CFP committee digs into feasibility of early expansion to 12

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS — In a meeting room just down the hall from where the plan for a 12-team College Football Playoff came to life almost 2 1/2 years ago, the conference commissioners who manage the postseason system finally began the next phase of expansion: implementation.

The 11-member management committee gathered for 4 1/2 hours at a hotel in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for the first time since their bosses voted last week to expand the CFP from four to 12 teams.

The frustrations and hard-feelings that hung over expansion talks most of last fall, and led to some icy gatherings, have seemingly been lifted. The goal is to sort through myriad issues and have a new format in place for the 2024 season.

It’s unclear whether there is still time to accomplish that, but at least now everybody involved appears to be pulling in the same direction.

“It’s like when you wait in a long line,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said. “You finally get there, and you kind of forget about the long wait.”

Among the critical items that need to be sorted out to transform the playoff in two years are media rights, revenue sharing and working with and around existing contracts and bowl partners.

“There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of pieces,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said. “It won’t be by lack of effort, whatever happens.”

But first they need to figure out where and when 11 playoff games can be played. Availability of venues and television time slots could ultimately determine whether early expansion is possible.

“Really, everything falls from the calendar, kind of feeds from the calendar,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.

The management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioner and Notre Dame’s athletic director, meet again later this month at the Big Ten offices in Rosemont, Illinois.

Last week, the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the CFP pushed forward expansion and directed the management committee to implement a 12-team model by 2026, but as soon as 2024 – if feasible.

“We looked at everything today,” Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips said. “’24, `25, ’26. So it’s kind of parceled together. But I’m optimistic.”

Early expansion for the 2024 and 2025 seasons appeared to be off the table in February after months of haggling among the commissioners failed to produce the necessary unanimous consensus.

Phillips, along with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff, had opposed the 12-team plan last year.

The presidents had other ideas, but that lost time makes the task more difficult.

“We didn’t move down the road on details,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Well, now the good news is, the spirit is, `hey, we need to get after this.’ So attention is high. Prioritization is high.”

Sankey was part of the four-person subcommittee that began working on expansion in 2019. The group met here in February 2020 to hone in on the 12-team plan, but the pandemic put that on hold and it wasn’t unveiled until June 2021.

The 12-team format calls for four first-round games played at or near campus sites about two weeks after conference championship games, typically held the first weekend of December.

Quarterfinals will be held at bowl sites on or around New Year’s Day, followed by neutral site semifinals about a week later and a championship game in mid-January.

Last month, the CFP announced the sites for the 2024 and 2025 championship games based on a four-team model, another hurdle to changing the format.

A new format before 2026 would also mean going back to the bargaining table for the media rights, which pays about $470 million per year for the CFP, plus another $125 million in separate agreements with the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl.

Expansion for the final two years of the current 12-year deal that ends after the 2025 season is estimated to be worth an additional $450 million in net revenue to the conferences.

The estimated value of the television rights to a 12-team playoff beyond 2025 is about $2 billion per year.

A newcomer was welcomed to the management committee this week: Brett Yormark officially replaced Bob Bowlsby as Big 12 Commissioner in August.

Yormark said he spent most of the meeting asking questions.

He previously spent 14 years leading the company that manages Barclays Center and other sports and entertainment venues in New York. He said he didn’t know the nuances of the CFP well enough to gauge how complicated early implementation will be.

But if all the stakeholders are on board, he said, that goes a long way.

“When an event’s worth it, you do what you need to do to execute it,” he said.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.