April 17, 2024

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College Football Playoff officials are discussing further expansion for 2026 onward

College Football Playoff officials are discussing further expansion for 2026 onward

GRAPEVINE, Texas — College football commissioners on Wednesday discussed the possibility of expanding the College Football Playoff field to 14 or 16 teams when the next CFP contract takes effect in 2026. They also touched on the possibility of adding more automatic qualifying points, all while acknowledging they have about A month to get it done.

Detailed talks about the changes were expected within the group as the CFP faces pressure and a time crunch to finalize its new television deal with ESPN. The CFP Management Committee consists of 10 FBS commissioners and the Notre Dame Athletic Director. Members expected the Big Ten and SEC to bring specific ideas to the table on Wednesday, and by all accounts they did.

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“It was the most productive meeting I've been involved in since I started as commissioner and I've been fortunate to be in these meetings,” Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti said. “We talked about some formats and 14 came up. There was a good discussion about that. After that, there are no details except that we have more work to do. I feel good about the way everyone came together.”

The 12-team model is set for 2024 and 2025. The Board of Directors, which consists of university presidents, approved the move from a 6+6 model to a 5+7 model on Tuesday in light of the Pac-12's collapse. Five conference champions will receive automatic bids for the next two years with four of them winning the first round. Seven teams will occupy large places.

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Now the conversation has shifted entirely to 2026 onwards, where there is no contract in place and decisions do not need to be unanimous. The management committee met for more than eight hours at DFW Airport on Wednesday, including just two hours with Power 5 conferences and incoming Notre Dame athletic director Pete Bevacqua.

“Today was another example, through ongoing conversations, of looking at, yes, the possibility of going to other numbers, 14, etc.,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said.

The 14-team model would presumably have two first-round byes instead of four, and the 16-team model would be without a bye. Both would provide more venues for the now Power 4 conferences, which have swelled in size, and more specifically, the Big Ten and SEC, which with their new memberships have far more CFP appearances than the other conferences.


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While the commissioners acknowledged the amount of additional expansion possible, they did not go into detail about the possibility of adding more automatic qualifying spots, perhaps for the Big Ten and SEC. This has been something other conferences expected the pair to push for, and it was at least a topic on Wednesday.

“I'm not comfortable providing details because all of this has been out now,” Bill Hancock, executive director of the CFP, said of the auto bids. “It needs to be talked about on campus and in meeting rooms before we get into the details of things like that.”

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark described the automatic bidding conversation as exploratory: “We're just kind of looking at the numbers.” “It's been brought up. We'll have to go through the process.”

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“All of these things are very premature,” Phillips said. “At the end of the day, what's the right model for (2026) and beyond? We're continuing to listen to each other and try to put together something practical that's good for college football, good for the conference and Notre Dame and also the long-term health and well-being of college football.”

After months of refusing to set a deadline, Hancock said the CFP needed to make potential format changes and the subsequent TV deal expires within the next month, meaning there would be a small window to address these potential major format changes. It's also a window in which the commissioners will have collegiate basketball championships on their plates. Revenue sharing and voting powers for 2026 onwards also remain at the top of discussions.

The athlete I reported last week that ESPN and College Football Playoff media representatives had agreed to terms on a new and extended television deal, worth $7.8 billion over six years from 2026-2032, in addition to ESPN acquiring the rights to the tournament's 12-team model. The next two years. That agreement has yet to be voted on, and ESPN has been frustrated with how long it's taken. CFP officials would not comment if expanding the field would increase the value of that deal.

The idea of ​​more first-round games has not been negotiated on the current terms agreed upon with ESPN according to executives familiar with the discussions. While ESPN would be open to talking about it, the consensus annual average of $1.3 billion is the budget set by ESPN, so there's no guarantee that more games will mean more money or any more at all.

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“We have to finish this within a month,” Hancock said. “I don't know that anyone wants to put artificial deadlines on anything, but we have to get this over with. I think today left everyone with an encouraging feeling that we will get through.”

It took nearly four years for the CFP expansion to go from subcommittee creation to reality. Now commissioners — many of whom were not in office when the 12-team model was proposed in the summer of 2021 — are discussing changing it again before it even begins. And they don't have much time to solve it.

“We discussed everything and have not reached any conclusions yet,” said outgoing American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. “We're trying to make some progress.”

(Photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today)