With uncertainly out West, AAC commissioner stands against immediate changes to 12-team CFP format

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Barring a long-term compromise, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco will not vote for a change to the 12-team expanded playoff format, a potential deal-breaker in a decision that needs unanimity from the 11 leaders of the College Football Playoff.

“We’d like to keep the 6+6 for two years. Why wouldn’t we? We’d have two automatics for our group,” Aresco said.

On Wednesday morning from the site of CFP meetings, Aresco clarified comments he made to reporters Tuesday on an impending debate among commissioners to move from a 6+6 to a 5+7 format for the 12-team playoff expansion. CFP leaders last year approved a 6+6 format that grants automatic qualifiers to the six highest-ranked conference champions and at-large berths to the next six highest-ranked teams. The format is to be used for 2024 and 2025. There is no contract beyond the 2025 season.

In light of a realignment wave that left a power league crippled (the Pac-12), commissioners are considering subtracting one automatic qualifying spot (from six to five) and adding one at-large spot (from six to seven). However, such a move needs unanimity among both the CFP Management Committee and the CFP Board of Managers. The Management Committee is made up of the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Their counterparts sit on the Board of Managers, the top governing body of the organization that is made up of a school president from the 10 FBS leagues and Notre Dame.

The Management Committee is expected to complete two days of meetings here in suburban Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, with a decision on a format change unlikely to happen because of the uncertainty out West, Aresco said.

What will the College Football Playoff look like in the future? (Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
What will the College Football Playoff look like in the future? (Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

But something else is stopping a change: unanimity.

Aresco is the only one of 11 Management Committee members to publicly speak out against an immediate change to the current 6+6 model. If that format is used over the next two years, the Group of Five could have two automatic berths in the 12-team bracket. According to past results, the sixth automatic qualifying spot, in many years, would be a team not ranked in the top 25 and certainly outside of the top 15.

Commissioners did not discuss the format issue on Tuesday but were expected to address it Wednesday — the start of what could be a long debate given Aresco’s stance on the matter.

“I imagine there will be a discussion (about format), which we will have to have,” Aresco said. “My conference has taken the position that for two years at least, since we already adopted this, let’s keep it. You need unanimity to change it. In the future, my sense is 5+7 is likely to happen. We did 6+6 because we had five (power leagues).”

Aresco would be open to a long-term compromise to change his vote but “it depends on what it is,” he said.

The CFP’s existence spans just two more years. There is no binding agreement after the 2025 football season for both a playoff format and a television contract. Several network executives made presentations Tuesday before commissioners and more were expected Wednesday.

There is fear among some at the Group of Five level that they may lose automatic access to future playoffs starting in 2026.

“We definitely wanted to have access. We’ve got to have access,” Aresco said. “That’s where we draw the line. Without five (AQs) in the future, after 2025, you’re not going to have access necessarily. I would think the Big 12 and others are concerned about that too.

“I’d talk to my membership if there’s some compromise offered. We haven't discussed it yet. It’s hard right now because nobody knows what’s going on with the Mountain West.”

The situation out West has thrown a proverbial wrench into any decision being made this week.

Washington State and Oregon State, the last remaining members of the Pac-12, have not yet determined a course of action. Officials at both schools are even exploring the possibility of rebuilding the league by either making additions, merging with the Mountain West under the Pac-12 banner or remaining as a two-team conference in the short term.

The NCAA requires eight member schools to be recognized as an FBS conference, but allows a two-year grace period. According to NCAA bylaw, a conference shall continue to be considered an FBS league for two years after it drops below the eight-team threshold.

If the Pac-12 remains a two-school league for at least the next two years, it complicates any format change. The CFP would have to determine if a two-school conference’s champion qualifies for an automatic bid. Such a decision could impact any format change.

Revenue sharing is another piece entirely.

For the next two years, WSU and OSU are fighting to keep their individual school revenue distribution that the CFP allots to members of Power Five leagues, but that will be subject to “serious discussion,” Aresco said. “If you suddenly take a group of schools that weren’t around and say they are, that’s going to have to be discussed in a serious way.”