Ohio State AD Gene Smith says one cannot ignore the ongoing talk of 16-team college football playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS — The Big Ten Conference was one of three leagues that voted against expanding the college football playoffs to 12 teams last year.

As part of an alliance with the ACC and Pac-12, the Big Ten’s vote spoke more in favor of the way the expansion process was being handled than the actual idea of ​​an expanded playoff.

But as the Big Ten began their conference media days on Tuesday, it still loomed as an unlikely setting for bullish chatter about expanding the college football playoffs.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith told ESPN Tuesday that talks of a potential 16-team college football playoff are increasing.

“Sixteen just seems out there,” Smith said. “You can’t ignore it.”

Smith clarified that this term had not been formally discussed, but added that it recurred in the discourse on the CFP. Smith is the Big Ten’s most powerful athletic director, and it’s notable that OSU President Kristina M. Johnson sits on the CFP’s board of directors.

No format decision is imminent and could take years to be decided. The current four-team format expires in four seasons and the new one begins in the 2026 season, meaning the format will be heavily debated over the next two years.

On Tuesday, CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock told ESPN, “No reasonable options are being ruled out.”

Former Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is the Big Ten’s special adviser on football, pointed out that a 16-team playoff offers better access. While the question of how access will be granted will be debated, the existence of more free offers would clearly favor the two 16-team leagues.

The Big Ten recently added USC and UCLA, which will come in 2024. The SEC added Oklahoma and Texas last summer, and both programs are expected to start in that league in 2025. That has more clearly shifted the power of the sport to these two leagues, which also have a significant financial advantage.

“I can live to 12, I can live to 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 firmly argued that automatic qualification was part of the failed 12-team model, also spoke openly about the CFP expansion on Tuesday. In his statements to the media, Warren said he 100% supports the playoff expansion.

Warren didn’t speculate on the number of teams, but did point out that having multiple media partners will be a priority. The current four-team model is televised exclusively by ESPN, and the Big Ten’s most significant media partnership is with Fox.

“What’s that real number?” he asked. “We’ll find out. I am confident that we will solve the college football playoff expansion. I really believe we need to open it up to have multiple media partners that we need from a college football standpoint. We have to think holistically.”

It’s unlikely that the next edition of the College Football Playoffs, modeled on the NFL, will have just a television partner. ESPN and FOX would be considered favorites to bid for the CFP. A 16-team model would mean that 15 games of the CFP inventory — significantly more than the three playoff games in the four-team model — could be split between the networks.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey admitted to ESPN at the SEC media days that he’d heard increased chatter about 16 teams becoming a talking point. Sankey pointed out that many compromises led to the proposed 12-team model finally being taken off the table in February.

“People rejected that, not me,” Sankey told ESPN in Atlanta last week. “And now, looking ahead, it was clear to me at the time that I was trying to take a step back because we didn’t agree on the format. It’s my responsibility to move people forward. And I give a lot to our membership. I’ve heard from others that they were unanimously opposed. I mean I’ll stop my comment here.

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