ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said Friday the league does not believe now is the right time to expand the College Football Playoff, explaining its position for the first time publicly after discussions to push through a 12-team format have produced no agreement.
Phillips said the ACC prefers to “immediately focus and collaborate with our colleagues to reinvent the NCAA” before making any decisions about what to do with the playoff, a position that leaves the league in the minority when it comes to approving an expanded format before the current 12-year contract ends after the 2025 season.
In explaining the ACC’s position, Phillips said he has had more than 30 meetings with league presidents, athletic directors, football coaches and administrators and they all agree there needs to be a 365-day review of college football before any decisions are made.
“We have significant concerns surrounding a proposed expansion model, though we’d be supportive of future expansion once and if these concerns are addressed,” Phillips said. “The membership believes that we have a responsibility in looking at the CFP and college football from a holistic perspective and not just whether to add more teams to a playoff. Collectively, we have much larger issues facing us than whether to expand the CFP early by two years.”
A majority of the conferences have expressed their desire to approve a 12-team model, initially developed in a four-person subcommittee with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and unveiled publicly last June.
But since the framework was announced, there has been disagreement on a variety of topics, including the bowl system, revenue distribution, student-athlete health and welfare and automatic-qualifier status.
The 10 FBS commissioners and Swarbrick met over three days last weekend in Indianapolis to try to come to an agreement, but were unable to do so. Afterward, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said they needed to be deliberate in their discussions and did not feel a sense of urgency to agree to something until all concerns were addressed.
Phillips made that point more bluntly during a 30-minute phone call with a small group of reporters, specifically addressing several areas. He mentioned student-athlete welfare, citing discussions with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and new Miami coach Mario Cristobal and their concerns with health and safety in playing additional games.
He also mentioned the major changes to collegiate athletics since expansion discussions first began in 2019, including name, image and likeness rules, the transfer portal and an NCAA governance structure that is undergoing a major overhaul.
“We don’t know what the new governance structure is going to be,” Phillips said. “We don’t know what Division I is going to look like. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the different subdivisions within the three and, and so how can we put together the CFP expansion, when we have no idea where this transformation committee is going to take us? So that’s part of this instability, that we feel like this is not the right time for expansion.”
Phillips also said it was “absolutely, positively not true” the ACC’s stance on expansion is tied to trying to entice Notre Dame to join the league as a full-time member.
“Our focus has been on our 14-football membership, that’s who we are trying to move forward and that’s my biggest concern, and working collectively with my colleagues to address these issues,” Phillips said.
As for whether he believes the ACC will shoulder blame for putting the brakes on expansion in the short term, Phillips said, “There hasn’t been agreement on a bunch of things. It’s not just the ACC, there’s issues that everyone has. Our position hasn’t changed. So I don’t know that this is some type of monumental moment in our process.”
Phillips was also asked to address why the ACC would not want to vote in favor of expansion at this time, when it could benefit from a bigger field in a season like this one, when conference champion Pitt finished No. 12 in the final CFP rankings.
He said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and other ACC coaches are “unanimous” this isn’t the right time.
“In the end, there’s other issues that there need to be some type of agreement on that we have not been able to in the room,” Phillips said. “For us is the fundamental question: Is this the right time at this moment of time? We were asked that question back in November, and we stated it. Was asked this question back in December, and we stated that we just don’t feel like this is the right time.
“It doesn’t foreclose in the future, about having an expanded playoff. We understand what that means, we understand what access means, we understand what it means to the ACC in a year like this year with Pitt, and also have experiences at other places, including being in the Group of 5 and what that means. So I get it, I understand that. This stands on its own, just like the other conferences are in their positions and you come together to try to move it forward.”