LOS ANGELES – Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is so bullish on College Football Playoff expansion that he told ESPN on Friday that he potentially sees the format changing before the current contracts expire after the 2025 season.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to expand the College Football Playoff,” Kliavkoff told ESPN. “It actually wouldn’t surprise me once we agree on the format, if it happens before the end of the current term. Once you agree to the format, why wouldn’t you?”
Kliavkoff’s comments are in contrast to the idea floated by the College Football Playoff’s board of directors in February that the format will not expand until a new format is in place for the 2026 season. Others expressed skepticism about the timeline, considering that an expansion decision would have to be made in the coming months. The next CFP meeting is in mid-August via Zoom, sources told ESPN, and there is another scheduled a month later.
Kliavkoff’s optimism is based on the tenor of the latest CFP meeting in Park City, Utah, last month. “[It was] the most productive CFP meeting I’ve been to. I’m incredibly optimistic that we’re actually going to get there.”
Could it lead to a new format before the end of the current contract? It will require unanimous approval, which is always difficult in a room with so many dynamics and stakeholders.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been to accepting a format,” Kliavkoff said. “The lack of agreement on a format held us back from doing it quickly, as opposed to slowly.
“I said that when we originally met about this. Once you agree on a format, you can shoehorn it into the existing contract. If we agree on what it looks like after the existing contract, why wouldn’t you try to do that faster?”
In the fall, there was discussion about expanding the playoff field as early as 2024 or 2025, but the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 ultimately voted against it in January and February for various reasons. For that to still happen before the current, 12-year contract expires after the 2025 season, CFP director Bill Hancock told ESPN, “many, many details have to be worked out.”
“We’ll see,” Hancock said. – There is much more talk ahead. Hancock said the commissioners haven’t talked about expanding the playoffs since June, and the presidents and chancellors haven’t discussed it since May.
“The board and the administration committee will discuss the format when the time comes,” Hancock said. “I feel like the commissioners were more open to change and cooperative when they met in June than they were in February.”
Hancock said the June meeting did not include any talk of a potential 16-team format, and the conversation was more philosophical than it was “in the weeds” about a format. The commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick initially liked the concept of rewarding the top four teams with a bye in the 12-team format — something that would be lost with a 16-team field.
Swarbrick did not rule out the possibility of a faster timeline for a new CFP, but said it would be difficult to expand the field during the current contract.
“I think the calendar is the obstacle,” Swarbrick said. “I can see that the intention is there, but it’s not easy. It depends so much on the size of the playoffs.”
Swarbrick was one of the authors of the original 12-team proposal, along with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, outgoing Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson. Swarbrick said the reason they favored 12 over 16 was because “we loved byes.”
“We loved how it rewarded teams,” he said, adding that any discussions he’s been a part of about a 16-team field up to this point have been “very conceptual.”
Sankey was not immediately available for comment.
Kliavkoff added that he has not delved into the details of the impact of TV contracts. One of the likely steps in the next playoffs, as it evolved from four teams, will be more TV partners. Right now, ESPN owns all the rights to the four-team playoff. Fox will be the expected favorite to join ESPN in the bidding, as the CFP aims to potentially model the postseason after the NFL’s and have more franchisees.
What that formally looks like is still undecided, but the notion of a potential 16-game playoff continues to be upheld. Kliavkoff mentioned the dynamic in the room is changing now that Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is expected to moderate his demand for automatic qualifiers, one of the main stumbling blocks for the 12-team playoff. He also mentioned that one of the ACC’s issues – a 365-day calendar review – is ongoing and likely to be resolved.
“I’m all for expanding the College Football Playoff,” Kliavkoff said. “I don’t have particular problems between 12 and 16. I understand the arguments for and against.”
He added: “It’s going to be interesting now that I think Kevin is backing away from the requirement for automatic qualifiers. I’m willing to go into the room and listen.”
The 16-team idea likely brings with it calendar issues, as Swarbrick mentioned, and the likely debate over whether leagues would potentially eliminate their conference title games in favor of reserving the weekend for the first weekend of the playoffs. It will likely require a lot of contractual gymnastics and financial accommodation for those whose league games are worth the most money.
But the idea, say, of Ohio State playing Michigan to end the season, then playing USC in the league title game and then embarking on a potential four-game playoff run is terrifying. Kliavkoff said he plans to keep rooting for the Rose Bowl, even in the wake of the Big Ten poaching two of the Pac-12’s most valuable brands. The Rose Bowl has long been a contract between the Big Ten and the Pac-12.
“Three hours every three years for the Rose Bowl,” Kliavkoff said. “We’re 100 percent committed. It’s important. It’s part of the history and tradition of college athletics. When we start throwing out tradition for money, that’s when we get ourselves in trouble. It’s not a big ask.”
Kliavkoff would not respond to Warren’s quotes from Big Ten media days that the two had not spoken since the Big Ten broke the Tri-League Alliance by taking two of the Pac-12’s schools.
“I don’t talk about who I talked to and who I didn’t talk to,” he said.