American Athletic Conference boss Mike Aresco calls guaranteeing each Power 5 champion a CFP berth 'step in the wrong direction'

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In response to a statement released Friday by outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN on Saturday that guaranteeing each Power 5 conference champion a spot in a potential 12-team playoff format would be "an enormous step in the wrong direction."

Aresco said the Pac-12 was the only conference to raise the issue this week at the two-day College Football Playoff meetings in Chicago, where all 10 FBS commissioners met to formally review a proposal for a 12-team format. After the meetings on Friday, Scott released a statement saying the Pac-12 "supports expansion of the CFP and believes that the Autonomy Five champions should annually qualify for the CFP."

"I didn't sense any other traction for it," Aresco said. "That would be an enormous step in the wrong direction from the working group's proposal as far as I'm concerned. The top six conferences, without favor, is merit-based. It's fair. It doesn't reward privilege for privilege's sake."

The proposal, which was written by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, does not include guarantees for particular conference champions. Instead, it calls for the bracket to include the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the six highest-ranked other teams as determined by the CFP's selection committee.

There would be no limit on the number of participants from a conference, and no league would qualify automatically. Incoming Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff also attended the meetings in Chicago, and will begin his role July 1, but the statement was issued by Scott. The Sun Belt followed later Friday with its own statement from commissioner Keith Gill, who said his conference supports the current proposal's plan regarding conference champions.

"The Sun Belt Conference supports College Football Playoff expansion, including the working group's recommendation to have the six highest-ranked conference champions in the field," Gill said. "Playoff spots should be earned and not given. Under the proposed system, if you are a deserving team, you should have no concerns of being left out of the playoff."

Aresco said there aren't any automatic qualifiers in the current four-team playoff system, which rewards the selection committee's four highest-ranked teams with spots in the semifinals.

"The most desirable outcome obviously in our view is for this to be a meritocracy, where you have to earn it," Aresco said of the 12-team proposal. "That was what was the smartest thing about the top six. I applaud the working group for doing that. To my mind and our conference, it was the most welcome part of it."