Clemson Football has aspirations to qualify for the four-team College Football Playoff in 2023, as do many college football programs.
Next season, the CFP will change to a new 12-team model, but the massive changes in realignment over the summer have conference commissioners discussing the planned format.
The planned format was a “6+6”, which meant six automatic qualifiers for conference champions and six at-large berths. The top four conference champions would get the top four seeds and the byes into the quarterfinals, while the other two champions and the at-large programs would play first-round games on college campuses.
The state of the PAC-12, which might not exist much longer or at the very least will be significantly changed in 2024, has some thinking the 6+6 format might need some tweaking.
Some, like SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, suggest the changes to the PAC-12 mean the needs of football have changed:
"“One of the reasons I gave, as commissioner of the SEC, is that even here in the SEC, we wanted college football to be strong nationally. We have not seen a participant from west of the Rockies participate since 2016 [with Washington]. The expansion was about making sure we brought about Western football. Well, now what has happened is that Western football has come into other conferences. The net of that is that circumstances have changed.”"
Sankey isn’t saying that the automatic qualifiers aren’t necessary, but I can see where this statement could be setting up such an argument, and it would make sense for the SEC. With the number of strong programs present, it is logical that the conference would want to grab as many playoff berths as possible, and automatic qualifiers for other conferences would get in the way.
On the other hand, American Athletic Commissioner Mike Aresco feels the format needs to go the other direction.
As you might imagine, a quick agreement likely isn’t in the cards but they do have some time before the 2024 season starts, so I imagine these discussions will continue for a few months.
There are a couple of obvious options, and it seems the most likely compromise would be to shift from a “6+6” to a “5+7” by simply turning one automatic qualifier into an at-large berth.
The other possible direction is to get rid of automatic qualifiers completely, and just go with the top twelve teams as judged by the CFP committee. This is what the SEC and Big Ten would most likely support, but there would be pushback my most of the other conferences.
Clemson Football could be impacted by changes to the playoff format
Another possible compromise could be getting rid of automatic qualifiers while adding limits on participants from each conference. A similar rule existed during the BCS. Each conference was only allowed two participants.
The structure of college football has changed significantly since then, but a limit or four from each conference guarantees at least four spots in any season to teams outside the Power Two (SEC and Big Ten).
Which of these options is best for Clemson Football? That depends on their future. If they remain in the ACC for several years, the best option is to keep the automatic qualifiers. This way they can guarantee a spot if they win the conference.
If Clemson is going to leave the ACC for either the SEC or Big Ten within the next couple of years, then the abolition of automatic qualifiers would open up more opportunities for them to grab a spot while competing in either Power Two conference.
Since we don’t know exactly what Clemson’s plan is, it is hard to know which scenario is best for the program.