College football playoff expansion talks reignite: Friday meeting could create bigger field as soon as 2024

Frustrated with the leadership of FBS commissioners, the College Football Playoffs Board of Managers will meet Friday with a goal of adopting an expanded playoff bracket as early as the 2024 season, CBS Sports has learned. Support would likely expand to 12 teams under the parent proposal, which was the original concept presented to CFP working group stakeholders in June 2021.

The vote must be unanimous by the 11 members of the board. If enacted, the expansion would likely triple the playoff access of the current four teams. The 11-member board includes university CEOs representing each of the 10 FBS conferences, plus Notre Dame President John Jenkins. Mississippi State President Mark Keenum told ESPN earlier this year that presidential intervention could come as soon as next summer.

Apparently the timeline has moved up.

The commissioners failed in their attempt to reach a consensus on a long drawn-out process that stretched into 2020 and into February 2022. That’s when the CFP officially announced that the expansion talks were dead. The presumption then was that the playoff expansion would have to wait until at least 2026 when the current deal with ESPN expires.

There is still widespread support for CFP’s media rights going out to multiple bidders. If the expansion is instituted in 2024, ESPN would still have the rights to all games for the last two years of a 12-year deal. Sports Illustrated was the first to report on the upcoming CFP meeting.

If the expansion is approved Friday, the playoffs would go to at least 12 teams, according to a person involved in the process. However, that source left the door open for the body to consider a 16-team playoff.

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A 12-team playoff has been valued at $1.2 billion annually, up from $600 million today.

A subcommittee of commissioners developed a 12-team bracket that was favorably received in June 2021. The model included six automatic qualifiers (the top six ranked conference champions) and six overall teams. That would likely be the format adopted if the expansion is set to 12 teams. Such a group could be adopted as a short-term placeholder with a future expansion to 16 teams if the board agrees to increase the field, the sources said.

Asked if the presidents can achieve the required unanimous vote, a person familiar with the process said: “I don’t think we have a choice.”

“We realized that we had lost control of the narrative as presidents,” the person continued. “We’re actually going to proceed with certain parameters ourselves.”

The board would only approve the expansion as a concept. Then, it would be up to the commissioners that make up the CFP Management Committee to oversee implementation. One of the key questions that remains is whether the CFP can find enough game sites (possibly on campus for early-round games) and set up logistics such as hotel rooms, practice facilities, etc. in a short period of time. While those are still big hurdles, multiple sources believe it could all be overcome with 28 months to go until the first extended playoff.

“My answer in general is, if people are willing [to do it]anything can happen,” Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said.

Thompson was one of the original four stakeholders who were part of that task force to model the 12-team bracket along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and former SEC Commissioner Big 12, Bob Bowlsby.

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During a meeting on the day of the CFP National Championship on January 10, the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 commissioners voted against the expansion, thus the idea was scrapped. The final total was 8-3 in favor of expansion, but again, a unanimous vote was required. A source in the room said the Board of Managers had largely hoped to pass the commissioners’ vote that day, but was surprised by the number of issues still being ironed out.

A presidential source expressed frustration at not getting the “answer” from commissioners that was needed to push through the expansion. Since the formal expansion process began in 2019, four of the 10 FBS commissioners have changed: Brett Yormark (Big 12), Kevin Warren (Big Ten), George Kliavkoff (Pac-12), and Jim Phillips (ACC).

The CFP recently announced the sites for the 2025 (Atlanta) and 2025 (South Florida) championship games. Those sites will not change if the expansion is adopted.

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