Hours before the start of week one, the College Football Playoff (CFP) Board of Managers unanimously voted to expand the college football playoff to a 12-team model, finally drawing an end to discussions that have been ongoing since early 2019. The Board of Managers is now tasked with overseeing the new format’s implementation by 2026. Some hope the expansion will take place sooner, maybe as early as 2024, dependent on feasibility as determined by the CFP Management Committee. The Committee is appointed by the Board of Managers and made up of ten conference commissioners and the University of Notre Dame’s Athletics Director. In the coming months, the Committee must determine game dates and locations, broadcast rights, and revenue allocations.
The 12-team field will consist of “the six conference champions ranked highest by the selection committee (no minimum ranking requirement), plus the six highest-ranked teams not included among the six-highest-ranked conference champions.”  The first-, second-, third-, and fourth-seed teams will receive a first-round bye, and the remaining eight teams will play in the first round, with the higher seed hosting the lower either on-campus or at a site chosen by that higher seed.
Many are happy to see the new model and believe it will create more room at a table that has been largely dominated by two conferences for the past decade and a half - the SEC and the Big 10. The SEC has won five of eight national championships since the CFP’s introduction in 2014, including three straight titles. This dominance has created challenges, namely recruiting difficulties and a lack of national appeal, especially when considering other collegiate championships, like men’s college basketball’s March Madness tournament. March Madness has become a national phenomenon, with millions filling out brackets and following the action, watching first-round upsets, and rooting for Cinderella teams to make deep runs in the tournament.
In contrast, college football has continued to condense into regional powerhouses, and recent conference realignment has created even more concern that the rich get richer and continue to edge out other programs. With the expanded model, the hope is that the additional playoff access boosts national appeal and teams in additional conferences move from afterthoughts to actual contenders.
The tentative timeline has the first-round games scheduled for the second or third weekend of December, with twelve days between conference championship games and playoffs. The Committee is set to meet in the coming days to begin discussing implementing the new model, possibly by 2024. The automatic bids for the highest-rated champions are a huge shift, almost ensuring entrance for the Big 12, ACC, and Pac 12. This system creates added playoff opportunities for additional Group of Five conferences like the Sun Belt. The at-large bids also increase the opportunity for one- and two-loss teams to remain in contention.
While the new model has been largely met with enthusiasm, there are concerns. The extended season touches a lot of areas: greater interference with fall semester finals and the beginning of spring semester; the December signing period will likely be pushed back; with players looking at a 16/17 game season, there is an increased opportunity for injury; additional games will likely compete for airtime with NFL playoffs. If the model is implemented before 2026, existing contracts with media partners and venues will need to be considered. There are concerns with adequate accommodations and ticket availability, as well as questions concerning the new revenue distribution model. Nearly 80% of the current CFP revenue is allocated to the Power 5, with the remaining 20% going to the Group of Five. Following expansion, the annual revenue is projected to triple to nearly $2 billion; however, little has been released regarding a new payout plan. Additionally, questions remain surrounding media rights, playoff locations, and how current bowl sites will be integrated into the new format.
Following a weekend of week two upsets, with two Sun Belt teams upsetting AP top-ten teams (Marshall handed No. 8, Notre Dame, their second loss of the season and Appalachian State defeated No. 6 Texas A&M), discussions surrounding CFP expansion feel even more important and timely. The Board of Managers and Management Committee have a lot to iron out in the coming months.
Julie Chambers is a 2L at New England Law, where she is President of the Entertainment and Sports Law Organization. She can be reached at LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/julie-chambers-38a3401b8/.