Momentum is building rapidly for expansion of college football playoffs to eight or more teams
Discussions about the expansion of the college football playoffs are advancing faster than anyone initially thought. Doubling down on the eight-team CFP field is almost assumed at this point, but the expansion may not end there, multiple industry sources told CBS Sports.
“The expansion is coming, and it may be as early as this summer. It may even be more than [eight teams]an FBS athletic director, who recently spoke with their league commissioner, told CBS Sports.
Yahoo Sports reported on Tuesday that a 12-team model is favored by multiple parties. CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock’s bold claim that support could expand to up to 16 teams – found in the 17th paragraph of an otherwise sleepy April press release – has sparked heightened speculation .
“The SEC is going to push 12 because of their mark. I hear 12,” a group of five ADs told CBS Sports.
A field of 12 teams would presumably allow six automatic bids – the Power Five conference champions and the top-ranked team in the Group of Five – as well as six general bids.
While the SEC might not be openly leading the discussion for 12 teams, such a structure would likely benefit the most powerful conference in the game. In an eight-team slice, the SEC would be almost guaranteed two spots per year. In a 12-team bracket, that number could be three or four teams given the league’s current strength and performance in the CFP rankings.
“The SEC wants more at-larges,” said an AD in the South.
Outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said the New York Times Monday that he expects a decision “in principle” from the commissioners next week at their meeting June 17-18 in Chicago. New Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has expressed support for the expansion of what was an important part of his introductory press conference.
Talks have progressed since April. A task force consisting of Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick – group chair – will update their peers next week. The presidents who oversee the CFP will meet on June 22 in Dallas.
It’s not yet clear when a detailed expansion announcement might arrive. Commissioners could recommend one or more models to presidents next week.
Thoughts seem to converge around a final decision on the future of the CFP, which should be taken in September at the latest. A meeting between the management committee of the CFP (commissioners) and the board of directors of the CFP (presidents) is already scheduled for this month.
Several factors are at the origin of the discussion. Obviously, there is the money. According to two industry sources, depending on the size of the field, an expanded playoff could be worth two or maybe even three times as much as the current $ 7.2 billion ESPN pays to the CFP. The average annual payout for the current deal is $ 475 million. However, typical of media rights agreements, payment is deferred to increase in recent years.
Much of the discussion is less about access and more about improving regular season value. A sort of playoff fatigue has formed around the recent hold Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma have put on the game.
“We could go up to 24, and you could still have Alabama and Clemson playing for the championship,” said one person intimately familiar with the process.
Concerns have been expressed that “Who’s In?” ESPN’s advertising campaign for the CFP has drained interest in the second half of the college football season. This source wasn’t the only one who believed the play-off or bust mentality had had an impact on interest. A growing number of DAs and coaches have played a vital role.
There has been enough thought on the subject that a Power Five source speculated on the impact of a 24-team field.
“You would have the half of FBS that is still alive in November for those slots,” the source said. “We’re not going to 24, but theoretically that’s what I think we can accomplish with that.”
College football has long lacked the Cinderella factor. A wider range would allow at least one Group of Five program to have an automatic berth. Such a team playing for the national championship simply has not happened in the 23 year history of the BCS and PSC. While technically no team now gets an automatic spot with four general offers, an undefeated Power Five schedule will count far more than an undefeated group of five.
In the CFP, the top-ranked Group of Five conference champion is only guaranteed a New Years Six bowl. He has to be in the top four to be in the playoffs. Cincinnati (2020) and UCF (2018) were the top-ranked Group of Five teams in the CFP era. Both finished No.8.
Last month, before playoff talks were no longer focused, multiple sources told CBS Sports that access to the Group of Five is going to be a tipping point.
“There will be a trial if they don’t [give the Group of Five an automatic berth]”said a group of the five ADs.
“For me, this is not a start,” said MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher. “Yes [a guaranteed spot is] not there, why are we doing it? We have put in place a rather anti-competitive system. “
Since 2013, the FCS has put 24 teams into its NCAA-sponsored playoffs. This represents almost a fifth of FCS members. In FBS, only four out of 130 (3%) enter the CFP.
Ultimately, chairpersons will need to be convinced that a broader scope can preserve the level of integrity they attach to the process. Remember, this was a group that, during the BCS days, drew a line in the sand: no more football in the second half. Then, in 2019, major college football played its longest 143-day season.
Approval of support expansion and when to actually change the playoff field are two different things. ESPN and CFP have five more years on the original 12-year contract. With three years left on the contract, Hancock said no expansion would occur for at least two years.
ESPN’s motivation to enter into a new deal in the contract would be cost certainty. This would prevent the CFP from reaching the free market. Unless and until the expiration of this contract, ESPN has exclusive trading rights.
As for the bowls, breaking that deal and installing a new one could be “quite disruptive,” according to a source. It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but the six New Year’s Bowls all have contracts aligned with the current CFP. For example, the Rose Bowl gets its best traditional Big Ten and Pac-12 teams in years it doesn’t host the semi-finals. In expansion, the quality of these teams could be diminished.
These selections may be lowered if one or both conferences have two teams in an extended playoff. After the 2016 season, Ohio State played in the CFP although it did not win its division in the Big Ten. That left Big Ten champion Penn State playing in the Rose Bowl against USC Pac-12, who finished second to Colorado in Pac-12 North.
The Rose Bowl had to be convinced to give up the exclusivity of its two traditional conferences to join the BCS in 1998. Eight times since then, at least one non-traditional team has played in the “Granddaddy of ’em All” thanks to BCS and Commitments of the CFP.
In an eight-team field, speculation has centered on five automatic qualifying for the Power Five, which was not possible with just four places in the current CFP. A source said there may not be automatic berths in an expanded field; however, weight would likely be given to conference champions.
This would prevent the equivalent of a “bidding thief” from an NCAA tournament. Example: If Northwestern at 8-4 had beaten Ohio State in the 2018 Big Ten Championship game, the Wildcats could have secured an automatic spot in an extended bracket that would otherwise have gone to a higher-ranked overall team. ‘another conference.
Guaranteeing the group of five a place in an eight-team peloton poses problems as this would potentially lead to six guaranteed places. Some fear that deserving extraordinary teams will be left behind. In 2020, the six automatic qualifiers would have been No.1 in Alabama (SEC), No.2 in Clemson (ACC), No.3 in Ohio State (Big Ten), No.6 in Oklahoma (Big 12), No.8 from Cincinnati (Group of Five) and No.25 Oregon (Pac-12).
In this scenario, at least four top 10 teams would be left out in an eight-team field. There would only be two places left. This is another reason why 12 team support may be preferred.
With an expanded slice, the playoffs would likely start in mid-December. Some years it would be a week or so before the conference championship games.
If the regular season started in the last week of August, another weekend could be created to ensure a 12-game season while still retaining those league championship games. This so-called “Zero Week” at the end of August is now reserved for a smooth opening of the season by a handful of teams.