to
make sure I clarify that.
GREG SANKEY: It’s going to be a standard bracket, 5-12,
6-11, so on, so forth, and they would — that would be the
only fair way to construct the bracket.
Q. So the winner of 8-9 plays the winner of 1, the
winner of 7-10 plays the winner of 2, not necessarily
the winner of 5-12 plays 1.
GREG SANKEY: Standard bracket.
Q. The other thing was the idea of having home
games, I think one of the things that’s jumped out at
people is oh, great home games for those first-round
games, but no home games for the highest ranked
teams. That seemed to be a bit imbalanced. Why such
dedication to keeping the bowls involved in this new
format if it comes to be?
CRAIG THOMPSON: I think certainly the history and the
commitment to bowls have made to the process and giving
them an opportunity to continue to be relevant in the
system. It’s something that, again, all these points are
going to have an opportunity to be discussed. These are
the recommendation of four people. There’s seven other
commissioners that will get to weigh in next week in
Chicago and then some, and ultimately the board will make
a determination. But simply to keep the bowl system in
some terms relevant and to recognize those people that
want to participate in the semifinals and quarters.
JACK SWARBRICK: I would add I think this model, in
conjunction with the bowls, gives college football an
opportunity to reassert ownership of New Year’s Eve and
New Year’s Day in a really powerful way. That’s such an
important part of the tradition of college football, and this
allows us to reassert that.
Q. The argument against a large playoff field for
decades has been the effect it would have on the
regular season, about the stakes of any individual
game, and obviously looking back at some past years
we can see that there will probably be three-loss teams
or maybe even more in this playoff. How did you guys
balance the effect that would have on the regular
season? And as people who have teams who play in
those high-stakes games in your conferences, what do
you envision the regular season will look like now if
it’s feeding into a 12-team playoff?
JACK SWARBRICK: I’ll take a first shot at that. One of the
things we were responding to was the concentration that’s
occurred. 78 1/2 percent of all the opportunities in the first
seven years have gone to five teams, not necessarily a
model that promotes the regular season.
When we did the analysis of this, one of the things that
jumped out was in the current model, in the last five years
— well, in four of the last five years, in the initial selection,
no one has moved further than from seventh to the Final
Four, which doesn’t promote the long-term interest over the
season that we might like.
Under this proposal, in every year — in two of the years
you’ve gone non-ranked opponents in the first Selection
Committee report — three, I’m sorry, three non-ranked
opponents that wind up playing in the playoff, and you’ve
got others — one, two, three, four — five ranked in the 20s
in the first poll that wind up in the playoffs.
We think that’s a model that keeps a lot more teams alive a
lot longer into the season and generates interest.
BOB BOWLSBY: I would add to that, I think this does just
the opposite. I think it creates energy in October and
November that we’ve actually spent some time talking
about what has the playoff done to the regular season.
And while it heightens the excitement for a very few teams,
it also makes it easy to say, well, they’re now out of
contention or they’re now out of contention.
The practical effect of this will be that with four or five
weeks to go in the season, there will be 25 or 30 teams
that have a legitimate claim and practical opportunity to
participate. That should make for an extraordinarily good
October and November.
GREG SANKEY: I’ll jump in, as well. I have felt as we’ve
looked at the College Football Playoff impact on the game,
we have to take a step back from the assertion that one
particular number does or does not impact the regular
Clearly an objective when the College Football Playoff was
implemented was making sure there was a strong regular
season, and I think Bob and Jack both illustrated a different
number, a number other than four isn’t necessarily
exclusive of a meaningful regular season. In fact, you can
bring teams in to more higher level of attention, a greater
opportunity for postseason access in the playoff.
That has, one could estimate, a positive impact on the
You know, we also — Nicole asked about 12. One of the
factors in my mind is I still think postseason football beyond
the playoff is important, and it’s impossible to know exactly
where that line might be. That’s whether it’s regular
season or even postseason. There’s not an absolute
drawn around any particular number for playoff teams.
