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College Football Playoff expansion would put emphasis on teams winning their conference

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer

ROSEMONT, Ill.  — The proposed 12-team College Football Playoff would make winning a conference more important than ever, with six spots reserved for league champions.

Every major college football conference plays a title game, but how the participants are determined — division winners or best overall records —- differs.

On Thursday at the Big Ten Conference office outside Chicago, the college football leaders who manage the playoff opened two days of meetings they hope will end with consensus around the core piece of the plan: How many teams?

The trickle down issues are already starting to pop up, including finding the optimal way to determine a conference champion while also best positioning the league for playoff participation.

During the first seven seasons of the CFP, a conference has twice placed more than one team in the field of four. In 2017, Georgia and Alabama, which didn’t even win its division, made it from the Southeastern Conference. Last year, the Atlantic Coast Conference, benefitting from Notre Dame’s pandemic-induced league participation, placed both the Fighting Irish and Clemson in the playoff.

Notre Dame became the first team to lose a conference title game and reach the playoff.

If and when the playoff grows to 12, ideally conferences will want to create title game matchups that bolster their chances to get more than one team in the field because the other six slots will be filled by a selection committee.

The ACC did that last year by scrapping its divisions. Divisions are back in the ACC in 2021 and Notre Dame is gone, returning to its cherished independence.

Among Power Five conferences, the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Pac-12 use divisions to determine their championship game matchups; the Big 12 goes with the top two teams in the regular-season standings. In the Group Five, the American Athletic Conference has no divisions but the others do.

The six highest-ranked conference champions are guaranteed a spot in the playoff and the top four get byes. But no league has an automatic bid.

Under that structure a conference championship game upset can do more damage than good to a league.

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