ATHENS — SEC fans tend to live in a world where it’s the SEC teams, and then everyone else.
It turns out they might not be the only ones with that viewpoint.
One of the ideas that will reportedly be discussed at the SEC Spring Meetings next week in Destin is an SEC-only postseason.
It sounds crazy, until it doesn’t when one considers all the change that’s already underway.
College football is in the midst of a major upheaval, to the extent that the 2021 season could essentially be viewed as closing out the BCS era that started in 1998.
Recruiting classes and player retention are now significantly more influenced by money — above board via NIL — than ever before.
Program leaders have lost leverage, and more coaches are cashing out, walking away from the stresses and challenges of more challenging management situations.
The SEC seems pitted against The “Alliance,” which was created by the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 prior to the 2021 season.
The Alliance flexed its muscles last year by derailing plans for an expanded 12-team playoff.
The idea that every conference could be represented in the playoff with all conferences and programs profiting from added revenue seemed like a win-win.
Instead, there were fears expressed the playoff would enable the SEC to separate from the rest of college football even more with as many as four of the 12 teams in the playoff.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was understandably frustrated and has publicly stated plenty of times that the four-team model works just fine for his league.
But Sankey and the SEC leadership can’t be naive to a bigger takeaway that 40 of the 65 Power 5 schools represented in the Alliance are essentially working against the SEC.
ESPN reports that one college official confirmed that “collegiality” between the five conference commissioners no longer assists with “Sankey in such a catbird seat right now.”
No doubt, there are fears and jealousy with the SEC on the verge of expanding to 16 teams with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma no later than 2025.
The SEC has never stood more powerful among its peers with three different teams winning the past three CFP Championships, including last season’s Georgia-Alabama CFP Championship Game showdown.
The SEC tied its own record (set last year) with 65 players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft — Georgia setting a new mark with 15 coming off its CFP Championship team.
The SEC has had more players drafted than any other conference the past 16 years in a row
Recruits have taken note, and now with the NIL coming into play, the SEC would seem to once again be at an advantage.
The application of the NIL favors the sort of deeper-pocketed programs the SEC boasts, particularly when one considers how SEC athletic departments prioritize football.
Some of the football prioritization is in the rich tradition of the league and the sheer love of the game, but the financial model is such that former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer coined the phrase: “Football is the engine that drives the revenue train.”
Blue Sky Thinking
FWAA President and ESPN CFP reporter Heather Dinich recently suggested talk of an SEC-only playoff is a bluff.
“This seems like posturing to me because Greg Sankey was mad when the College Football Playoff did not expand,” Dinich said on ESPN’s “Get Up” show. “Remember there was an 8-3 vote where the Pac 12, the ACC and the Big Ten voted against expansion at this time for different reasons.
“Greg Sankey is still mad about this, and to me this is a not-so-subtle message saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to be as accommodating this time around when we talk about expansion again.’”
It could be posturing, or it could be another step toward the likelihood of a super conference.
Sixteen SEC teams may or may not be enough for the league to hold its own playoff.
But who’s to say what the SEC will look like in 10 years?
The “Blue Sky Thinking” that Sankey refers to will involve several scenarios, from which others will evolve.
Talk of an SEC-only football playoff might seem far-fetched now, but as college football has witnessed over the past year, things can and have changed quickly.