I think 12 also allows there to still be bowl opportunities
that could be substantive for teams not in the playoff, and I
want to make sure that’s a clear part of my communication
BILL HANCOCK: I want to add one thing to what
everybody said. 12 keeps September important, and it
also keeps November important. So for me, as I watched
the working group work through the options, that was a real
benefit of 12. Both September and November are helped.
Q. To whoever wants to answer this, I think most fans,
players, coaches would talk about how great — I heard
your answer to why the quarterfinals will be at a bowl,
but most people look at beyond-campus environment,
just being such a spectacular part of college football,
the pageantry and the traditions. Why go so far from
that and actually expand the neutral-site games that
take the game away from the communities that support
the sport all year-round away from the fans? You
could be asking your championship teams to go to
four consecutive neutral-site games counting their
conference title game. In general, why the lack of
embrace of trying to play as many games on the
sport’s great home campuses as opposed to these
neutral-site NFL stadiums somewhere?
BOB BOWLSBY: I’ll jump in. I think that we are doing just
what was stated earlier. I think we’ve always honored the
sanctity and the tradition of the bowl environment, and we
have consistently either through the four-team playoff or
the New Year’s Six games honored that and tried to do
things that help everybody in the bowl and college football
I think you also run into just the very practical aspects of —
I’m not sure that playing in East Lansing, Michigan, on
January 7th is a really good idea. I think those games
probably do in significant ways favor warm weather
schools. But there has to be some accounting taken of
stadiums that have to be winterized in the months of
December and January and the like.
There are some practical aspects to it. There are some
philosophical aspects to it. But I think, generally speaking,
we tried to strike a compromise that recognizes there’s an
opportunity for some home games but also recognizes that
particularly New Year’s Day, as was mentioned before, has
long been a bastion of college football.
We chose intentionally to honor that.
Q. I know there’s been a long track record of
comments I’m sure even from some of you over the
years about concerns with lengthening the season and
the grueling nature of the playoff as it is now. The way
I look at what you’ve proposed here, you’re basically
going from August until at least the end of January,
and my question is does the impending name, image
and likeness rights coming for college athletes play
any role in gaining more comfort with adding even
more of a workload for some of these
GREG SANKEY: Well, we’ve walked through the effort to
balance opportunities with the addition of games. That
was not a conversation centered from my perspective, and
I think my colleagues would agree on name image and
likeness, but we all know that we’re going through a
transformational time around college sports and including
But back to the number of games, to add opportunities to
the postseason playoff adds games. One can observe,
this is too many, that’s not enough, whether that’s
opportunities or games, that’s always going to be there.
Yet I think as the review group looked at structures, this
structure seemed to find a balance, and to Dan’s question
about respecting the tradition of bowl games or creating
on-campus opportunities, I would anticipate every one of
these elements to be a central part of a dialogue in the
next few weeks and months as people react to the format
I think there’s value in that conversation. This is not a
dictate, this is a fulfillment of an assignment and an
opportunity to look at how might the game continue to
transform itself but also keeping in mind that delicate
balance that does exist around so many elements, first and
foremost the support of our student-athletes.
JACK SWARBRICK: I would just echo Greg’s comments.
The presidents gave us a list of evaluation criteria to focus
on, and first on that list was student health and welfare with
several sub-elements of that. That was first and foremost
in or conversation as Greg said, it was balancing that and
looking for ways to create opportunity but also be very
mindful of what the impact of additional games would be.
As we said earlier, with the way it works, I think it’s safe to
say that clearly sort of objectively the majority of teams are
only going to play one game. Some will play no additional
games from what they would in a regular season, and
we’ve addressed the opportunity issue.
Right now a football player has a 3 percent chance of
participating in the postseason tournament. His colleagues
in basketball and baseball and hockey, they have a 24, 22
percent chance of participating.
