Sources: CFP circulating new 14-team model to include 3 automatic spots for Big Ten/SEC, 2 for ACC/Big 12

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the potential models for a new College Football Playoff may be emerging.

In a format being socialized among major conference administrators, the Big Ten and SEC would each receive three automatic qualifiers into a 14-team field, with the ACC and Big 12 getting two each and the Group of Five’s best team qualifying as well. Such a model would feature three at-large spots to the highest-ranked teams outside of the automatic qualifiers.

Those briefed on the format discussed its details with Yahoo Sports Wednesday under condition of anonymity. They cautioned that the proposed model is nowhere near finalized and is not the only format option that emerged from a meeting last week of the CFP Management Committee, an 11-member group encompassing the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director.

However, this “3-3-2-2-1” format is being socialized among athletic administrators, usually one of the initial steps in the process of adopting a model. The format would start in 2026 as part of a new CFP television contract. In 2024 and in 2025, the 12-team field’s format is set: automatic qualifiers for the five highest-ranked conference champions and seven at-large spots.

The College Football Playoff will look a lot different next season. It may change a lot more in the coming years. (David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The College Football Playoff will look a lot different next season. It may change a lot more in the coming years. (David Buono/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 3-3-2-2-1 format is not surprising. Commissioners discussed a variety of new expansion models at last week’s meeting, most of them expanding the 12-team field to 14 and granting multiple automatic berths to the four major conferences.

The 3-3-2-2-1 format is seen as a compromise to the Big Ten and SEC’s initial proposal of four automatic berths for those leagues — a model that, in a 14-team playoff, would leave just one at-large spot.

Timing of a final decision on a format is uncertain, but CFP leaders are facing a somewhat urgent timeline with regards to a new television deal. A format for a future playoff is one of several unresolved issues that commissioners must tackle before extending its deal with ESPN through 2031, a contract worth $1.3 billion annually, according to the network’s own reporting.

The CFP revenue-sharing model as well as a voting structure are other unresolved issues. CFP executive director Bill Hancock believes that the issues need to be solved within the next month.

The 3-3-2-2-1 format proposal is a move toward another trend in college athletics: unequal treatment among its members. The SEC and Big Ten, swelling to a combined 34 members with some of the sport’s biggest brands, are jockeying for more access than other leagues.

The format reflects the growing gap between the new tier in the sport: the Power Two and all others.

In this 14-team model, there would presumably be two first-round byes. The additional playoff games in the bracket would, presumably, be played at the home field of the higher seed based on the current format. In the current 12-team format, the four highest-ranked conference champions earn a bye while seed Nos. 5-8 host seeds 9-12 in first-round games. Quarterfinals and semifinals are held at bowl sites.

More automatic qualifying bids could increase the value of the regular season as teams jockey to position themselves in the conference standings. AQs also remove the subjectivity from a CFP selection committee that came under fire last season for leaving out ACC champion Florida State.

However, the high number of AQs — whether two, three or four — may remove some of the incentive to hold conference championship games. Conference standings are expected to determine AQs, with conference title games — for now — included in that formula. The future of league title games in an expanded playoff is an issue that Yahoo Sports explored in a story in December. Several CFP and college leaders acknowledged that a deeper examination of championship games is necessary.