American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco thinks a 12-team College Football Playoff that includes automatic bids for champions of power conferences is a non-starter.
Aresco told the Associated Press on Friday that he "vigorously" opposed the idea. A 12-team playoff that included six automatic bids — one each for the champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC and an automatic bid for the top Group of Five team — has been the latest expanded playoff idea to be publicly floated as the playoff looks at ways to include more teams.
In this latest idea, the other six teams would come from the six highest ranked non-conference champions. In most years, those six teams would all be from Power Five conferences. That's a slightly different playoff format from the original 12-team model considered over the summer. That playoff would have guaranteed spots for six of 10 champions of the conferences at the top level of college football but wouldn't have any guarantees for Power Five champs.
In theory, champions from two (or more) Group of Five conferences could be among those six automatic qualifiers.
Aresco confirmed a Sports Illustrated report that an alternative model was discussed last week that provided automatic access only to the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference, and only the highest-ranked champion from the so-called Group of Five conferences.
Aresco has been a vocal advocate of expansion while pushing back on the P5/G5 designation for years. He said the current CFP model doesn’t give teams from outside the Power Five a fair chance to make the field.
“This branding is very harmful to us,” Aresco said. “It’s as if we play in a different division.”
Cincinnati is currently the highest-ranked team outside the Power Five at No. 5 in this week's CFP rankings. No non-Power Five team has ever made the current four-team playoff or even come close to sniffing the field. Cincy could be the first, though it likely needs some help from the Power Five teams around it in the rankings to make the top four at the end of the season. No other teams from the American are ranked in the CFP top 25, meaning Cincinnati currently has no ranked opponents on its schedule.
That access to the playoff is a reason why Cincinnati jumped at the chance to join the Big 12 and make more money. Cincy, BYU, UCF and Houston are heading to the Big 12 in 2023. BYU is the only one of those teams that's not currently a member of the AAC.
College athletics leaders need to make a playoff decision
A decision on an enlarged format needs to be made soon if the playoff is going to expand in the next few years and there currently doesn't seem to be any consensus on how the playoff should expand. A 12-team model seems like the likeliest option as eight teams would ostensibly only include two wild-card spots in addition to six conference champions. Conference commissioners don't seem too fond of that idea.
We should know on Dec. 1 if expansion is on the horizon in the near future. That's the date of the next scheduled meeting of the CFP management committee. If it can't come to an agreement on an expanded playoff in a few weeks, then the chances of the playoff expanding before the current four-team playoff TV contract is up with ESPN in 2025 are going to be pretty slim.