Is college football's leadership now ready to push for playoff expansion?

We’re two weeks away from the College Football Playoff semifinals, so that leaves time for a frequent topic of debate to come up once again: playoff expansion. Plenty of people across the sport are in favor of expanding the playoff field beyond four, perhaps to six or, most popularly, eight.

Last week, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Athletic that it’s “appropriate to begin thinking about” expanding the College Football Playoff, which is now in its fifth year of existence as a four-team format. Bowlsby was one of several college football higher-ups who went on the record with The Athletic about the potential for expansion. On Tuesday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany did the same, telling The Athletic that the Big Ten “would definitely have conversations” about expansion and that it would “probably” be a “good idea” to discuss the playoff structure.

While conversations may be happening at the highest levels of the sport, a lot would need to happen for the change to come to fruition. And a story from USA Today makes it clear that if the playoff were to expand, it won’t happen any time soon.

From USA Today’s George Schroeder:

The Power Five conference commissioners – who created the system and would make any alterations – say they remain largely satisfied, that it is working as intended. And although some say they would not be opposed to considering something different at some point, they see no reason – and insist there is no impetus – to explore significant change now.

“Four works,” Bowlsby told USA TODAY by text message on Sunday, reiterating a point he has consistently made. “It was hard to get to four with lots of compromises. We should be thoughtful, but shouldn’t refuse to discuss.”

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It’s probably easier for Bowlsby to share that sentiment after the champion of his league, Oklahoma, got the fourth spot in the CFP field ahead of Georgia. If Georgia made it, it would have marked a second straight season where two SEC teams were in the top four. And with independent Notre Dame at No. 3, it would have meant three of the sport’s Power Five conferences would not have been represented at the highest level.

Don’t expect the College Football Playoff to expand beyond four teams any time soon. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Don’t expect the College Football Playoff to expand beyond four teams any time soon. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Big Ten and Pac-12 are the conferences on the outside looking in. While Delany now seems to be leaning toward favoring expansion, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has gone on record recently declining to push for changes. ACC commissioner John Swofford and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey have done the same.

Last week, Delany also raised an interesting point about what it would take for expansion to really happen. The conference commissioners represent the presidents of the schools they oversee. They will have to provide a significant push.

“If people wanted to talk about (expansion), they could talk about it,” Delany said. “But it comes really from the presidents. When we were going from two to four, it was with presidential consent. (To go) beyond that, they would have to ask us to do something. It’s not going to come from any one of us (commissioners) because we’re disappointed in a particular year.”

None of this will quell the debate, especially with undefeated UCF on the outside looking in for another year. And, for fun, here’s what an eight-team playoff could have looked like a few weeks ago, via Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, who is in favor of scrapping conference championship games altogether:

If the conference championships were scrapped, here’s what we could have instead, using five automatic bids for the major conferences, three at-large bids and home sites for the first round:

No. 8 Washington at No. 1 Alabama, yes, in Tuscaloosa.
No. 7 UCF at No. 2 Clemson, yes, in Clemson.
No. 6 Ohio State at No. 3 Notre Dame, yes, in South Bend.
No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 4 Georgia, yes, between the hedges.

That would have been pretty fun, right? Of course it would have, but Alabama-Oklahoma and Clemson-Notre Dame will be fun, too.

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