College Football Playoff expansion talks reignite: Friday meeting could create larger field as soon as 2024

Frustrated with the leadership of the FBS commissioner, the College Football Playoff Governing Council will meet Friday with the goal of adopting an expanded playoff perimeter as soon as possible for the 2024 season, CBS Sports has learned. Under the leading proposal, the scaffold could potentially be expanded to 12 teams, an original concept presented to stakeholders by the CFP working group in June 2021.

The vote must be unanimously approved by the 11 members of the Board of Directors. If implemented, the expansion could triple the chances of the current four teams making the playoffs. The 11-member board includes the University CEO, who represents each of the 10 FBS meetings, and Notre Dame President John Jenkins. Mississippi President Mark Keenum told ESPN earlier this year that presidential intervention could come as early as next summer.

Obviously, the timeline has moved up.

Commissioners were unable to agree on a long, drawn-out process extending to February 2020. At that point, the CFP officially announced that expansion talks had ended. The assumption at the time was that playoff expansion would have to wait until at least 2026, when the current contract with ESPN expires.

There remains broad support for CFP media rights being offered to multiple bidders. If it expands in 2024, ESPN will still have the rights to all games in the final two years of the 12-year deal. Sports Illustrated first reported on the upcoming CFP meeting.

If the expansion is approved Friday, the playoffs would move to at least 12 teams, according to a person involved in the process. However, the source leaves the door open for a 16-team playoff run for agency consideration.

The 12-team playoffs are worth $1.2 billion a year, up from the current $600 million.

A subcommittee of commissioners developed a 12-team bracket, which received favorable reviews in June 2021. The model includes six automatic qualifiers — the six highest-ranked conference champions — and six general teams. If the extension addresses 12 teams, this may be the format to use. Such brackets could be used as short-term placeholders to expand to 16 teams in the future, if the board agrees to increase the field, the sources said.

Asked if the president could achieve the required unanimous vote, a person familiar with the process said, “I don’t think we have a choice.”

“We realized that, as presidents, we had lost control of the narrative,” the person continued. “We’ll actually handle certain parameters ourselves.”

The board will only approve expansion as a concept. Implementation is then overseen by members who make up the CFP Management Committee. One of the key remaining questions is whether the CFP can find enough playing fields in a short period of time (possibly on campus for early games) and secure the logistics of hotel rooms, practice facilities, etc. in a short period of time. While these are still significant hurdles, some sources believe everything can be resolved within 28 months before expanding the playoffs for the first time.

“My overall response is that if people [to do it]anything can happen,” said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson.

Thompson was one of the original four stakeholders in the task force, modeling 12 teams along with Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and former Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

At a meeting on the day of the CFP National Championships on Jan. 10, commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 undermined the idea by voting against the expansion. The final total vote was 8-3 in favor of the expansion, but again a unanimous vote was required. A source in the room said the management committee was largely expected to rubber-stamp the commissioners’ votes on the day, but was surprised by the number of issues still being worked out.

A presidential source expressed disappointment at not getting the “response” from the commissioner needed to move forward with the expansion. Four of the 10 FBS commissioners have changed since the official expansion process began in 2019 — Brett Yomark (M.12), Kevin Warren (M.10), George Clifkov (Pac-12) and Jim Phillips (ACC).

The CFP recently announced the venues for the 2025 (Atlanta) and 2026 (South Florida) championship games. These sites will not change if the extension is adopted.

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