So we were trying to balance the two, and I think Greg said
it perfectly. There was a lot about this that we thought
struck the balance, but it’s a starting point for a dialogue.
Q. Jack, I hear what you’re saying about one
additional game for most of the teams involved, but I
do think that teams used to play 12 or 13 games and
now you’re at 16. It’s one additional from one
additional that you put in a couple years ago, and I
think that’s more to what I’m getting at.
JACK SWARBRICK: Yeah, I acknowledge that. Just keep
in mind that if the bowls net out the way we think they will,
it’s no additional for a number of teams.
Q. I’m curious, in terms of increased participation
being a goal, was there a metric for fan disengagement
or fan ennui, or however you want to characterize it,
that struck the working group as something that, okay,
we need to address this? Was there a trend there or a
particular way of defining that issue that struck you?
BOB BOWLSBY: Well, I can take a crack at that. We
probably underestimated — “we” being the A5
commissioners — how difficult it was to be on the outside
looking in on a four-team playoff. I think that was a factor.
There was certainly lots of consternation around those of
us that were left out at one time or the other, so I think that
was an element of it.
I think the idea that greater participation could take place
was always sort of underlying the very essence of talking
about this, but we also — I have to say, I was proud of our
subgroup because I think we started at very different
positions. I think we — and I want to give particular credit
to Jack as our leader and to Greg, because the SEC is
going to do just fine whether we stay at four or go to eight
or move to some other number, and I really feel like
everybody that was in the room was looking at this from
the standpoint of what is best for college football and what
is best for the participants.
When you start at that position, I think we had the luxury of
having, as Bill said, a model that is clearly superior to any
predecessor organization, but looking at it from the
standpoint of how can you make something that’s good
and well-respected and well-accepted even better. It isn’t
the absence of controversy, it’s thinking about things like
what makes the regular season better, what helps us to
feature college football.
You know, as we start to see some young people opt out of
their postseason experiences, you wonder if there will be
as much of that among a larger number of teams that have
a dog in the fight for a National Championship.
You know, I think over time we evolved. I can’t say that
there was — at least for me, I can’t say that there was a
specific motivation where I said to myself, if we don’t do
anything else, we’ve got to fix this aspect of the playoff. I
think we’ve had the luxury of taking something that was
better than anything we’ve ever had before and trying to
find ways to make it better.
I think, from my vantage point, that is how we’ve arrived
where we are.
Q. What kind of feedback have you gotten from Ohio
State and Alabama and Clemson who have been in the
playoff a lot of years? Have you gotten any feedback
from them about how they’d react to a larger playoff?
GREG SANKEY: We’re early in the process. I think my
teams are pretty confident of success generally. That
doesn’t mean it happens. But questions like we’ve had
here about number of games, placement of games, when
would the season conclude, why does this work, what does
it mean for the regular season, I think that’s the kind of
healthy conversation we would expect.
Q. Jack, why would Notre Dame and other
independents support a format where they can’t get
that first-round bye, especially knowing your program
has finished in the top four the last seven years? The
second question would be, eight was such a popular
format every year, like the last couple years, it was all
about talking to eight. What led to skipping eight to
get to 12?
JACK SWARBRICK: Well, both sort of go to the same
dynamic that Bob talked about. I’ll take the second part of
that first. None of us entered this process two years ago at
the same place, and it’s been fascinating as we worked
through the analysis to watch each of us evolve in our
thinking about it and to reach a very firm consensus by the
end of it.
I can tell you this is — we all serve on a million committees
in this business. This was the most rewarding experience
I’ve participated in.
The engagement of my colleagues, the fact that you guys
didn’t get a leak for two years, it was just a great process.
It took us someplace we didn’t fully anticipate. That of
course includes for me. I didn’t go into it thinking 12, and I
certainly wasn’t thinking about implications of 12. But you
needed to keep the broader interest of the game in mind,
and we all understood that.
