SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks to the media during the 2021 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days on July 19,2021 at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. (Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)
Jimmie Mitchell

Greg Sankey takes on ‘Alliance’ critics, reveals timeline on CFP proposal and league transition

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey wants to set the record straight amid what has been a furious offseason of changes to the college football landscape.

Specifically, Sankey provided a revealing look inside the sequence of events that triggered the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC to form a so-called “Alliance,”

The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC commissioners met last week and announced plans to schedule one another more often in basketball and football, as well as collaborate on league issues.

Sankey, who appeared on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show last Wednesday, has been a target of criticism. Some have suggested Sankey’s judgment while helping to create the proposed 12-team playoff may have been affected by the pending addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC.

Washington president Kirk Schulz referred to the SEC as “predatory” in a recent interview with the San Jose Mercury News.

“What the SEC has done is unify the other conferences in a way that nothing else could have, in terms of working together,” Schulz told the Mercury News. “A lot of people now are very concerned about the predatory nature of the SEC.”

Sankey made clear those concerns are not warranted, and he proceeded to share how and when College Football Playoff concepts were conceived.

Sankey, one of the most respected and effective college commissioners in recent history, objected strongly to the notion that he initiated the recently proposed expanded playoffs, and that it had anything to do with the pending additions of Texas and Oklahoma.

12-team CFP proposal beginnings

“What we need to do is back up to December of ‘18, January of ‘19, when a lot of conferences, in fact, some in this new alliance (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC) had leadership saying we have to expand the playoffs,” Sankey said. “So the basis for the conversation was about others’ interest.”

Sankey was one of four on a CFP sub-committee tasked with exploring different playoff models, working alongside Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

The CFP has used subcommittees for other issues, Sankey pointed out, including one that’s used for determining CFP championship sites.

“We were asked to look at, if we’re not at four (teams), what’s a format or formats that could work for the future of college football?’ " Sankey said. “I think I walked into the room that first time and said, ‘Four works really well, we could stay at four.’ If we didn’t stay at four though, what and why?”

RELATED: Georgia would benefit from 12-team playoff

The subcommittee came up with the 12-team playoff proposal that was met with great enthusiasm from fans and approved by the CFP board of managers for a “summer review phase” that would include ESPN and bowl partners.

The current format is in the eighth year of a 12-year agreement, and CFP executive director Bill Hancock made clear “there will not be a new format this season or next season.”

Still, there had been great optimism the 12-team CFP format could arrive in 2023 until other conference’s unfavorable reaction to the SEC’s addition of Texas and Oklahoma.

Scorned leadership, Big 12 remains

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, who is a member of the CFP board, recently said the 12-team playoff proposal “is on life support now.”

Gee, speaking to the Daily Athenaeum, was quoted as saying:

“I have one of the votes and I think it nearly needs to be unanimous and I’m not voting for it. I think the Big Ten will not vote for it and the Pac 12 will probably not vote for it, either.

“It’s one of those ideas that I think was very good when there was stability. When there’s instability, the idea becomes less appropriate.”

West Virginia, it’s worth noting, is one of the Big 12 schools jilted by the sudden and surprise departure of Texas and Oklahoma.

Sankey pointed out there was no expectation for the future of the 12-team CFP expansion to be determined this fall.

Playoff decision future and timeline

“We’re supposed to give feedback in September —I don’t know that I ever represented we’d make a final decision,” Sankey said. “In fact, Bill Hancock (director of the CFP) was careful to say we don’t know that there will be a final decision. We don’t know that we’ll go early, and if people need more time to think through the details of this college football playoff, so be it.

“But let’s actually reset what happened,” Sankey said. “We’re here because presidents of the CFP board of managers very clearly said — and by the way, it wasn’t the Southeastern Conference representative — ‘we want to see this (12-team) format, and we want to see it now.”

Sankey reiterated he’s fine with the current four-team College Football Playoff.

“Let’s go back and look at the facts, I’ve said as recently as (Tuesday), we can stay at four.,” Sankey said. “So four works very well for the Southeastern Conference. It can, it has. and it will if that’s where people choose to be.”

As for the timeline of events involving the addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, Sankey reminded everyone there was no conclusion reached until July.

“There was no understand on my part what conclusion, what decisions might be made,” said Sankey, whose job is to represent the interests of the member institutions and their respective administrations.

“We already had a (layoff) format out there previously,” Sankey said. “If you look, the first time I was ever part of a 12-team (playoff) conversation was probably late February of 2020, long before this notion of what might happen in the future around membership transition was occurring.”