College Football Playoff expansion: Board agrees to 12-team field with aim to implement as soon as possible

Sources told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd that the College Football Playoff Governing Council voted Friday to expand the playoff roster to 12 teams with the aim of implementing the larger format as soon as possible. A unanimous vote is an important first step in pushing the playoffs beyond the current four-team format.

The expanded 12-team roster, which the board hopes to begin as early as the 2024 season, will feature the six highest-ranked conference champions as automatic qualifiers, as well as the six highest-ranked regular teams after the season.

While the 11-member board — including the university presidents and presidents representing each of the 10 FBS conferences, as well as Notre Dame President John Jenkins — approved the expansion of the concept, it only ensures that the field goes beyond The first step of the four teams. Implementation is now overseen by 10 FBS Commissioners on the CFP Governing Council and Notre Dame Sports Director Jack Swarbrick.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday in Irvine, Texas.

One of the main topics on the backlog is when to start implementing 12 teams. Once CFP’s 12-year contract with ESPN expires, it could begin as early as 2024 or as late as the 2026 season.

The CFP subcommittee, comprising FBS commissioners, received positive reviews when it first launched in June 2021. After the presentation, before the expansion was approved, it came as Texas and Oklahoma announced plans to leave the SEC 12.

Given that both SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and then-Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby were on that CFP subcommittee, it was unnerving for other conference commissioners to halt expansion conversations as they reassessed their league’s place in the sport.

The first is a coalition between the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12, where the conference agrees to vote on key issues. The league thwarted expansion on Jan. 10 with an 8-3 scoreline in favor of a move to a larger field; a unanimous vote is needed to pass the expansion. In February 2022, expansion is considered a side-by-side topic for the foreseeable future, given that the board largely expected a rubber stamp in previous votes.

This past offseason saw the Big Ten knock out USC and UCLA from the Pac-12, a continuation of this round of restructuring that brought a definite end to this short-lived league. Given that the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 won’t raise media rights revenue to the Big Ten and SEC levels in the near future, this may open the door to revive talks.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock previously said the playoffs won’t expand until his current contract expires, which expires in 2025. Just a few weeks ago on the National Championship website for the 2025 season — Atlanta will host the season after 2024, South Florida the following year — CFP appeared to confirm that the format change won’t happen sooner.

If CFP’s goal is to expand before its ESPN contract ends, the hurdle it faces is the need to find enough playing space (possibly on campus for early games) and put in place proper logistics (hotel rooms, practice facilities, etc.). Within a short time period. While those remain significant hurdles, several sources told Dodd that all of them could be cleared within 28 months before a possible expansion of the playoffs in 2024.

“My overall response is that if people [to do it]anything can happen,” said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, one of the four key members of the subcommittee, alongside Sankey, Bowlsby and Swarbrick.

Industry sources told Dodd that the 12-team playoffs are worth $1.2 billion a year, up from the $600 million CFP currently gets from ESPN. By not implementing the expansion until the 2026 season, CFP will leave a lot of money on the table. ESPN will hold the rights to any additional CFP games during the final two years of its 12-year contract.

There remains broad support for the sale of CFP media rights to multiple bidders once the ESPN contract expires. The Big Ten recently signed an annual $1.2 billion deal with CBS, Fox and NBC to broadcast its games.

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