Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier is among a growing number of Group of Five officials that favor adding a playoff specifically for those schools. “It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of Five,” Frazier told ESPN. “Why not?” It’s been 32 years since a non-Power Five team won a national championship (BYU in 1984) and it likely will never happen again in the current format. In the first three years of the College Football Playoff, a Group of Five team has never ranked higher than No. 13 (Memphis in the 2015 initial rankings) by the CFB Playoff selection committee.

“There is absolutely no ability for us (teams in the group) to be in that national title conversation,” Frazier said. “That’s just reality. Anyone that says we can: That’s a flat-out lie.” The Group of Five consists of schools from the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences along with independents BYU, Army and UMass. Frazier said he believes a Group of Five playoff could be financially rewarding to those schools. NBC, CBS and ESPN have interest in televising the playoff, an industry source said.

“As long as the financial agreement that currently exists with the CFB Playoff remains and we had the opportunity to package a Group of Five championship, why wouldn’t we want to do it?” a Group of 5 official said. “It would spread the exposure to all five conferences, rather than just the one conference champion that plays in a New Year’s Six bowl.”

Currently, the highest-ranked Group of Five champ is under contract to play in a New Year’s 6 bowl — the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach — for the next nine years, through the 2025 regular season. Frazier envisions an eight-team playoff made up of the five conference champions and three at-large teams or independents.

“Every division of college football has a national championship — Power 5, FCS, Division II, Division III and NAIA — every division, that is, except the Group of Five,” Frazier said. While Frazier and several other group officials, who wished not be identified, support adding a playoff, plenty of conference officials oppose a separate playoff.

“Absolutely would not want a separate playoff,” said a Group of Five AD, “and I can’t put enough exclamation points behind that.” American Conference commissioner Mike Aresco has no interest in it either. “The answer is an emphatic no,” Aresco said. “We compete for national championships like anyone else in FBS, including the Power Five, and have no interest in any kind of separate championship.” The Group of Five officials that favor a Group of Five championship acknowledge several factors would have to be resolved: how much the playoff would be worth, how would it impact the Group of Five’s automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl, what bowls and how many teams would be involved.

Some officials are concerned a separate national title would perpetuate the perception of the haves and have-nots between the Power Five and Group of Five. “You mean compete for a junior varsity championship?” one Group of Five AD said. “No thanks.”

Even though the Group of Five representatives have upset the Power Five in the past two New Year’s 6 bowls — Houston over Florida State in 2015 and Boise State over Arizona in 2014 — the committee has penalized the Group of Five teams for playing weaker conference schedules. The Power Five teams are from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 conferences and Notre Dame.

“The College Football Playoff is great and I love the committee, but their focus is on the national championship for the Power Five teams and not focused on getting Group of Five (teams) in the national conversation,” Frazier said. This season, Western Michigan was only one of two undefeated teams along with No. 1 Alabama. The Broncos had non-league wins at Power Five opponents Northwestern and Illinois, yet 13-0 WMU was ranked No. 15 — behind six Power Five teams with three losses and one Power Five team with four losses.

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