Friedlander: 3 reasons an expanded Playoff is great news for the ACC
A 2022 football season that was already off to a good start got even better for the ACC on Friday when the College Football Playoff’s Board of Managers voted to expand the postseason field from 4 teams to 12.
The new format, which was approved by a unanimous vote of the 11-member board, will feature the 6 highest-ranked conference champions as automatic qualifiers with the next 6 highest-rated teams added to the bracket as at-large selections.
The plan is for the new system to be implemented for the 2026 season, though there is a possibility it could begin even sooner – perhaps by 2024.
“Today’s decision by the CFP Board of Managers is welcomed by the ACC and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to execute on the Board’s directives,” commissioner Jim Phillips said in a statement. “Our collaboration over the last 6 months will serve us well as we address the important specifics of the premier event in college football.”
The change in Playoff format comes as welcome news for the ACC as it looks to keep up with the SEC and Big Ten and maintain its spot among the nation’s top conferences.
Here are 3 reasons why:
The 12-team bracket and automatic qualification all but ensures that the conference won’t go uninvited to the CFP party again after missing out a year ago when champion Pittsburgh, at 12-2, didn’t come close to sniffing a spot in the 4-team field.
It could also serve as a deterrent to Clemson, Florida State, Miami or any other program considering a future move to either the SEC or Big Ten.
Yes, the money and prestige in those conferences would be an improvement. But for a program with legitimate designs on playing for and winning national championships, the road into the Playoff would be a lot less crowded in the ACC as currently constructed than a 20-team super-conference gridlocked with elite, brand-name programs.
The Notre Dame factor
The Irish continue to cling to their independent status as if it was a rosary. But with the top 4 seeds and first-round Playoff byes going to the 4 highest-ranked conference champions, the new Playoff format may finally force Notre Dame’s hand and steer it into a conference.
Adding the Irish would change the perception of the ACC dramatically, both from a competitive and financial standpoint, and would help close the gap that exists between it, the SEC and Big Ten. It would also likely end all questions about the league’s viability moving forward.
Phillips has maintained all along that Notre Dame finally does join a conference in football, it will be the ACC and if possession really is nine-tenths of the law, then his hope isn’t entirely a pipe dream since the Irish’s other athletic teams are already members of the league.
But there’s no guarantee.
If the Irish prefer to join the Big Ten, a league to which they are more traditionally aligned geographically, all they have to do is buy their way out of the grant of rights that binds them to the ACC if they decide to join a conference in football anytime before 2036.
The exit fee is a hefty $100 million. But if anyone can afford such a price, it’s Notre Dame.
Show them the money
Speaking of money, the ACC is in desperate need of it. The league isn’t exactly cash-strapped, but it lags far behind the Big Ten and the SEC when it comes to revenue distribution to its member schools.
Recent figures estimate the Big Ten’s payout in the vicinity of $60 million per school after its recently agreed upon media rights contract with multiple partners. The SEC’s payouts are around $54 million. ACC schools, meanwhile, are bringing in “only” about $30 million per school.
With a 12-team Playoff valued at $1.2 billion annually, almost double from the current $600 million figure, the ACC’s distribution would increase exponentially – especially if it adopts a rumored plan that would divide its revenue based on performance.
The extra money won’t help bridge the revenue gap with the Big Two since they’ll be getting a share, too. But it’s never a bad thing to bring in more money.