Videos by OutKick
When the 12-team College Football Playoff kicks off Dec. 20, 2024, former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer should have the best seat in the house.
He will be 95, but not solely for that reason. He started this whole “thing of ours” known as the College Football Playoff, which expands from four teams to 12 beginning in the 2024 season.
Where that first CFP-12 game will take place will not be known until after the 2024 regular season. The first four games scheduled for Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday, Dec. 21, will be at the home stadiums of the better-seeded teams – No. 5. vs. No. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9.
The quarterfinals follow at the Fiesta, Peach, Rose and Sugar Bowls on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The semifinals will be on Jan. 9 and 10 of 2025 at the Orange and Cotton Bowls. The national championship game will be that Jan. 20 in Atlanta. That should be Kramer’s fourth game in a month on the front row.
Roy Kramer Started Playoffs In The Early 1990s At The SEC
For he started it all in many ways when he ushered in the first Division I-A (later called Football Bowl Subdivision – FBS) college football playoff on Dec. 5, 1992, at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. No. 2-ranked SEC West champion Alabama beat SEC East winner Florida, 28-21, on a frigid night in the first SEC Championship Game.
And the rest is history. The win propelled the Crimson Tide into the Sugar Bowl, where it upset No. 1 Miami, 34-13, for the national championship.
SEC Championship Game Led To National Title Games
The game led to the first Bowl Championship Series national championship playoff in which Tennessee beat Florida State on Jan. 4, 1999. That led to a four-team playoff beginning in 2014 that led to the dozen format in 2024.
A half-hour documentary of Kramer’s career premiers at 7 p.m. eastern time Wednesday on the SEC Network called “Roy Kramer: A Vision For the SEC.” But it should be at least an hour, and it should be called “A Vision For College Football.” It will be repeated at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“It was such a tremendous experience going to Maryville, Tennessee, to visit with Mr. Kramer,” ESPN’s Ryan McGee told OutKick on Wednesday. McGee worked on the project that was done by Raycom Sports.
“What really struck me was that in the middle of a day-long conversation about the SEC, BCS and the championship games, all of that, he was most excited to talk about his time as a coach,” McGee said.
A former ESPN and Fox Sports Net producer, McGee was in Nashville covering the SEC Media Days – something that also grew tremendously under Kramer.
Kramer, who was born on Oct. 30, 1929, in Maryville, coached high school football before serving as the head coach of Central Michigan from 1967-77. He was Vanderbilt’s athletic director from 1978-90 and the SEC commissioner from 1990-2002.
“People forget how great he was,” McGee said. “He became genuinely emotional when we started digging through the phones of his high school teams and of Central Michigan. Visionary business acumen aside, he loves football first and foremost.”
Kramer was not slick and talking-points trained like so many yuppy-like, metrics-mantra commissioners today, but he knew how to get things done – sometimes deftly.
Former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer Was Svelte
It was at the SEC Spring Meetings in June of 1991 at the Hilton Theater in Destin, Florida, that Kramer quietly tossed a bomb over the secondary and the media.
Amid a series of routine announcements during one of his daily addresses to a small number of sun-bathed reporters, Kramer said:
“After meeting with the athletic directors and presidents, the conference will be expanding by two schools to 12 next year. And we’ll go to divisions.”
“What’d he say? Did he say the league is expanding?”, then-Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Ron Higgins remembers saying. “What?”
Only Kramer and the SEC presidents and athletic directors knew of his impending, cataclysmic conference shift. There were no leaks on social media. “Internet” was not quite a popular word yet.
“The presidents voted unanimously to look at schools that might be interested,” Kramer told me in 2012 for a USA TODAY story. “We didn’t want to invite anybody. We wanted to see who was interested first.
It was soon announced that Arkansas and South Carolina would join the SEC, bringing the league to 12 teams with six in the West and six in the East for the 1992 season.
SEC Championship Game Plan Kept Off The Radar
But that little playoff part was most intriguing. Kramer had located a somewhat forgotten NCAA rule. It said if a conference went to 12 teams it could then form two divisions and have a championship game. Kramer read that as “playoff.”
Other conferences quickly copied the Kramer Doctrine. The Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten, the Bit 12, the Pacific-12, the Mid-American and others soon added league championship games that got the football rolling to the playoffs in 1998.
“I was quiet about it,” Kramer said. “But it kind of ended up being sort of a big time statement that day.”
And for many days and years after that.
“College football needed a playoff,” he said. “It needed one for years.”
And television has long needed a documentary about Kramer.
“It’s a comprehensive look at the career of a man who has had a lasting impact on college football,” SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent told OutKick on Wednesday. “You don’t realize the dramatic impact he made on the game until the whole story is told as it is told in this documentary.”