Pending SEC realignment could delay College Football Playoff expansion?
College Football Playoff expansion looked like an inevitability not long ago, and that may still be the case. However, the chances of it being implemented quickly appear to be dwindling.
Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported Friday that the chances of a quick expansion to the playoff format appear to be shrinking, largely because of Texas and Oklahoma’s pending move to the SEC and the subsequent destabilization of the Big 12. That has made the environment more uncertain, and has also fueled skepticism around the power that both the SEC and ESPN already hold.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, one of the most powerful and influential athletic directors in the nation, suggested that “the pause button should be hit” on playoff expansion talks while “legitimate concerns” linger about the college football landscape.
ESPN’s television contract to air College Football Playoff games runs through 2025. That means the network has exclusive negotiating rights, and there is a growing appetite to bring the valuable College Football Playoff TV rights to the open market instead. That desire increased with Texas’ and Oklahoma’s SEC move, as it establishes the SEC as the dominant college football brand. ESPN owns SEC Network, and will own the rights to SEC football starting in 2024. The idea of essentially giving the network a monopoly over its biggest television contracts is not appealing to many who aren’t part of the SEC.
“It behooves everyone not named the SEC and ACC [for the CFP rights to go to market],” one Power 5 athletic director outside the Big Ten told Thamel. “It’s in all of our best interest [of other leagues] to let the contract through and go to open market. Why would a streaming service want to bid on a league like the Big Ten or Pac-12 to carry the regular season if they are going to just hand it over to ESPN for the playoffs?”
Any delay to College Football Playoff expansion would likely be warmly received by some. That said, it’s going to come at a cost. The SEC’s expansion has helped expose long-simmering tensions throughout the sport, including toward ESPN. It certainly seems like it might jeopardize the network’s hold over CFP rights in the future.