College Football Playoff Expansion: Everything You Need to Know

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2021

College Football Playoff Expansion: Everything You Need to Know

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    College Football Playoff expansion seems inevitable.

    It might not be immediately around the corner, but the CFP management committee in charge of this decision have started the journey. The current four-team format will, in all likelihood, be eliminated in favor of a larger setup.

    Presumably, that is not breaking news for you. There are, however, a seemingly endless number of questions. Will an updated CFP include eight or 12 qualifiers? Where will the games be played? What season will it debut? What are the financial implications?

    And if you don't live and breathe college footballwhich probably makes you a saner person than me!you might not be interested in searching all over for every single update.

    We've got you covered. All of the latest information on the looming expansion is included here.

When Can This Happen?

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    This is the important place to start.

    No matter how a refreshed format looks, the implementation of expansion is not an overnight process.

    In early November, per ESPN's Heather Dinich, CFP executive director Bill Hancock shared a soft deadline of January 2022 in order to expand for the 2024 season. Hancock attributed this to determining the schedules, locations and logistics for each game.

    "I feel like we need to get it finished by January in fairness to the championship game hosts and the bowls," he said.

    The pressure is on, however, because not finding agreement in the next two-plus months means a longer delay. The current CFP contract expires after the 2025 season, and the management committee will not make a change for a single year.

    For your convenience, the TL;DR version: There is real momentum for a decision. But if nothing is agreed upon by January, the CFP reportedly won't expand until 2026 at the earliest.

How Many Teams Should Be Included?

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    In the summer of 2021, a four-person working group of Notre Dame's athletic director and the SEC, Big 12 and Mountain West commissioners proposed a model for increasing the field to 12 teams. That remains the most popular suggestion for expansion.

    Based on the proposal, the four highest-ranked teams would receive a first-round bye. Teams ranked 5-8 would host the opening game against the respective teams ranked 9-12.

    However, moving to 12 isn't a certainty.

    According to Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, the ACC and Big Ten were "most attached" to an eight-team model as of November. Since changing the format requires a unanimous vote, this isn't simply a situation where majority rules, either.

    This discussion is equally as important as the next topic, too. The number of CFP qualifiers will also affect the process of how exactly the teams will be selected.

    The TL;DR version: The 12-team model is the current favorite, but an eight-team format is still in play.

Who Makes the Cut?

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    Jeff Dean/Associated Press

    Picking the number of teams is the main obstacle in discussions, but access is a similarly impactful item on the agenda.

    Whether the CFP field grows to eight or 12, the question of automatic bids is a dilemma. Should the five power-conference champions—the winners of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SECreceive an automatic spot in the Playoff?

    "Eight with a whole bunch of automatic opportunities for conference champions does not work," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, per Matt Murschel of the Orlando Sentinel.

    In the June proposal, the working group that included Sankey suggested the six highest-ranked conference champions would reach the CFP along with six at-large teams.

    That is, objectively, the most inclusive option to date. Naturally, it's also not unanimously accepted because Power Five conferences want to guarantee access for themselves. The Pac-12, in particular, hasn't made the Playoff since 2016 and supports expansion in no small part because of that drought.

    Most, if not all, of the Group of Fivethe American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Beltwill be opposed to automatic bids to Power Five conferences anyway.

    While it's rare a Power Five champion doesn't hold a Top 12 ranking, the possibility exists. The Group of Five understandably wants to avoid the possibility of having a Top 12 team bumped at the expense of a Power Five program with multiple losses.

    "It's not our job to protect them," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said, per Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press.

    The TL;DR version: Whether to have automatic bidsand, if yes, deciding who receives oneis a key conversation.

How Much Is It Worth?

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    We can preach about expansion leading to more access. Power Five conferences would retain the largest presence in the College Football Playoff, but Group of Five leagues would at least have a definite path to representation. That's a good thing.

    Ignoring the financial component is silly, though.

    According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, a 12-team playoff during the 2024 and 2025 seasons would be worth an additional $450 million in revenue.

    On the other hand, it may surprise you to hear expanding to an eight-team format wouldn't directly lead to more revenue.

    The current contract with ESPN includes seven games: the New Year's Six bowlswhich includes two CFP semifinalsand the national championship. An eight-team playoff would also contain seven: four quarterfinals, two semifinals and the title game.

    The TL;DR version: Expanding to eight only alters the branding of existing inventory, but expanding to 12 is worth a bunch of money.

What's Next?

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Let's be clear: Any discussion of this magnitude requires a long process. Whenever one issue is solved, a new obstacle will arise. When that one is cleared, a new problem will appear.

    For those in favor of expansion, the hope is enough preliminary work has been completed to allow for a swift resolution.

    The next meeting of the College Football Playoff management committeewhich is comprised of the commissioners from all 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrickis scheduled for Dec. 1.

    The outcome of that meeting will show whether the long process is nearing the final stages or still has a long way to go.

    "Do I think it could go forward? Certainly," SEC commissioner Sankey said after the November meeting. "Do I think people could stop it? Absolutely, because we need unanimous consent to make this happen among the 11 participants."

    And that is the greatest barrier of all.

    The TL;DR version: The next reports will emerge after the Dec. 1 meeting. Either the management committee will have a unanimous agreement to present to the CFP's board of managers, or time will be running out on approving expansion in time for the 2024 season.