At this time next year, the College Football Playoff’s latest rankings will be revealed in a televised broadcast much like they were Tuesday night.
While that’s not changing, so much else is.
By next year, the CFP…
• will have a new executive director.
• will have expanded from four to 12 teams.
• will have developed a new revenue-sharing model.
• will have agreed to a new television deal and long-term contract.
Change is coming.
The aforementioned topics will be at the center of meetings this week in Dallas when the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick gather. The group is scheduled to meet on Thursday with plenty of agenda items to explore.
Will decisions be made? Not on all of it. Here’s the gist on each of the four topics ahead of Thursday’s meeting:
CFP director search
Current: Bill Hancock is in his 18th and final year presiding over college football’s postseason. He’s helped lead the organization from the creation of the original two-team, single-game CFP to the transition to the four-team model and, most recently, the shift to a 12-team playoff.
Changes coming: Hancock is retiring and a new director needs to be hired.
The skinny: CFP leaders are in the final stages of choosing Hancock’s replacement. A two-month search produced an array of potential candidates, from both inside and outside of college athletics. The list has been narrowed to a smaller group of candidates. A director hire is expected to be finalized by the end of this week, multiple sources with knowledge of the process tell Yahoo Sports.
Current: The CFP executive board of presidents approved last fall to expand the four-team playoff to 12 teams, adopting a “6+6” format that grants automatic qualifiers to the six highest-ranked conference champions and at-large berths to the next six highest-ranked teams. Only conference champions are eligible for a first-round bye as top-four seeds. Seeds 5-8 host first-round games on campus. A rotation of six bowls host quarterfinals and semifinals.
The new format will begin with next season’s playoff.
Change coming: Commissioners created the 6+6 format based around there being 10 FBS conferences (five Power Five conferences). That’s no longer the case after the Pac-12’s collapse. There is momentum to reduce the number of automatic qualifiers from six to five and increase the number of at-large berths from six to seven — a 5+7 format change. With nine leagues — four power leagues — a 6+6 format would grant access to a second Group of Five conference champion, potentially one that is outside of the top 25. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the playoff system, which he helped create, cannot “justify” such a thing. However, there may be complications in a change.
The debate: A change in the format (before the current contract runs out in 2025) must be a unanimous decision among the 11 members of the CFP board. That’s where things get tricky. The Pac-12, despite the league dropping to two members next year, retains its voting privileges. Any format change to 5+7 comes with a likely move to rule the Pac-12 champion — either Oregon State or Washington State — ineligible to receive an automatic qualifier as a conference champion. Will the league stand in the way? There is another hurdle as well. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco and AAC leaders want the 6+6 format to remain for the final two years of the CFP contract, which runs through the 2025 playoff. However, in interviews with Yahoo Sports, Aresco has said he is open to agreeing to an immediate format change as long as the Group of Five is guaranteed an automatic spot in the CFP in the long term. Remember, the CFP’s existence spans just three more playoffs. There is no binding agreement after the 2025 season for both a playoff format and a television contract, which we’ll get to later.
Using tonight’s rankings, here's how a 12-team playoff would look based on the approved 6+6 format.
*6 auto bids to highest ranked conference champs
*6 at-large bids to next highest ranked teams
*4 highest ranked conference champs get byes as 1-4 seeds pic.twitter.com/cRm2DuNguB
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) November 8, 2023
Current: The CFP currently divides about $460 million annually into subdivisions. The Power Five splits about 80%, followed by the Group of Five’s 20% and then a small fraction is distributed to independents and the FCS. A per-school Power Five cut is about $5-6 million. Commissioners agreed earlier this year to tweak the model as it relates to distribution per conference. Instead of leagues in the Power Five receiving the same amount to distribute to a different number of teams, leagues will receive varying amounts based on their membership number. For instance, the new Big Ten, at 18 teams, will receive two extra units compared to the new-look Big 12 and SEC, both at 16 teams.
Change coming: The Pac-12’s collapse presents a few issues, but they are solvable. Those leaving the Pac-12 are moving to fellow Power Five leagues, so their distribution will basically follow them to their new home. As for Washington State and Oregon State, the two schools believe they are entitled to continue receiving their annual Power Five cut the next two years (about $5-6 million each). OSU AD Scott Barnes told Yahoo Sports that the Beavers and Cougars “didn’t cause” the collapse of the Pac-12 but that “those that did need to help us with the solution,” he said in reference to the league commissioners, three of whom expanded with Pac-12 additions. While most seem to agree that OSU and WSU are due their same annual Power Five cut through 2025-26 — though Aresco says “serious discussion” is necessary in the matter — there is another vexing issue that is likely to spark debate: SMU.
The debate: SMU is moving from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC. That’s a shift to the Power Five from the Group of Five, where schools earn about $1 million annually. During expansion negotiations this summer, SMU officials, as well as those from the ACC, expected the Mustangs to receive a Power Five distribution starting their first season in the ACC next year — just like the four newest members of the Big 12, which also made G5 to P5 transitions. That topic is expected to generate much debate on Thursday. For SMU to receive a full Power Five distribution, the four other leagues would need to take a reduction. This is significant for SMU. The school agreed to go nine years without accepting TV distribution from the ACC with the understanding that it would receive at least $10 million in other distribution rights, which includes the CFP cut. The CFP cut is responsible for half of that $10 million.
Current: The CFP is in Year 10 of a 12-year contract with ESPN. The network televises all three games — the two semifinals and title game — each year. The network pays the CFP roughly $460 million annually for the broadcasting rights.
Changes coming: For one, the contract expires after the 2025 playoff. That means there is really nothing contractually binding the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame together in a postseason format beyond the 2025 playoff. Secondly, an expanded playoff in 2024 and 2025 has opened the door to early negotiations with current partner ESPN as well as other networks. The event is going from three games to 11 — an eight-game increase. While ESPN owns the rights to the semifinals and championship games in 2024 and 2025, the others are available.
The skinny: Over the last two months, several networks interested in the CFP’s broadcasting rights have made presentations to commissioners, including ESPN, FOX, NBC, Turner and streamer Amazon, along with others. While there was movement last year in securing a TV package with more than one broadcasting partner, public comments recently from commissioners have shifted that line of thinking. Could one network get the entire package? Some feel that, at most, two networks will split the package. Negotiations have centered recently on a more long-term deal. Networks, including ESPN, aren’t interested in a temporary broadcasting package for the remaining two years of the contract. They want a more long-term guarantee. That is expected, sources with knowledge tell Yahoo Sports. The price has bounded about, but an annual cost of at least $1 billion is believed to be the starting point. The hope is a new TV deal will be finalized by this season’s national championship game.