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The powers that be in college football appear on the verge of a compromise that will move their playoff from four teams to 12 starting in 2024.
The plan starts with six automatic bids. One for each of the so-called Power Five conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — and one for the highest-ranked champion of the remaining five conferences, the so-called Group of Five. There would additionally be six at-large bids.
The top four seeds would get first-round byes. Seeds 5-8 would host 9-12 on their respective campuses, with the winners advancing. The playoff would create more access, more excitement, more interest in more regular season games and, of course, a lot more money.
It’s a long, long overdue expansion, and you’d think, if nothing else, the commissioners of the Group of Five conferences would be running to sign this agreement.
After all, under the current four-team playoff, let alone the BCS that preceded it, no one from their leagues has ever stood much of a chance of qualifying. This would be a huge opportunity, annually giving an upstart outside the traditional axis of power a chance.
Well, this being college football, there always has to be someone letting philosophy or ego or hubris — or, well, who the hell knows what? — getting in the way, even if it is self-defeating.
Enter Mike Aresco, commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, who told the AP on Friday that he would “vigorously” oppose the expansion plan.
It’s not because it wouldn’t improve potential access for his league. It would. It’s not because it wouldn’t generate more money for his schools. It would. No, Aresco is upset that it sets aside auto bids for the five major conferences, no matter how good their champions are. He calls it “privilege.”
“I don’t want to see a system that would reward privilege for the sake of privilege,” Aresco told the AP.
Aresco preferred a plan released last summer that would give automatic bids to the “six highest-ranked conference champions.”
That was, indeed, a better and more gracious plan, but it was also a distinction without much of a difference.
Just about every single year, if not every single year, the champions of the Power Five would grab spots among the six automatic bids. So, really, who cares? If there are somehow two deserving teams from the Group of Five, one would get an automatic bid and one could still get an at-large. But guess what? That’s highly unlikely.
Either way, this is a seismic opportunity for Group of Five schools, and one that the big programs don’t have to provide. They can just stay at four teams and continue to control everything.
That reality apparently doesn’t matter to Aresco. He’s threatening to take a worse deal for his league because he doesn’t like his league not being considered a Power Five.
“This branding is very harmful to us,” Aresco said. “It’s as if we play in a different division.”
This is either a (lousy) negotiation tactic or about the most ridiculous reason to oppose a playoff in the long history of ridiculous reasons to oppose playoff expansion.
Look, the AAC is about to lose three of its best programs (Cincinnati, Houston and UCF) to the Big 12, and clearly Aresco is still chapped about that. By next season, his league will no longer be even close to Power Five status, and most years it won’t even be the best of the rest — the Mountain West (Boise State, Fresno State and San Diego State) is likely better, year in, year out.
At this point, the AAC has little to lean on. If the rest of college football said, “Fine, you oppose the plan, then go pound sand. We’ll carry on without the AAC,” almost no fans or television executives would care or even notice.
If you’re one of the remaining AAC programs with the potential for a big season (Memphis and SMU) you should be calling Aresco and asking him what he is doing. Labels and ideology are one crazy hill to die on.
There is a division in college football. Maybe it’s not fair, maybe it’s not right, but it sure isn’t going anywhere. Tulane isn’t LSU. Tulsa isn’t Oklahoma. Sorry to break that to you.
That doesn’t mean good teams can’t come from non-traditional or lesser-funded places. Now here’s the chance to prove that on the field and change that perception … but the AAC is opposed?
A 12-team playoff is a great deal for everyone, but especially anyone not named Alabama or Ohio State or Clemson that tend to gobble up all the spots in the four-team field. The automatic bids make conference races — and conference title games — matter. It spreads interest across the country and deep into the season in ways the current system doesn’t. It gives opportunity where there wasn’t one.
It’s better. It’s better for college football — all of college football. Perfect? No, but it sure represents enormous progress.
Mike Aresco’s ridiculousness shouldn’t get in the way of that.