IRVING, Texas -- For the first time since the Pac-12 was gutted by realignment, the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met Wednesday to discuss the future of the College Football Playoff in a meeting that was described as "cordial," but with a backdrop of uncertainty still looming over the league leaders.
If the Pac-12 dissolves in 2024, as many expect it to, the CFP could change how it chooses the teams in the expanded 12-team format, which also begins in 2024. The current model includes the six highest-ranked conference champions plus the next six highest-ranked teams, which allows for five Power 5 conference champions, plus one Group of 5 champ. If the Pac-12 doesn't exist, though, the CFP is considering changing the criteria to the five highest-ranked conference champions, plus the next seven highest-ranked teams. The group also discussed the option of 12 at-large teams.
No major decisions were made Wednesday, though, because the group is still waiting to see what happens to the four remaining Pac-12 teams -- Cal, Stanford, Washington State and Oregon State. The ACC is expected to decide soon on potentially adding Cal, Stanford and SMU.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips was expected to join them in person but told ESPN he didn't because of travel issues in Charlotte, North Carolina, caused by Hurricane Idalia. He participated in the five-hour meeting by videoconference and didn't provide the room any update on possible conference expansion, according to CFP executive director Bill Hancock.
"To the matter of conference realignment, we're going to have to wait and see," Hancock said. "We're going to have to wait until the dust settles before making any decisions about how that might affect CFP. The fact is, we just don't know yet. No one knows how conference realignment is going to wind up, and it would just be premature to make any decisions about it."
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said his conference should know "fairly soon" if SMU is going to join the ACC, and that his league has "contingency plans."
"We're weighing how we're going to deal with that," he said. "We had a major meeting today with our ADs and presidents this morning. ... It'll get resolved pretty quickly. I don't think it can go on too much longer. None of this is really healthy when it drags on, but we have a great relationship with SMU."
Aresco said the Power 5 label is "all about branding."
"When we heard Stanford and Cal have no place to go, well, that's not true," he said, "They had a place to go. They weren't orphans. It's the idea there's this desperation now because of the P5 branding. ... I understand the issue of money, it's based on TV deal, but guys are willing to go for virtually nothing because they feel they need that branding. We're seeing that play out now."
Regardless what happens with realignment, Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said that moving forward, the principle of honoring conference champions should remain important.
"I think that's a bedrock principle of what we are doing and what we've built into this," he said. "I think it's important that that is continued as we move forward. Depending on number of conferences we have, I think you can have a legitimate conversations about the number of champions that are set here, as well as the number of at-larges, but to me you start with the bedrock principle and I think it's important we keep that in there. I felt good coming out of that conversation. Didn't take any sort of hands, I just felt good about that conversation."
It was the first time Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was in the same room with his peers since Oregon and Washington decided to join USC and UCLA in the Big Ten, and Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado chose to join the Big 12. Kliavkoff has not spoken publicly since and declined to comment about realignment as he hurried past reporters in a meeting room lobby at the DFW Grand Hyatt.
As he walked briskly away, Kliavkoff smiled and said "it was good" to be in the room again with everybody and "nice to focus on everything in the future."
When asked what his future is, Kliavkoff said, "I'm focused on this year. I'm just focused on us winning a national championship."
Wednesday's meeting was previously scheduled for the CFP's management committee to dig into the nitty-gritty details associated with expanding the field to 12 teams in time for next season. While recent conference realignment obviously added another level to discussions, the focus remained on logistics. The group decided to continue to provide a $3,000 stipend for each of 125 players' families to travel to all of the games in the playoff. They are also moving forward with a company to help manage lodging on all of the campuses for the first-round games.
"This meeting was set months ago because every one of us knows that to go to 12 teams in '24, we've got a lot of work to do," said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who ran the meeting. "That's what we did. ... Did we talk about things have changed around us? Sure. Did that dominate the meeting? I don't think it did. Everybody was friendly. It's not the first time we've been through conference changes."
While starting the season in Week Zero has been a topic of discussion in the past, it has yet to garner much traction, and wasn't discussed Wednesday. But having recently returned from Dublin, Ireland, where Notre Dame kicked off the season against Navy in Week 0, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was candid in his support for the idea of it in the future, saying he thinks Week 0 is "really good for the sport."
"I understand the difficulties, but at a minimum, it always creates a two-bye year, and that's good for the health of the student-athletes," Swarbrick said. "Right now, we get a two-year bye every seven years. ... If you're around the locker room, and you see what they're like by Game 9, 10, a second bye's so helpful."
The CFP's management committee will meet again in September at the Big Ten's headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois, and is hoping to have more answers in place about realignment by then.
"I think we have to have some clarity, and we don't have full clarity right now," Sankey said. "... I want to see what the circumstances are at some point."