From my perspective, it was an appropriate trade-off to get
a model that I thought was the right one for college football.
Even though we don’t play in a conference, I recognize the
importance of strong conferences and providing
opportunity to the G5. We wanted to do that.
And then finally as I said somewhat sarcastically earlier in
this, I do think it’s helpful to us to be able to say, look,
Alabama put its position at risk in its title game, or
Oklahoma put its position at risk in its conference title
game. We’re doing the same thing in the first round. We
are on par in that regard, other than not enjoying a
potential 1 through 4 seed.
Q. Greg, I believe you’re the associate commissioner
of the SEC back in 2008 when some form of the playoff
then known as the “Plus-One” was bandied about at a
hotel in Florida as an idea and then shot down. I bring
that up just to say, we’ve come a long way in 13-ish
years to going from not being able to speak the word
“playoff” to 12 teams. I know your old boss, friend,
and mentor Mike Slive was very passionate about this.
I wonder if you’d speak about how we’ve gotten to the
cusp of 12 from being scared of saying the word.
GREG SANKEY: Well, there’s a lot in that question, so I
was trying to figure out which hotel and when, whether or
not I might have been at that meeting. Was that the one
where everybody was crowded onto the same sofa outside
a meeting room?
Q. It was ’08. It was I think a Westin in Hollywood,
GREG SANKEY: I think that’s it. There’s like six of you
crammed into a couch and some of you sitting on the floor
as people would go to the restroom. Maybe we can see
that we’ve changed our approach because you’re in
comfortable places listening to a conference call as
opposed to chasing people down a hallway.
But the reality is there is transformational change
happening all around us. All around us. We were
assigned a task, which is at the halfway point of the
College Football Playoff, let’s take a step back and see
where we are. This is not 2008. I am not my predecessor.
That provides a bit of freedom to think about what’s in front
We’ve got seven years of experience now with the College
Football Playoff. I heard from Jim Delany that the brand
impact, if you will, or the impact on your conference when it
was a two-team playoff was negligible when you were left
out. When we expanded to four, it was enormous, and
others have experienced that. I’ve laid awake at night
worrying about that reality.
We’ve had a part of the country not involved generally. We
took a deep dive, and Jack identified some of the give and
take on his end. I’ve been happy at four. I’ve been very
clear about that. It’s worked. It’s served its purposes, yet
we have to take a step back and look at the game, look at
what we’re being asked to do as leaders.
So that work has produced an opportunity for a
conversation around a 12-team College Football Playoff
Will there be detractors? Will there be criticism?
Absolutely, but we were charged with leading a
conversation, and we know that not everything is going to
be perfect or ideal, and we’ll continue to work to see if we
can have the kind of college football postseason that builds
meaning into the regular season, determines a clear
national champion and provides a lot of opportunity and
excitement in between.
Q. Do you think Mike is smiling today?
GREG SANKEY: I had a picture last week, being in
Oklahoma City with him in 2014, it was the healthy Mike I
saw before he had the cancer fight, and he was smiling
that day. So in response, that’s the picture that’s anchored
in my mind was literally what popped up on my Facebook
timeline last week was the smiling Mike Slive with a full
head of hair and a lot of energy.
Q. Getting back to the quarterfinals and the bowls,
you mentioned, Bob mentioned not wanting to play a
game that late in the year or early in the year in East
Lansing but wouldn’t you be doing that anyway
potentially in the first week? Is it somewhat ignorant
of what the fans will face if they’re asked to travel three
times to watch their team win the National
BOB BOWLSBY: Well, I would suggest that there’s a
pretty good alternative right in your living room if you don’t
want to travel to the games. I’m sure we have some
people that travel three weeks in a row, but the majority
pick and choose. Some go to champ games, some go to
bowl games. I don’t think it’s accurate to assume it’s the
same cadre of people that go to every place on every
The ones that do are largely family members, and I think
we’ve done a good job with the CFP providing travel
expenses and the like for travel of family members to
participate in the CFP playoff games.
