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There was something symmetrical, accessible and balanced about a 12 team College Football Playoff that earmarked six automatic bids for conference champions while reserving six at large bids for other deserving teams.

In this format, approved to debut in 2024, conference champions would be valued, because only conference champs would be eligible for a first round bye. The 12-team format also would provide playoff representation to a greater batch of conferences and geographic regions while ensuring access to at least one Group of Five team.

A stroke of genius, truly. A thing of beauty.

Alas, it might not happen – at least not in the originally designed format. The 12-team CFP is in jeopardy of becoming the next victim of conference realignment.

While the Pac-12 crumbles and discontent bubbles within the ACC, the obvious next question becomes: What does this mean for the playoff?

Count SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey among those questioning whether the 12-team CFP should take effect in the approved format.

“Circumstances have changed, and I think it’s wise for us to take a step back and reconsider what the (CFP) format might look like,” Sankey said Tuesday during a lengthy appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show.”

“We’ve not met on that. I’ve not had any meaningful conversations, but I think we have to acknowledge that (the playoff format) is on everyone’s mind, pending the outcome of” conference realignment.

Sankey still favors a 12-team playoff, but he'd like to reconsider the format.

Allow me to translate that Sankey speak: In light of the Pac-12 becoming a carcass, Sankey is questioning whether six automatic bids should be reserved for conference champions, whether first-round byes should be reserved for conference champs and whether the seeding structure should be re-evaluated.

Sankey’s call for reconsideration is self-serving. Reducing the number of automatic bids or allowing at-large selections to earn first-round byes would benefit the SEC. However, while biased, Sankey's point is a fair one.

The 12-team playoff format was designed with the thought that the Pac-12 would exist in 2024. That existence now is in doubt, and realignment isn’t finished.

As Sankey put it, “How many FBS conferences will exist in the next 30 or 60 days?”

And, if the number of conferences consolidates, would a 12-team playoff really need to earmark six automatic bids for conference champs?

Personally, I think it would be more engaging for, say, the Mountain West champion to snap up the sixth automatic bid than for that bid to be redirected to the fifth-best team from the SEC or Big Ten. But, I have a feeling Sankey and Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti won't share my opinion.

This is the final season of the four team CFP. It’s also the final season before realignment moves snap into place. Come 2024, the SEC will include Oklahoma and Texas; the Big Ten will add Oregon, Southern Cal, UCLA and Washington; and the Big 12 will bring on Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah.

And the Pac-12? It will be fortunate to survive. California, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State are the Pac-12’s leftovers following multiple raids.

While I feel bad for the fan bases of the forsaken Pac-12 schools, I don’t spare much sympathy for the conference's demise. Combine ineffective conference leadership with a lack of urgency from Pac-12 presidents and chancellors and a waning football product, and the Pac-12 dug its own grave.

The Pac-12 isn’t the great casualty of realignment. That conference lost its way and its relevance many years ago.

Rather, the brilliantly crafted 12 team playoff format could become the most stinging casualty of realignment.

Six automatic bids. Six at-large bids. Group of Five access. Rewards for conference champions. First-round games on college campuses.

It all sounded so perfect when it was crafted. I only wish we could see it happen.
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