Big Ten, SEC want it all with 14-team College Football Playoff proposal

It would be better for everyone if the SEC and Big Ten laid their cards on the table and took whatever spoils they want from college sports in one fell swoop as opposed to the craven way they’re going to spend the next decade rigging the game while pretending what they’re doing isn’t a choice.

We see what you're up to, Greg Sankey. You’re not fooling anyone, Tony Petitti.

So just get on with it, guys, and stop trying to sell college football fans another jalopy disguised as a Rolls Royce.

That’s exactly what this new 14-team College Football Playoff trial balloon is. It’s a lemon. It’s a dud. It’s a disgrace.

And it's a preview of exactly where the SEC and Big Ten want to take college sports: Into a world where they do what they want and they get what they want, with the inclusion of anyone else serving only as a veneer of protection from the next cluster bomb of antitrust claims.

What is being sold as a compromise — a 14-team playoff with three automatic bids for the SEC and Big Ten, two for the ACC and Big 12 and one for the top team from the lesser conferences — is in reality the most heavy-handed money grab yet from the Power Two.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrate after defeating Washington in the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium.
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrate after defeating Washington in the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium.

Locking in six of the 14 playoff spots every year without even playing a game is just the beginning. You can be sure the SEC and Big Ten will argue for at least two and sometimes all three of the at-large spots as well because recent expansion has made their leagues too big and powerful to be judged against the peons.

Welcome to the SEC/Big Ten invitational: A deck stacked so high that they’ve literally created a caste system in college sports. Regardless of merit or accomplishment, the SEC and Big Ten eat first while everyone else has to lap up the crumbs and thank them for the nice dinner.

Nothing's official, of course. But with deadlines looming for what the playoff is going to look like under a new contract that begins in 2026, Yahoo! Sports first reported Wednesday that this 14-team plan is being circulated in CFP world with some significant supporters among the sport’s powerbrokers.

It’s where things seem to be headed. It absolutely stinks. And it falls squarely on the shoulders of Sankey and Petitti, two men who conduct business by threat disguised as negotiation and heist disguised as leadership.

Make no mistake, these are not ungovernable forces guiding their industry. What happens to college football, and college sports at large, is a choice. They’re choosing themselves. And they’re choosing poorly.

What choice do the ACC and Big 12 and everyone else have? Not much. At this point, guaranteed access to the playoff is as good a deal as they’re going to get. By the way, did you see what happened to the Pac-12? It would be a shame if something like that happened again.

And it all feels very unnecessary — especially when this coming season will deliver a 12-team playoff that generally makes sense and accomplishes the dual goal of creating more playoff access while preserving the sanctity of the regular season.

It will be a simple, easy-to-understand format. The four highest-ranked conference champions are seeded 1 through 4 and receive byes into the quarterfinals. The top-ranked Group of Five team gets in. The seven at-large teams are picked by a committee and will play first-round games at campus sites.

Maybe it's not perfect, but it sure would be nice to see it in action for a couple years before tinkering with the format — again.

One would suspect that the 12-team playoff, just like the four-team playoff, will organically work to the benefit of the SEC and Big Ten most of the time if they’re performing the way they should be. It may not work out that way every year, but that’s sports. Things ebb and flow. Over a large sample size of years, the leagues with the most money and the best recruiting classes will win the most games and championships.

But that’s not good enough for the SEC and Big Ten. They want to rig a game they’ve already won. They want it all.

What are they so afraid of? Whether the playoff is 12 or 14 teams, and regardless of how the automatic bids are distributed, there’s no chance that a deserving SEC or Big Ten team with a real chance to win the national championship is going to get left out of this thing. None. Not going to happen.

It occured maybe once in the 10-year history of the four-team playoff: This past year when unbeaten No. 1 Georgia lost the SEC title game to Alabama and slipped out of the field.  It’s not going to happen with 12 or 14 teams.

But Sankey has long telegraphed a different philosophy. Though we rarely get much real insight into his thinking, he has harped on the idea that Ole Miss was the last-team included in the 64-team college baseball tournament in 2022 and wound up winning the national championship.

He has used that example before to advocate for expansion of the NCAA basketball tournament -- another thing that isn't necessary but may well be coming down the pike soon anyway at the SEC and Big Ten’s behest.

Now, Sankey has an even stronger pretext to push for expansion after adding Texas and Oklahoma this year while the Big Ten brings in Southern Cal, UCLA, Washington and Oregon.

In other words, by breaking college sports through their own largesse, the SEC and Big Ten now need to break other institutions in order to fix them — but mostly to their benefit until they’ve gobbled up every morsel worth eating and grabbed every dollar worth spending.

Great system. Great sport — if you can still call it that after the SEC and Big Ten get done with it.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 14-team College Football Playoff proposal: Big Ten, SEC want it all