You know, are there some logistics to it? Is it different than
what we’ve experienced previously? Yes to both. But I
don’t know that it’s fair to assume that 25,000 are going to
travel to each site three weeks in a row and they’re going
to be the exact same people.
Q. I’ve heard the argument you want to own January
1st but you can have games in South Bend or Norman
on January 1st. Have the higher-seeded teams get the
host games, because it seems a little weird that you
have higher seeded games not getting to host but
lower-seeded teams getting to host, and is that not a
better television product anyway, a full campus
stadium versus maybe it’s full in an NFL stadium?
BOB BOWLSBY: I guess reasonable people can disagree
One of the things that’s a challenge with the home
stadiums is if you’re sold out during the regular season,
where do you find the tickets for the visiting team.
Q. You don’t because the higher seeded team gets
GREG SANKEY: Yeah, I’ll add — let’s go back to where we
started, which is our review committee spent a lot of time
on different options, different conversations. One of those
produced a respect for what has been built around bowl
games, and those have provided pretty special moments
over time a playoff structure can do the same. There’s also
a significant advantage built in to the top four teams by not
having to play, by having opportunity to watch their
opponent in a contest, one of which they’re going to be
playing, and yeah, did that debate take place? Certainly.
I actually think there’s some stress around playing even
that first-round set of games on campuses with December
commencements and placement of those games, the
ability of some of these communities to host on short notice
that type of influx.
There are talking points certainly on each side, but the
format review committee had a healthy conversation about
the traditions and while we’re breaking away from tradition,
one of the parts that’s still respected in the
recommendation is the importance of bowl games.
Q. It’s hard for me to imagine that we would get to this
point, have this press conference today and talk about
this in such detail if you didn’t receive a favorable
response from your peers earlier today when you
presented them with it. My question is what obstacles,
if any, would prevent you guys from coming to a
consensus on this next week?
BOB BOWLSBY: Well, to be clear, we did not get any
input from our colleagues this morning. This was an
informational process that was intended to lay this out. We
didn’t have the luxury of sharing information broadly, and
we were, as we mentioned earlier, we swore ourselves to a
cloistered treatment of the issues.
This morning was really a download so that our colleagues
could go back with their ADs and presidents and talk about
what their institutional and conference positions are to be.
We didn’t seek, nor were there any comments provided,
that would give us indication of how anybody is feeling
Now, there may be some of those that come out over a
period of time while we’re socializing this with the multitude
of constituencies that we have but we haven’t done that to
this point in time.
Q. Do you foresee any specific obstacles, though, that
would prevent a unanimous agreement next week?
JACK SWARBRICK: I think several people have
referenced it, but this is the start of a dialogue. We’ve had
the benefits of two years of talking to each other about it.
I suspect from our colleagues we’ll hear many of the same
issues you’ve raised collectively today, and we look
forward to their input. We look forward to the perspective
they’ll bring to it. As we said when we set up this sequence
of three meetings, if you will, we have reached a point
where it’s critical that we get the input from our colleagues,
and we’re looking forward to getting that.
GREG SANKEY: I’ll go back to Bill’s opening statement
about this is a point, and there’s still much to come. So
certainly can we foresee things? Absolutely. We probably
could have written the questions here, and as you can hear
from your questions, there are different perspectives, and I
think we will have the opportunity to review that.
I think as Bob noted and Jack noted, we’ve all had to move
in different ways. It’ll be interesting to see how our
colleagues react and then from there the board of
managers. It ultimately makes this decision based on
guidance from each conference.
BILL HANCOCK: Just want to thank everyone for joining
the call. Appreciate the candor that I know you felt like
you’ve heard from the four members of the working group,
and thank them again for their work. Thank you, take care,
and we look forward to seeing you down the road.