The CFP Board of Managers, in a unanimous vote Friday, agreed to expand the college football playoffs to a 12-team format.
The CFP confirmed the news Friday afternoon about an hour after word leaked out about the massive decision. Current plans call for the 12-team playoff to start by 2026. However, board has asked the management committee (conference commissioners, plus Notre Dame’s athletic director) to see if there is a way to start the playoffs as soon as 2024.
“This is an historic and exciting day for college football,” said Mark Keenum, the chairman of the CFP Board of Managers, in a statement to the media.
“More teams, more participation and more excitement are good for our fans, alumni, and student-athletes. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the board for their thoughtful approach to this issue and for their resolve to get expansion across the goal line and for the extensive work of the Management Committee that made this decision possible.”
Under this new format, the six conference champions automatically make the field. The four highest ranked league winners will receive seeds one through four. Each will receive a first-round playoff bye. The first round of the playoffs will either the second or third weekend in December, but at least 12 days after the conference title games.
News broke Friday afternoon just as college football is about to start its first full weekend. Reports from both ESPN and CBS Sports said that the new championship format could start as early as 2024, but by at least 2026.
It’s not a done deal, as yet. Now comes the logistics planning. The 10 conference commissioners from the Football Bowl Subdivision, plus Notre Dame’s president, will discuss implementation next Thursday. They’re set to meet outside Dallas in six days. On Friday, the CFP managers, who are school chancellors and presidents, gave it their approval during a conference call.
It’s a seismic move for an ever-changing college football landscape. Conferences are breaking apart, with the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten becoming even more powerful. Texas and Oklahoma shocked the college football world in the summer of 2021 by agreeing to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC. Meanwhile, USC and UCLA jumped from the Pac 12 to the Big Ten this summer. The haves definitely were getting richer.
The current playoff is for four teams, with two semifinals and a championship. Georgia beat Alabama and January for the 2021 title. Most college football fans would love an expanded playoff. They’ve been clamoring for it for years. However, reps from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 held up a 12-team proposal earlier this year.
It makes all sorts of sense for college football to expand the playoff. CBS Sports reported that a 12-team bracket would be worth $1.2 billion, annually, in TV money. That’s twice as much money than the current contract from ESPN. The suggested playoff model breaks down like this: The six highest ranked conference champions would make the playoffs. Then, the six highest ranked teams that didn’t win a league title would earn at-large berths.
The CFP contract with ESPN expires in 2026. The current format started in 2014, when the playoffs, for the first time, went beyond two teams making a championship game. A CFP committee since then has selected four teams each December. Ohio State beat Oregon for the inaugural CFP title. But until the 2021 football season, no team outside the Power 5 leagues (or Notre Dame) had qualified for the top four teams. Then Cincinnati crashed the exclusive party.
Before the CFP, the Bowl Championship Series format decided the national champion. The BCS committee used a formula of human rankings and computer analysis to pick a top two. Then those teams played each other.