CFP decides 12-team play-off format

The College Football Playoff Board of Directors voted unanimously Friday to expand the CFP to 12 teams in 2026, but is encouraging sports commissioners to try to implement it as soon as possible by 2024.

The board announced Friday that the board’s 11 chairs and advisors have approved the original 12-team model, which includes six conference-ranked champions and six senior teams.

“This is a historic and exciting day for college football,” Mark Keenum, Mississippi State President and CFP Chairman, said in a statement. “More teams, more participation and more excitement is good for our fans, alumni and student-athletes. I am grateful to my fellow board members for their thoughtful approach to this issue, their insistence on expansion across the goal line, and the extensive work of the Management Committee that made this decision possible.”

The teams’ standings will continue to be determined by the CFP Selection Committee, which will remain largely unchanged.

The four highest-ranked conference champions will be ranked from one to four, and each will receive a goodbye in the first round. Teams seeded five through 12 will play each other in the first round in either the second or third weekend of December. The quarter-finals and semi-finals will be played in alternating pot matches, and the championship match will be at a neutral location, as in the current four-team format.

The 12-team model was originally put together by Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Greg Sankey, Swarbrick, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson and former Big 12 Commissioner Bob Poulsby. It was introduced publicly in June 2021 but faltered due to conference policies. In February, CFP announced that it would not expand into the current contract, which expires after the 2025 season.

The main disruption was specific interceptions from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. But after the thunderbolt of the reorganization this summer with the USC and UCLA committing to the Big Ten and that conference signing a landmark television deal, problems from those leagues began to fade into the background.

Two weeks ago, the CFP board held an unannounced call, to discuss expansion and the possibility of starting the 12-team playoff amid the current contract structure. It manifested itself on Friday afternoon, a historic day in the sport, on the cusp of the official start of the football season on Saturday.

“Pac-12 strongly supports the expansion of the CFP and welcomes the decision of the CFP Board,” Pac-12 said in a statement on Friday. “The CFP expansion will provide increased reach and excitement and is just the right thing for student-athletes and fans. We look forward to working with our conference colleagues to finalize important elements of the expanded CFP in order to launch it as soon as practicable.”

It could take weeks or months to work out the possibility of a 12-team playoff in 2024 or 2025. While CFP officials have put up barriers to such a surprise move – venues, hotels, TV contracts – money could loom. A powerful catalyst for change.

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