Any faint chance of expanding the College Football Playoff before the 2026 season vanished Friday morning as ACC commissioner Jim Phillips affirmed the league’s opposition to altering the four-team model in the near-term.
Changes to the CFP prior to the expiration of the original 12-year contract, which runs through the 2025 season, requirs unanimity from the 10 Bowl Subdivision commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. In unveiling a 12-team proposal in June, a CFP subcommittee hoped to forge that consensus in time for the 2024 season.
But subsequent vetting by the larger group, especially the ACC, hit roadblocks. Indeed, no other conference has publicly stated resistance to any expansion prior to 2026.
“The membership of the ACC is very much aligned in its position that now is not the right time to expand the College Football Playoff,” Phillips said during a call with about a dozen reporters. “... Our CEOs, [athletic directors] and head coaches overwhelmingly support our position. We have significant concerns surrounding a proposed expansion model, though we’d be supportive of future expansion once and if these concerns are addressed.”
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Phillips outlined three primary ACC concerns:
The instability elsewhere in college athletics regarding governance, name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation for athletes, the transfer portal and the potential unionization of athletes.
How would additional games, even for a small number of teams, impact athletes’ physical health and academic pursuits?
A “desperate need” to review the entire college football calendar, not only the season itself, but also recruiting.
“Collectively,” Phillips said, “we have much larger issues facing us than to expand the CFP early by two years.”
Phillips worked on the committee that recently overhauled the NCAA constitution and serves on the Transformation Committee charged with restructuring the NCAA. So more than most, he lives the chaos that is college sports today, and he said the enterprise “is begging” Congress for federal legislation that would override varying state laws regarding NIL compensation.
But the CFP, blessedly, operates outside of NCAA control, and multi-tasking playoff expansion with overall governance doesn’t seem like an unreasonable ask.
Phillips, though, is beholden to his membership.
Athletic directors such as North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham and Miami’s Dan Radakovich have expressed reservations, and Phillips said the conference’s 14 head coaches unanimously oppose CFP expansion at this time.
Phillips specifically cited Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Miami’s Mario Cristobal, each of whom has significant playoff experience, Swinney six times with the Tigers and Cristobal three times as an Alabama assistant.
Moreover, Phillips echoed worries about a longer season raised by Clemson offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst last July at the ACC’s preseason media gathering.
“They don’t want to play any more games,” Phillips said. “They don’t. I don’t know what Georgia and Alabama felt like after [the CFP final] Monday night, but Clemson student-athletes that participated, they don’t. ...
“I understand the excitement of an expanded playoff, but these are college students. We have a responsibility to listen to them. ... They’re probably the group we’ve least connected with. We’ve tried to in the ACC. I can’t speak for other conferences, but listening to Dabo and having the conversation with Mario certainly has been helpful for the ACC and our board.”
The four-man CFP subcommittee that crafted June’s 12-team proposal — automatic bids to the six highest-rated conference champions, plus six at-large bids — included Notre Dame’s Swarbrick. And absent an eight-team model with six automatic qualifiers, playoff expansion would remove any incentive for the Fighting Irish to bring their independent football program to the ACC, the league in which their other teams compete.
But Phillips called any notion that the ACC’s position is designed to leverage Notre Dame “absolutely, positively not true.”
Phillips said ACC opposition originally centered specifically on the 12-team playoff, with a league preference for eight. But as NCAA matters further swirled in late fall, the conference shifted its objections to any present expansion.
Other leagues have raised issues — the Big Ten and Pac-12 want accommodations for their longtime partner, the Rose Bowl, and the Big Ten prefers guaranteed access for every Power Five champion — but the ACC is alone in publicly opposing to pre-2026 expansion.
Two commissioners who worked with Swarbrick on the subcommittee, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby and SEC’s Greg Sankey, have not hidden their frustration at the stalemate.
But changes to the CFP after the original contract require a more nebulous consensus rather than unanimity, and Phillips said he is “sure” the playoff will expand then.
“You’re talking about two years,” he said of the delay. “... There’s been major debate, and there’s been moments when it may feel like we’ve stalled. But we continue to come back and try to work collectively for the future of college football.”
David Teel reports for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.