INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As the College Football Playoff management committee prepares to continue its discussions on Saturday about expanding the current four-team format, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told ESPN he remains steadfast in his belief that the Power 5 conference champions should automatically qualify for a spot in the future.
Saturday’s meeting will be the seventh in-person gathering the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick have had since the proposed 12-team format was announced in June, and automatic bids remains one of the sticking points in the room.
“It’s just very important that we have the automatic qualifiers for the five conferences,” Warren said on Friday. “It’s just the demands of the schedule … and I strongly believe that if you are crowned the Big 10 champion, that you should have an opportunity to participate for a national championship. … I feel strongly about that as I stand here today.”
The original proposal suggested a 12-team model that includes the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the next six highest-ranked teams. The format was developed by a working group comprised of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson.
Thompson told ESPN this week “there’s not a huge difference” between what was originally proposed and the so-called “five-plus-one” model that would guarantee the Power 5 conference champs and one Group of 5 champion a spot in the playoff.
Still, some Group of 5 commissioners have expressed public support for the original model because it is a step in eliminating the label they all detest, while also preventing the possibility of rewarding a lower-ranked Power 5 champion with a playoff spot. This year, Pac-12 champion Utah was No. 11 in the final CFP ranking, followed by ACC champion Pitt at No. 12.
“I fought for two years in that room – biased – to get to the six and six, represented 60-some institutions, and so I’m not willing to just walk away and give that up,” Thompson said. “And on the same note, what has qualified certain other conference champions to be guaranteed a spot that if they haven’t accomplished it in six, seven years, why do they deserve that guaranteed access? Just because they won that league?”
The earliest the CFP could expand would be the 2024 season, but in order for it to change before the contract expires following the 2025 season, all of the conferences would have to agree to it.
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN “there are some differences that have to be bridged somehow.” “Obviously we’ve made our position known that we think that a playoff that just gives favored positions to somebody based on their brand, based on who they are, is not credible and would not be a legitimate playoffs,” he said. “If you can name me one that does that somewhere, let me know.”