College Football Playoff takes next step toward expansion to 12-team format

The College Football Playoff has taken the next step toward expanding its format to 12 teams.

The CFP board of managers and management committee met in Dallas Tuesday to discuss the expansion model that was formally proposed last week. Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, the chairman of the board of managers, said in a statement that the board has authorized the management committee to begin engaging with “other important voices” in an effort to iron out a format for an expanded playoff.

“The board has authorized the management committee to begin a summer review phase that will engage other important voices in this matter. These include many people on our campuses, such as student-athletes, athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives, coaches, and university presidents and chancellors. Their opinions are important, and we want to hear them,” Keenum said.

The CFP tasked a four-member working group — made up of SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick — with exploring various avenues for potentially expanding the four-team field.

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  The college football playoff logo before the Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semi final game between the Clemson Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 28, 2019 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The College Football Playoff has taken the next step toward expansion. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The group worked over the past two years, and a 12-team format was officially proposed last week. The 12-team bracket would feature the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams. The top four conference champions would receive a first-round bye with the other eight teams playing first-round games on the campuses of the higher-ranked teams (No. 5 vs. No. 12, No. 6 vs. No. 11, No. 7 vs. No. 10, No. 8 vs. No. 9). The quarterfinal, semifinal and national title rounds would be neutral site games with involvement from the biggest bowl games.

The current CFP television contract (with ESPN) for the four-team playoff expires after the 2026 season. The 2023 season has been pointed to as the earliest any format change could be implemented. The TV contract and how the CFP incorporates the New Year’s Six bowl games are expected to be the trickiest parts of the impending transition.

"We have relationships with the bowls and a broadcast partner with whom we will want to consult to explore the feasibility of the 12-team proposal,” Keenum said.

Those discussions will take place this summer, Keenum said.

“I caution observers of our process not to rush to conclusions about what this board may decide. The working group has presented us a thorough and thoughtful proposal. There is more work to do, more listening to do and more information needed before we can make a decision,” Keenum said. "We look forward to hearing more and learning more in time for our next meeting in September."

A final decision on the expanded playoff’s format is expected to be made at some point in the fall.

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