Indianapolis – The Big Ten Conference was one of three leagues that voted against expanding College Football Playoff to 12 teams last year.
As part of an alliance with the ACC and Pac-12, the Big Ten vote spoke more about the way the expansion was handled than the actual idea of the interval expansion.
But with Big Ten’s conference media days kicking off Tuesday, it still looms as an unlikely setting for burgeoning chatter about the expansion of the College Football game.
Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith told ESPN Tuesday that talk of a potential 16-team football playoff is growing.
“It looks like there are only 16 out there,” Smith said. “You can’t ignore it.”
Smith clarified that this idea was not formally discussed, but added that it appeared consistently in the discourse about CFP. Smith is the most powerful athletic director in the Big Ten, and it’s worth noting that OSU President Christina M. Johnson is a member of the CFP Board of Directors.
There is no imminent decision on the format and it may take years to make a decision. The current four-team format expires in four seasons, and the new format will start in the 2026 season, which means that the format will be discussed extensively over the next two years.
On Tuesday, CFP CEO Bill Hancock told ESPN, “No reasonable options will be ruled out.”
Barry Alvarez, the former state athletic director for Wisconsin who is the special advisor to the Big Ten football team, noted that a 16-team playoff provides greater reach. While the idea of how to grant access will be discussed, having more public bidding would clearly tilt the two 16-team leagues.
The Big Ten recently added the USC and UCLA, which will enter in 2024. The Securities and Exchange Commission added Oklahoma and Texas last summer, and these two programs are expected to begin in that league in 2025. This has shifted the power of the sport more clearly into these two leagues They also have a significant financial advantage.
“I can live with 12, I can live with 16 – I just think we need to expand,” Alvarez told ESPN. “I think access is important. I can live with 16.”
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who has argued fiercely about automatic qualification as part of the failed 12-team model, also spoke openly about the CFP’s expansion on Tuesday. In his comments to the media, Warren said he is “100% supportive” of expanding the supplement. The feeling around the conference was that Warren would back down from his insistence on automatic qualification at the next iteration of supplement talks.
Warren did not speculate on the number of teams, but indicated that having multiple media partners would be a priority. The current four-team model is only broadcast by ESPN, and the Big Ten’s most significant media partnership is with Fox.
“What is the correct number?” Asked. “We’ll find out. I’m confident we’ll get a solution to expand into college football matches. I feel very strongly that we need to open it up to have multiple media partners, which is what we need from a college football point of view. We need a comprehensive vision.”
It’s unlikely that the next iteration of the College Football Playoff will have only one television partner, according to the NFL model. ESPN and Fox are the favorites to bid on CFP. The 16-team model would mean that 15 CFP stock games—much more than the three playoff games in the four-team model—could be split between networks.
Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Greg Sankey admitted to ESPN on the SEC’s media days that he’s heard of increased talk about 16 teams that have become a talking point. Sankey noted that a lot of compromise resulted in the proposed 12-team model which eventually ended up being taken off the table in February.
“People rejected it, not me,” Sankey told ESPN in Atlanta last week. “And now, when I look into the future, I’ve been clear at the time trying to hold back, because we weren’t unanimous in shape. It’s my responsibility to move people. And I give our membership a lot of credibility. I heard from others that they were unanimously against it. I mean, I’m going to stop my comment there” .