The College Football Playoff management committee will consider expanding to a 12-team format when it meets in Chicago next week, marking the first step in what could be another historic change for the sport’s postseason.
The proposal calls for the bracket to include the six highest-ranked conference champions and the six remaining highest-ranked teams as determined by the CFP selection committee.
“No conference would qualify automatically and there would be no limit on the number of participants from a conference,” the proposal states.
The proposal, which was written by a subcommittee made up of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, is only the first step in a long process.
The 10 FBS commissioners and Swarbrick must agree on a format when they meet June 17-18 to discuss the topic in person for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic. While the four members of the working group have spent the past two years researching the possibilities to ultimately conclude that 12 teams provides the best opportunity, it’s possible the seven other members of the management committee support another format.
The four members of the working group issued a joint statement Thursday after presenting the plan during a virtual meeting of the full management committee.
“The four-team format has been very popular and is a big success. But it’s important that we consider the opportunity for more teams and more student-athletes to participate in the playoff,” the working group said. “After reviewing numerous options, we believe this proposal is the best option to increase participation, enhance the regular season and grow the national excitement of college football.”
Under the proposal for a 12-team format, the four highest-ranked conference champions would be seeded 1-4 and receive a first-round bye. Teams 5-12 would play each other in the first round on the home field of the higher-ranked team. The quarterfinals and semifinals would be played in bowl games, and the national championship game would remain at a neutral site.
The first-round games would take place on campus sometime during the two-week period following conference championship games. The quarterfinals would be played on Jan. 1 — or Jan. 2 when New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday — and on an adjacent day.
Under this proposal, Notre Dame and other independents would not be eligible for a bye because they cannot win a conference title.
Asked what roadblocks might prevent the commissioners from agreeing on the proposal next week, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN he thinks “it has a really good chance of developing a consensus.”
“I think it’s hard to attack it,” Aresco said. “I think it’s a well-thought-out plan. I really like the equalization concept, that all FBS [teams] have a shot. … I don’t think in that sense it has any flaws or weaknesses that would come to mind.”
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement that the 12-team proposal deserves further study and that an expansion could still preserve the significance of the regular season and conference championship games.
While the dates of the semifinal games and championship game aren’t determined, the report said the semifinals likely would not be played as a doubleheader. The CFP bracket would follow the selection committee’s rankings, with no changes to avoid rematches of teams that might have played during the regular season or are from the same conference.
The working group didn’t include which bowls might be a part of the CFP in the future, but it did recommend that if “traditional bowls” host games, teams would be assigned to those bowls for quarterfinal games with the priority going to the higher-seeded team.
“We’ve got to have a more meaningful postseason for college football, and this proposal is a bold, positive step in that direction,” one Power 5 athletic director told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock said the working group zeroed in on 12 teams because it would provide greater participation while preserving the focus of the regular season.
“They could reach consensus on some other model,” Hancock said. “They could reach consensus on this, or they could decide to retain the current format. They could endorse a different model.”
If the group reaches a consensus, it will present the plan to the 11 presidents and chancellors who make up the CFP’s board of managers at a meeting in Dallas on June 22. If the board of managers approves the plan, the commissioners and Swarbrick will use the summer to figure out how to implement it — and when.
Another meeting is scheduled for September, and any changes to the format would ultimately be made by the presidents and chancellors.
“It’s the first step in a long process that won’t end before September,” Hancock said.
Hancock has said the playoff will not expand this year or next. The current 12-year agreement runs through the 2025-26 season. The working group did not include any potential dates for implementation in its recommendation.
“The timing of the implementation will be decided by the presidents later,” Hancock said. “There are existing contracts for the 12 years that would have to be reviewed. The management committee has to endorse this, and the presidents have to authorize further research.”