Sankey, who favored a four- or 12-team format as CFP expansion negotiations stalled in February, said Monday he still believes 12-team expansion would benefit the sport for a number of reasons. But his own league is in good shape regardless of what the future holds.
Not even Sankey knows what that is. The playoff will remain at four teams through the 2025 season, when the current contract expires, but after that, “There’s nothing that exists after Year 12,” Sankey said at the Associated Press Sports Editors Southeast regional meeting. “There’s not the bowl relationships; there’s not a media relationship; there’s not a College Football Playoff format come the 2026 season.”
So from Sankey’s perspective?
“We can stay at four,” he said. “This conference will thrive at four. Period. That’s not healthy for the rest of FBS college football, but we can stay at four.”
In February, the College Football Playoff management committee was unable to reach an expansion agreement, deciding to abandon efforts to implement a 12-team format for the 2024 season. For supporters of expansion, it brought a frustrating end to negotiations that had seemingly gained traction in recent months.
Two SEC teams faced off in last season’s CFP National Championship, with Georgia beating Alabama, 33-18. Twelve of the last 16 national champs are SEC teams, and in the eight-year history of the College Football Playoff, the SEC is the only conference with a qualifying team every season. The last three national champions are Georgia, Alabama and LSU.
“People apparently didn’t take me seriously when I said we can leave it at four,” Sankey said. “So I sat there watching that (Alabama-Georgia) game, thinking they just thought I wasn’t serious.”
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Sankey said that two weeks ago when the CFP management committee met, he was asked how concerning the lack of expansion was for the SEC.
His response when he heard that?
The notion was presented to him that with the SEC soon expanding to 16 teams (Texas and Oklahoma), fewer playoff teams will mean fewer opportunities for his own league.
“I don’t think people heard me, but I’ll say it clearly today,” Sankey said. “We can stay at four.
“Now looking at all of the factors involved, which is: We have regions that don’t access the playoff; trying to enhance the meaning of conference championships; provide access for independents in a way that would be, I think, equitable; engage fanbases in a different way with some games at home. (Expansion) seemed a really reasonable approach.
“But at the end of the day, there were enough who said no that we didn’t move forward. Which brings me back to my first thing: We’re fine staying at four. In fact, if you go back and look at why we went into the format, it wasn’t because this conference asked for the format. We just felt the responsibility to be a contributor in the conversation.”
Sankey added that if he looked at the world “solely from an SEC lens,” he would not have favored expansion.
The committee is made up of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletics director. The ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten were the three conferences that voted against the 12-team proposal. Sankey declined to comment Monday on why others voted against expansion, saying each individual should explain his or her reasoning.