AAC commish favors CFP model with 5 highest-ranked champions

Heather DinichESPN Senior WriterSep 26, 2023, 08:27 PM ET3 Minute Read

ROSEMONT, Ill. — American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said a playoff model that rewards the five highest-ranked conference champions is something “we have to have” in the new 12-team College Football Playoff format if the Pac-12 dissolves.

Aresco, who spoke to a small group of reporters following the first day of CFP meetings at Big Ten headquarters, said the CFP’s management committee didn’t talk about the future format on Tuesday, but are likely to on Wednesday morning.

The current proposal includes the six highest-ranked conference champions plus the next six highest-ranked teams — a model designed to reward the Power 5 champions and the top Group of 5 winner.

The format was agreed upon before the sweeping realignment changes this summer decimated the Pac-12, leaving the conference with Oregon State and Washington State tied up in a legal battle as they determine the best path forward.

If the Pac-12 folds, multiple sources have indicated to ESPN that there is a strong preference to change the model to 5+7, meaning the five highest-ranked conference champions, plus the next seven highest-ranked teams.

“I’m fine myself with the 5+7, assuming we stay at 12 teams,” Aresco said. “The 5+7 is something we really have to have, because otherwise, what’s the point of all the work we did for 6+6? If there’s no Pac-12, you’ve got four [power conferences], but you still want that fifth [spot] so that our group — 65 schools — has a shot at the playoff.”

Aresco’s public support for the 5+7 model is a critical component to the closed-door discussions because he has been vocal in his urging to consider staying at the 6+6 model even if the Pac-12 dissolves because it would give the Group of 5 schools two guaranteed teams in the CFP. Even with what appears to be overwhelming support for 5+7 within the room, though, there is hesitancy to commit to it with so much uncertainty looming in the Pac-12.

According to the NCAA bylaws, an FBS conference needs at least eight full FBS members that satisfy all bowl subdivision requirements. The NCAA gives conferences a two-year grace period, though, when they no longer meet membership requirements before changes are needed.

Multiple sources indicated they don’t even know if Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who attended the meetings but didn’t speak to reporters, has a vote. There’s still a possibility the Mountain West schools merge with the Pac-12 to try to benefit from its brand and possible assets, but that opens the difficult question of whether the Pac-12 would still be considered a Power 5 conference, which gets the benefit of 80% of the CFP revenue. The Group of 5 schools receive 20%.

According to the NCAA, a conference’s status as an autonomy conference is determined by the Division I Board of Directors.

“It’s going to have to be subject to a serious discussion,” Aresco said. “Without question. Absolutely. You’ve heard the notion of playing as a two-team conference, and what are your voting rights? There’s a material change here. There are things that weren’t contemplated in the agreement. All of those things have to be discussed.”

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