Expanding the College Football Playoffs — Answering the Biggest Questions

Tired of waiting for the commissioner to make a decision about expanding the college football playoffs, the 11 presidents and presidents who make up the CFP’s governing board announced on Friday a plan to expand the field to 12 teams in 2026. took the initiative in a unanimous vote.

The president has urged commissioners to try and implement the new format by 2024. Ten of his FBS commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic his director Jack Swarbrick will meet next week in Irving, Texas to begin that discussion.

After more than a year of indecisive and unproductive face-to-face meetings, the sport’s monumental change to the postseason came swiftly in an hour-long virtual meeting.

How did they finally come to an agreement? Who will benefit most from the new deal? And what comes next?

Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg and Pete Thamel analyze it all.

why are they expanding now?

The root of this expansion, like most things in college sports, comes down to money.

Two weeks ago, when the board held an unscheduled conference call to set this moment, there was a tone among the presidents on the phone that they were leaving a lot of money on the table.Current College Football The cost of not expanding in the final two years of the playoff contract was an estimated $450 million. A source also told ESPN that keeping a large amount of money on the table was what motivated him to re-engage. After 2026, he is certain to have a 12-team playoff. The next few weeks should determine if the logistics can be worked out in time.

When asked why, now that it’s Labor Day weekend and the college football season has begun, Mississippi President and CFP Chairman Mark Keenum replied, “It’s about time.”

“It’s time to make a decision,” he said. “We need to give the commissioners direction. , is where we think college football needs to head.’ …We believe the Commissioners need direction from this board, and we are pleased to give them to them today. .” — Thamel

How did they go over 8 or 16 to 12?

The 12 teams have always had strong support at both the presidential and commissioner level. One of the reasons is because I like the first-round bye of the top-four seeds, but also because of the logistics that work across the college football calendar. , there was not enough interest.

“We start working on some of the details and logistics…and someone said, ‘Well, why can’t we think of other options?'” Keenum said. “Well, I say this, every president believes the 12-team format is the right thing to do at this point.” — Dinich

How will this affect rescheduling future meetings?

The biggest repercussion is that six massive bids will act as a lure to make Notre Dame independent in the near future. The two biggest poles to Irish independence appear to be set for the foreseeable future.

As for the rest of college football, this is a tempting question.The money gap between the Big Ten Power 2 and the SEC is still large. There are always aspiring schools competing to join these leagues. But the fact that there will be automatic bidding for the top six conference champions adds certainty to leagues like the Pac-12 and Big 12, which have been marred by recent exits. Overall, it helps the sport. Reorganization occurs independently of access to the playoffs. — Thamel

Who benefits most from the expanded playoffs? Will it hurt anyone?

SEC has the most appearances (10), wins (14) and championships (5) in the CFP era, and could consolidate its share of the field with up to seven available slots. Commissioner Greg Sankey has repeatedly said the league is fine with him in the four-team playoffs, but his league has more of his CFP-enabled programs, plus the addition of Oklahoma and Texas. , increased need for access. While the league is cramming the top 12 in his final CFP standings, the Big Ten also stand to benefit, as the four-team model sees him play only six games total with three teams.

The model also marks an important victory for the G5 conference, which last year produced the first CFP participants in a four-team system (Cincinnati) and unanimously endorsed the 12-team proposal. With at least one G5 program making it to the 12-team playoffs each year, and the improving profiles of leagues such as AAC and Sun Belt, the odds of two G5 participants in the next few years increase. The Group of 5 entrants may be the road team playing in the first round matchup, but will eventually have a real seat at the table.

This vote is good news for Notre Dame, which has six access points instead of four. Athletics director Jack Swarbrick said in June 2021 he unveiled the 12-team model, which he was part of his group of four working and was later hired. During the tense Commissioners’ meetings that followed, he remained an avid supporter and ally of Sankey and others.

While there are no clear losers in the expanded playoffs, the annual distribution of teams could strengthen the gap between the SEC and the Big Ten and other power conferences. A model that guarantees a seat for the six highest-rated conference champions creates the possibility that leagues such as Pac-12, Big 12, or ACC will be left out entirely. The Pac-12 hasn’t had a CFP team for him since 2016, but Oklahoma, the Big 12’s sole CFP participant, is leaving for the SEC soon. But a postseason system where he triples the number of spots should theoretically serve all power leagues.

— Littenberg

What does this mean for Notre Dame’s independence?

Notre Dame’s ambition is to keep FBS independent in the future. Football independence is central to the university’s identity, and Swarbrick and Reverend John Jenkins, both 68, said their belief that they did not want to be leaders who would relinquish their positions before retiring was part of the university’s identity. related to athletics.

Swarbrick’s input and support for the 12-team model underscores his belief that Notre Dame can maintain its status while maintaining the access it needs to compete in national championships. While some playoff officials were unwilling to compromise, Notre Dame endorsed a system of never accepting first-round byes, making the road to a championship significantly more difficult.

Notre Dame remains the expansion target of every league, including the Big Ten, who have coveted the school for decades. But Notre Dame has less financial motivation than other expansion candidates, leaving millions on the table to remain independent in football. Due to access issues and the inability to create a nationally competitive schedule, I was more likely to attend meetings all the time. is in a position to regularly compete for one of six public spots. Notre Dame has made two appearances in his CFP for his four teams and has been in the top 15 of the final CFP rankings every year since 2017.

— Littenberg

Will this be the last time we see the playoffs stretched?

One of the many unanswered questions is how long the next deal will be. His current contract is for 12 years and he may change fields for four teams in 10 years. If there’s one thing certain about college track and field, it’s that nothing is certain for any length of time.

Keenum couldn’t help but laugh a little when he mentioned his head coach, Mike Leach. Mike Leach has publicly stated repeatedly that he supports the 64-team format.

“Are we always in 12 teams? [format]”I can’t answer that. We keep looking for ways to make the playoffs even better…and oh my god, I have a head football coach who says we should have a 64-team playoff.” I mean, he believes that, so what I’m trying to say is, there’s always room for improvement.” — Dinich


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