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College Football Playoff Votes to Expand to 12 Teams

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Close-up of the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. | Image by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

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The College Football Playoff’s (CFP) Board of Managers unanimously voted Friday to expand the playoff field to 12 teams with the aim of implementing the expanded format as soon as possible.

The 11-member board of managers consists of university presidents and chancellors representing each of the 10 Division I (FBS) conferences, plus Notre Dame president John Jenkins. While the board voted to approve the new format, it is up to the CFP Management Committee to oversee the implementation.

Ten FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick comprise the management committee. 

The committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday in Irving, Texas, and among the items on the docket will be addressing the board’s vote to implement the expanded 12-team field before 2026, which is when the CFP’s 12-year TV contract with ESPN expires. The commissioners will also discuss when and where games will be played. 

An unnamed person responsible for the logistics of the expanded playoff told CBS Sports that having the expansion implemented by 2024 is “unlikely,” with 2025 being more “reasonable.” 

“This is an historic and exciting day for college football,” said Mark Keenum, the president of Mississippi State and chairman of the CFP board of managers, in a statement. “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.”

The new 12-team bracket will feature the six highest-ranked conference champions as automatic qualifiers and the following six highest-ranked teams. The CFP Selection Committee will continue to determine weekly rankings with criteria to be re-evaluated.

The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded 1-4 and be granted first-round byes. The following four highest remaining seeds will host the lower remaining seeds in the first round at sites to be determined. 

First-round games will be played on either the second or third weekend in December, at least 12 days after conference championship games. Quarterfinal and semifinal games will be played at rotating bowl game sites to be determined by agreements.

The national championship will continue being played at rotating neutral sites.

While it might take months to work out the feasibility of playing a 12-team playoff in 2024 or 2025 due to the obstacles of determining game venues, hotels, and TV contracts, money can be a powerful motivator for change.

The current 4-team playoff model generates $600 million in revenue, while a 12-team playoff is estimated to generate $1.2 billion in revenue. 

The 12-team model was created by Southeastern Conference (SEC) commissioner Greg Sankey, Swarbrick, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. The model was floated publicly in June 2021, but the surprise announcement that Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC halted expansion talks at that time. 

In February of this year, the CFP announced it would not be expanding while still under the current TV contract with ESPN, which expires after the 2025 season.

The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten, and Pac-12 reportedly objected to expanding in February. However, the tides changed after conference realignment continued this summer, with USC and UCLA committing to join the Big Ten from the Pac-12.

The Big 10 also signed a historic television deal, reportedly worth $7 billion, and suddenly the objections of the unsupporting conferences began to fade into the background.

“The Pac-12 is strongly in favor of CFP expansion and welcomes the decision of the CFP Board,” the Pac-12 said in a statement Friday. “CFP expansion will provide increased access and excitement and is the right thing for our student-athletes and fans. We look forward to working with our fellow conferences to finalize the important elements of an expanded CFP in order to launch as soon practicable.”

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