In a summer that has seen dramatic changes on the college sports realignment landscape, the College Football Playoff will get into the expansion business as well with Friday’s announcement that the CFP field will triple to 12 from the traditional four teams — though a date for the expansion to come into effect is not yet set.
The Board of Managers, a group of university presidents and chancellors that oversees the CFP unanimously voted to expand the current four-team. The 12 teams will be the six conference champions ranked highest by the selection committee, plus the six highest-ranked teams not included among the six highest-ranked conference champions.
The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded one through four and each will receive a first-round bye. The other eight teams will play in the first round with the higher seeds hosting the lower seeds either on campus or at other sites designated by the higher-seeded institution.
CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said the quarterfinal and semifinal bowls will likely rotate among current New Year’s 6 bowls: Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, Cotton and Peach.
While the decision was made for the 2026 season, the CFP could potentially expand before then. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State and the chairman of the CFP board of managers, said the top issues with expansion before 2026 is changing the title dates for the upcoming games in 2024 (January 8 in Houston) and 2025 (January 5 in Atlanta). The 2026 game is scheduled for Miami.
“Just the logistics of doing this… is going to be a tremendous challenge,” Keenum said, adding the additional revenue that comes with tripling the playoff field “hasn’t been the driving force behind this decision,” although most observers of college sports hardly believe that to be the case. An expanded CFP field could produce a new TV deal worth $2 billion per year, estimates TV analysts. If the playoff expands for the 2024 season, its television rights will increase to about $695 million from roughly $470 million a year.
“Revenue, sure, there’s going to be more revenue,” Hancock said. “We all know that. There’s four new days, four new games. This will be an 11-game event versus a seven-game event. But the board’s thrust was on participation, the increased participation, more opportunities for student-athletes and more opportunities for people all around the country to grow this great game.”
The expansion of the field has been desired by college fans wanting to see more variety in the teams playing in the postseason. The difference between college football’s have’s and have-not’s has been stark in recent years; 13 FBS teams have played in a CFP game since the format started.
The Pac-12 has not had a team in the CFP for five seasons while the Big 12 and ACC also missed last season’s semifinals with Cincinnati becoming the first Group of 5 team to break the power conference monopoly. Since the CFP started in the 2014–2015 season, the ACC and SEC have combined for 18 of the 32 CFP participants; beyond that, the 10 SEC appearances come from just three schools and Clemson has made six of the ACC’s eight CFP appearances. Oklahoma, four times in the CFP, is the only Big 12 school to participate in the playoff and will be leaving the Big 12 in 2025 for the SEC.
“Signs point to the championship game being played later,” Hancock said of the post-2026 schedule. “We have another two rounds of a tournament to play over the current two rounds, so there will be four rounds, of course, and the way we’re looking at it now, it would be hard to squeeze all that in and still finish on the dates that we’re playing on now.”