It may seem like a foregone conclusion that the College Football Playoff is going to expand from four teams to 12, but at least one power conference commissioner is still not all-in on the proposal made public last month.
Ahead of Big Ten media days in Indianapolis on Thursday and Friday, commissioner Kevin Warren told USA TODAY Sports that he wants to gather more feedback – including from current and former football players — before supporting the 12-team model that was recommended by a CFP subcommittee and advanced for further discussion by university presidents on the CFP’s board of directors last month.
Warren, whose first year as Big Ten commissioner was consumed by matters related to the pandemic, said he favored expansion of the playoff in the abstract. But he stopped well short of endorsing the 12-team proposal, which could theoretically extend the season to 16 or 17 games for teams playing in the national championship.
“I don’t know what the right number is,” Warren told USA TODAY Sports. “Any time you can provide student-athletes an expanded opportunity to win a national championship that’s beneficial, but this is a season and summer of being methodical. By our next (CFP) meeting in September I want to talk to all of our coaches, athletic directors, faculty reps, senior women administrators and current and former student-athletes and get a sense from them because we need to be really thoughtful in this area.
“How much is enough? Sometimes it’s perceived as more is better, but sometimes it’s not. I believe in expansion, but what is that right mixture of the number of games that’s proper? What impact has it had on their health and wellness not only on the following season but down the road in their future? What about from an academic standpoint? We need to make sure that although we’re focused on evaluating expansion, we have to do it in a really thoughtful manner. I’m pleased we have this summer. I’ve started those conversations and learned a lot. What does this do to our bowl partners from a relationship standpoint? What’s the right structure from a media standpoint? These things are all critically important.”
Though Warren is relatively new to the commissioner’s chair, his reluctance to publicly embrace the 12-team model could put him at odds for a second time with some of his more tenured peers – particularly SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who led the committee that came up with the proposal for a new playoff.
Those inter-conference rivalries played out last year during the COVID-19 crisis when the Big Ten decided on Aug. 11, 2020 to cancel the entire fall football season and try to play in the spring while the SEC, ACC and Big 12 held firm that they would try to play in the fall. Five weeks later, under significant pressure from outside political forces and from within, the Big Ten ultimately reversed its decision.
The pandemic has been a flashpoint for several monumental changes in college sports, culminating this summer in college athletes being able to earn money off their name, image and likeness for the first time, significant grumbling about the governance structure and general usefulness of the NCAA as a governing body and a playoff expansion proposal that could increase its value from $600 million to $2 billion annually according to some estimates.
Amid all of that, Warren has spent the summer traveling around the league and attempting to build closer connections on campus – things he couldn’t do when the pandemic hit roughly two months after he took the handoff from longtime Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. One of the new initiatives Warren is set to unveil is a parental advisory group, which he said is not in response to what happened last year when a group of parents protested the Big Ten’s initial decision to postpone the football season.
“I want to make sure I’m 100 percent in tune with their thoughts and needs and concerns, and we want to honor and salute them,” Warren said. “As the commissioner of this conference I want to make sure I’m fulfilling and meeting all the expectations not only of our on campus constituents, but from a parent standpoint. Our schools do a great job but from a conference standpoint we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can. I’ve had many conversations with parents of our student-athletes and I’ve walked away from every one of them saying, ‘That’s an interesting angle.’ ”
Additionally, Warren agreed with NCAA president Mark Emmert, who said last week the time was right to discuss changes to the association’s governance structure and a reduced role for the NCAA in day-to-day regulatory matters.
But Warren also believes those “thoughtful conversations” are as necessary for playoff expansion, particularly when it comes to lengthening the season.
“From where I sit, we need to ask these questions,” Warren said. “It’s really important for me to hear what our coaches think, our athletic directors, our chancellors and presidents. I want to talk to student athletes who have played in the CFP. …
“These are not professional athletes, and we need to be sensitive to how many games. I don’t know what the right number is, but I’ve spent the last couple weeks talking to people and studying different subsets of data so when we do meet again I can provide information not just on an emotional basis but something that has tangible data associated with what my thought process is.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Big Ten commissioner isn't sold on College Football Playoff expansion