College Football Playoff approves 5+7 format and reduces spots for conference champions

The field for the 12-team College Football Playoff beginning next season will comprise five conference champions and seven at-large selections after the university presidents who oversee the CFP voted unanimously Tuesday to tweak the format.

The move to decrease the number of spots reserved for conference champions from six to five was prompted by realignment and the disassembling of the Pac-12. An expected vote last month was delayed at the Pac-12's request.

The original plan for the 12-team format was to have the six highest-ranked conference champions, with the top four receiving first-round byes, and six at-large selections. But with one fewer so-called power conference after the Pac-12's demise, the commissioners who manage the CFP recommended the change from the 6-6 format to 5-7.

No conference will have automatic access. Those five slots will go to the highest-ranked conference champs as determined by the CFP selection committee, ensuring at least one team from outside the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference will make the 12-team field.

The selection committee’s rankings also will determine the seven at-large bids. There will be no limit to how many teams can come from the same league.

“It basically confirms the spirit of the original 6-6, and that was done when you had five A5 conferences,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said Tuesday. “To have a fifth (champion) is good, and it’s not a four-plus-one, which is good. It’s the best five. ... It’s a merit-based system.”

The coming season will be the first with a 12-team playoff after 10 years of it being a four-team event.

“This is a very logical adjustment for the College Football Playoff based on the evolution of our conference structures since the board first adopted this new format in September 2022,” said Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State and chairman of the CFP Board of Managers. “We all will be pleased to see this new format come to life on the field this postseason.”

During the decade of four-team playoffs, the only team from outside a power conference to make the final four was Cincinnati after being 13-0 following the American championship game in 2021. The Bearcats, now in the Big 12, lost to Alabama in their semifinal at the Cotton Bowl.

While the four highest-ranked conference champions will get a first-round bye in the new format, teams seeded fifth through 12th will open the postseason on the home field of the higher-ranked team — No. 5 vs. No. 12; No. 6 vs. No. 11; No. 7 vs. No. 10; and No. 8 vs. No. 9. The first of those four games will be on Dec. 20, a Friday night, with the remaining first-round contests played the next day.

New Year's Six bowl games will host the quarterfinals and semifinal playoff games. The first quarterfinal game next season will be New Year's Eve in the Fiesta Bowl, followed on New Year's Day by the Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The semifinal sites will be the Orange Bowl on Jan. 9, and the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 10.

The national championship will remain at a neutral site, with next season’s title game Jan. 20 in Atlanta.

The CFP management committee, which is composed of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, is scheduled to meet in person Wednesday in the Dallas area. Topics could include the still-pending six-year deal worth $1.3 billion annually between ESPN and the CFP that would allow the network to keep exclusive rights to the 12-team playoff through the 2031 season.


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