Big Ten advocated for a review of College Football Playoff protocol as early as a year ago
CFP expansion is unlikely, but a change to selection protocol is possible
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany called for a review of the College Football Playoff selection protocol last year -- much earlier than originally believed -- four sources told CBS Sports on Sunday.
That moves back the timeline to at least January 2018 regarding concerns recently expressed by Delany about the CFP structure. According to the sources, Delany originally raised his issues during the annual meetings at the CFP National Championship last year in Atlanta.
"That definitely happened," one source said. "Jim and Eric Barron asked for that to happen. That launched a deep conversation."
Barron is the Penn State president and member of the CFP Board of Managers, which will meet this weekend before the title game.
"This will be something that sets the tone for the course of the year," the same source said.
Delany wanted clarity on the value of winning a conference championship and questioned a disparity in the number of conference games played by leagues, another source said. According to a different source, the Big Ten commissioner wanted to make sure the 13-member CFP Selection Committee was "adhering to the protocol" developed when the playoff was finalized in 2012.
The Big Ten champion has been left out of the playoff for the last three years. The conference hasn't had a team in the CFP since 2016. Through the first five years of the playoff, the Big Ten has three appearances but has been shut out in each of the last two seasons.
"If I had any concern, it would be about strength of schedule and the value of [conference] championships, period," Delany said last month. "That's not a criticism. That's just: What do we know after five years?'"
A Big Ten spokesman told CBS Sports on Sunday that the conference supported "the spirit and letter of the original intent of how conference champions should be respected in the selection process."
The CFP commissioners took three months to review the selection process last year. By the end of the annual CFP meetings in April, it was determined the committee had followed protocol, a source said. No substantive changes were made.
The review focused on the four bullet-point criteria used to pick the playoff teams; that criteria, in part, was developed by Delany and his fellow conference commissioners.
The protocol document states that, when "circumstances at the margin" indicate teams are comparable, the following criteria must be considered: championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, (performances against) common opponents. Those bullet points are not weighted in terms of consideration.
The 10 FBS commissioners plus Notre Dame are expected to address that subject again at their meeting Monday in conjunction with the CFP National Championship.
"They definitely discussed it a year ago, and it resulted in the committee revisiting how the committee was going to emphasize champions," one source said of Delany's push back. "What is dictated versus what kind of flexibility does each committee member have to reach their own [conclusions]? It goes back to, is it 'most deserving' or is it ['four best']?"
No two-loss team has made the CFP. There is known to be concern in some quarters regarding the number conference games played by certain Power Five leagues. The Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 all play nine league games. The ACC and SEC play eight.
Detailed concerns from the Big Ten didn't emerge publicly until Delany spoke with The Athletic last month.
"The Big Ten would be happy to discuss structure issues with colleagues," Delany said. "… The Big Ten would definitely have conversations."
It is clear that Delany's concerns are not recent developments. Though Delany never specifically said he favored expansion of the four-team bracket, an independent source has twice told CBS Sports that Delany does favor an expansion of the bracket.
The comments above came 13 days after Delany told a group of reporters on Dec. 5 that "everything is not about the College Football Playoff" and "[the playoff] doesn't define us."
"I think [expansion of the bracket] really comes from the presidents," Delany added that day. "When we went from two to four, it was presidential consent. [Change] is not going to come any one of us because we're disappointed in a particular year."
Through a spokesman, Delany didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The four sources did not speak on the record because of the sensitive nature of the CFP and its structure.
While there has been recent speculation about expanding the current four-team field, CBS Sports reported last week that there is.
Monday's meeting is expected to touch on some of Delany's concerns. No real change -- if any even occurs -- is expected until CFP officials hold their annual April meeting in Dallas.
"We didn't go with four best [conference] champions. We went with the four best teams," Delany said last month in describing the CFP structure, "but the tiebreaker was supposed to go to [conference] champions."
In 2016, Big Ten champion Penn State -- 11-2 at the time -- was left out of the playoff and finished fifth in the final rankings; one-loss and Pac-12 champion Washington took its spot, and one-loss Ohio State was in the field. In 2017, two-loss Ohio State was left out as a conference champion in favor of one-loss Alabama. In 2018, one-loss Ohio State was ranked sixth behind one-loss Oklahoma and two-loss Georgia.
"We review [the protocol] every year," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. "Every year there is a lot [analysis] everyone goes through. We'll go through the same thing [Monday]."
Scott was not one of the four sources cited in this report.
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