Greg Sankey and the SEC seem to relish digging knife into failed Alliance | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

Greg Sankey knows how to rub it in.

No one seems to be enjoying the demise of the kumbaya between the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, known as the Alliance, more than the man whom this group united to oppose.

“What was it called? The Alliance?” Sankey, the SEC commissioner, said with a smirk Monday on the SEC Network.

RIP, Alliance.

The Alliance was a farce from the start, and it became a misnomer. The Big Ten operated behind the smokescreen to plunder Southern Cal and UCLA from its "ally," the Pac-12.

The ACC and Pac-12 deserve mockery after the Big Ten hoodwinked them in a union that foolishly rebuffed the 12-team playoff expansion proposal Sankey helped craft.

Once the guffaws end, though, Sankey will face an important question regarding the future of college football’s postseason:

Will the SEC stomach a playoff format that ensures automatic qualification for several conference champions, or will Sankey demand a format featuring the SEC’s preference for bids to be assigned exclusively via at-large selection?

Sankey tipped his hand this week when he questioned why conference champions should deserve automatic qualification.

“I'd be fine with no AQs,” Sankey said, using an industry moniker for automatic qualifiers, “whether it's four like we have now – a model that's worked – eight (or) 12.”

Any playoff format that doesn’t award AQs would be a boon for the SEC and Big Ten. In a playoff where bids are awarded solely via at-large selection, those two growing superpowers would gobble up a majority of the spots, while teams in inferior conferences fought for scraps.

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Conversely, a model incorporating AQs would promote more widespread playoff access. But I can understand why Sankey may feel reluctant to play nicely after the Alliance rejected a 12-team proposal that would have ensured AQs for the top six conference champions, while preserving six at-large bids.

Sankey considered that proposal, devised last year, a compromise on the part of the SEC, because it reserved five AQ spots for teams in other conferences.

Others viewed the proposal as favoring the SEC. It would have created a path for the SEC to regularly claim four or more bids. And yet, twice in the past five years, the SEC secured half the bids in the four-team playoff, while the Pac-12 has not had a representative since 2016.

That 12-team format would have generated the most captivating and fairest postseason in college football history and ensured representation from at least six conferences.

It was genius, really. The 12-team format would have broadened representation throughout the country after the past two four-team playoff fields featured no teams from west of the Mississippi River.

The format would have solved the Group of Five dilemma by reserving at least one spot for a team from those conferences. It also wouldn't have capped the G5 with just one playoff spot, leaving open the possibility for two or more if merited in any given year.

It kept the subjective (yet compelling) rankings in play, while rewarding conference champions. Such a balance would encourage teams to play a tougher nonconference schedule, because a playoff spot could be captured strictly through conference performance.

The proposal also preserved regular-season intrigue. For example, top-ranked teams assured of a playoff spot still would play important games late in the regular season, because a top-four seed would generate a first-round bye.

The current contract for the four-team College Football Playoff runs through the 2025 season. After that, no game plan exists.

Sankey has even floated the SEC staging its own playoff, an idea that profiles as leverage to make other conferences come to heel on an SEC-endorsed playoff format.

For the overall health of the sport, a playoff that mixes AQs with at-large bids would be best. It would create more playoff access, promote conference championship drama, and preserve the battle for at-large bids.

But the Alliance rejected such a format when it voted against the 12-team proposal last winter. When offered water, the ACC and Pac-12 refused to drink.

Now, Sankey sounds content to allow them to suffer and demand a playoff format that will benefit the superpowers, while the ACC and Pac-12 are left with the haunting reality that they burned their goodwill when they cast their lot with the Alliance.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.