SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said “there is a small pang of sadness, probably more than a small pang,” given that the Pac-12 is on the brink of collapse after more than 100 years of existence and last week the tide of events unfolded. Ultimately, the Pac-12 was down to four teams. “In my experience, working in college sports just wasn’t one of those great feelings.”
“I take responsibility where we have taken steps,” Sankey said during a lengthy interview on The Paul Finebaum Show on Tuesday. “But last week questions surrounding the existence of the Pac-12 conference were somewhat different given its long and storied history.”
Last week, Washington and Oregon announced their intention to join the Big Ten, and Arizona, Arizona State and Utah decided to join the Big 12. Because of the drastic decisions, Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford and Cal were all looking for a conference location in 2024. The Pac-12 is unable to reassemble.
Sankey said he called Washington State athletic director Pat Chun and Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir and told them, “I don’t have solutions, but I have great empathy.”
While the Pac-12 was unsafe, Florida State President Richard McCullough bluntly told the university board of trustees in a public meeting that the Seminoles would “very seriously” consider leaving the ACC unless there would be a radical change to the league’s revenue distribution model. That, of course, led to speculation about where FSU might be going, and Sankey was at a Cubs game in Chicago with his conference athletic directors when people started reaching out to him about the volatility of it all.
“I have expressed publicly that I find the speculation about growth or directed growth in some of the statements released since problematic,” he said. “Even for me, with Southeastern Conference certainty, whether it was Friday afternoon or Saturday, which were phone calls, which were more like conversations, ‘What do you think is happening?’ There is no one calling me to seek or request entry, there is a lot of public comment.”
Sankey reiterated that his conference is not actively recruiting additional schools, but said the league is “constantly vigilant” about the changing higher education landscape around them. He said last week that behind the scenes, the conference bureau “had various types of daily communications with our campuses to say, ‘Here’s what we think is happening.'”
The Presidents and Chancellors of the SEC held a video conference at the end of the week, in which Sankey said there was “a really strong consensus with this group, quite clearly that there’s nothing out there that we should reach for or engage with.” .
With the Big Ten now stretching from coast to coast, Sankey firmly believes the SEC is comfortable with its current geographic footprint.
“We don’t have to be in four time zones to generate interest on the West Coast or really around the world,” he said, “and that was a hallmark. Who knows what’s going to happen, and I’ll get to that.” One of my original statements: We will always be mindful of what’s going on around us. And maybe the opportunity will come, but it has to be a big philosophical alignment. And it’s not something we’re actively engaging in. We’re currently recruiting institutions.”
Sankey is one of ten FBS commissioners overseeing the College Football Playoff format and was one of the original authors of the 12-team format that will begin in time for the 2024 season. The current model includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and the next six highest-ranked teams.
If the Pac-12 disbands — which many sources expect — the commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who also serves on the CFP administrative committee, would likely reconsider how the 12 teams will be selected.
“I think it’s wise for us to take a step back and reconsider what the format might look like given these changes and circumstances,” Sankey said. “We haven’t met on this yet, I haven’t had meaningful conversations, but I think we have to acknowledge that it’s on everyone’s lips pending the outcome of some of these additional membership movement issues.”
Sankey said he had been a proponent of carefully considering sowing and site decisions long before the recent events.
“Now we face more questions from the membership movement about how many conferences there will be,” he said. “It just raises the questions that can’t quite be traced back to a starting point just yet, like about access to the conference champion, about how a group is seeded, particularly the adjustment for Notre Dame to remain an independent player, who does not have top 4 seed status. It really has to be like that.” to be deepened and understood.