Kevin Warren, Gene Smith Still Confident College Football Playoff Will Expand Amid Conference Realignment

By Dan Hope on July 27, 2022 at 8:35 am
Gene Smith

Kevin Warren didn’t waffle when he was asked about his stance on College Football Playoff expansion at Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday.

“I'm 100 percent supportive of College Football Playoff expansion,” Warren said.

While future playoff expansion has been expected since the CFP announced in June 2021 that a subgroup of the CFP’s management committee had proposed expanding the playoff to 12 teams, the process has hit some roadblocks since then. A multitude of meetings among the CFP’s governance committees have come and gone without substantive progress toward finalizing a new playoff structure, while the landscape of college sports has continued to change through conference realignment – most recently with the Big Ten poaching USC and UCLA from the Pac-12.

Two of the Big Ten’s most powerful leaders, however, don’t expect realignment to put the brakes on the CFP ultimately expanding beyond its current four-team format.

Although a 12-team playoff was the format proposed last summer, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Tuesday that a 16-team playoff format has also been discussed. He told Eleven Warriors he does not currently have a preference on whether the playoff should expand to 12 or 16 teams. He does feel strongly, however, that the playoff should expand one way or another.

“I think the need for expansion is there. We need to provide more access,” Smith said. “I think we will go to 12 or something beyond that, maybe 16. That's been talked about in some circles. But I really feel that the playoff, regardless of alignment, will need to do what's best for the playoff to stay with the criteria that was actually laid out before. We want to provide access, give more teams the opportunity to participate and make sure that it's a quality experience for the student-athletes. And I think that can be done.

“The 12 model has always been something since it’s been introduced that I felt like is advantageous. But we haven't discussed it in great detail as a league.”

Smith says USC and UCLA will be included in any future discussions the Big Ten has about CFP expansion, even though the Bruins and Trojans won’t be joining the Big Ten until 2024. But he doesn’t expect their impending move or any other conference realignment to stand in the way of a larger CFP.

“I think the expansion and realignment probably won't have significant impact as we move forward,” Smith said. “It will on whoever realigns, obviously, because it'll be coming into a league or changing leagues. But from the playoff perspective, I don’t see a big change there.”

“I think the need for expansion is there. We need to provide more access.”– Gene Smith on why he thinks CFP expansion will still happen

Beyond the actual number of teams in the playoff, there are plenty of other loose ends that also need to be tied up before a new playoff structure can be approved, such as whether conference champions will be automatic qualifiers and whether any games will be played at higher seeds’ home stadiums.

Warren did not specify during his Big Ten Media Days press conference what he believes the structure of an expanded playoff should look like, though he did say he believes the expanded playoff should be opened up to multiple media partners. He also says that college athletics leaders “need to make sure we protect some of the critical bowl relationships.”

In the end, though, Warren believes CFP decision-makers will be able to come up with a format everyone can agree on to allow them to move forward with an expanded playoff. He also believes the new members of the CFP’s governance committees – which include Ohio State president Kristina Johnson, the Big Ten’s new representative on the CFP Board of Managers, and new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark, who will join the CFP Management Committee when he officially succeeds Bob Bowlsby next week – will bring new ideas to the table that can help move that process forward.

“She was a student-athlete herself at Stanford,” Warren said of Johnson. “She's a businesswoman, has over 100 patents from a business standpoint, incredible leader. So to be able to get her ideas as far as what format is best, I'm looking forward to working with her.

“And then we have a new commissioner, Brett Yormark, in the Big 12 Conference, who's replacing Bob Bowlsby. Brett is a marketing wizard, very innovative. So I'm excited. We have meetings coming up in September and October to be able to talk about these issues.

“I'm confident as we get these new individuals in a room, get these issues on the table, that we'll be able to reach some resolution. And again, make sure we ask ourselves the right questions for the right reasons at the right time for our student-athletes and our fans. But I look forward to the day that we can expand the College Football Playoff, and I'm confident that it will happen.”

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