College football playoff will expand to 12 teams

The College Football Playoff, already a financial sink for the nation’s most powerful conferences, will triple in size to 12 teams no later than the 2026 season, a move intended to capitalize on the nation’s huge appetite for the sport, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.

The expanded system could be rolled out as early as 2024, but executives still need to negotiate the logistics and nuances that come with a larger field and a sudden increase in games with national title implications. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the settlement and its details had not been publicly announced.

Whether or not the redesigned format starts as soon, Friday’s decision put the playoffs on a clearer course toward the biggest television deal in college sports history — one that analysts say could fetch close to $ 2 billion a year.

Friday’s deal represented a significant change from the streak expansion ambitions had been on, including an announcement in February that the tournament “will continue with the current four-team playoff for the next four years.” By then, dreams of expansion, which some college sports executives had deemed last summer a fait accompli, had fizzled out as leagues jockeyed for membership, mistrust grew and concerns mounted about ESPN’s role as the only television partner of the playoffs.

Many of those questions and problems remain. But Friday’s vote of 11 college presidents and presidents reflected the widely held view within the wealthier confines of the college sports industry that the playoffs should grow sooner rather than later.

If the playoffs are expanded for the 2024 season, his television rights will increase to about $695 million, from about $470 million a year, for each of the last two seasons of the existing contract.

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Much bigger paydays await once the current deal with ESPN expires at the end of the 2025 season. With an expanded playoff now planned for no later than 2026, some executives and consultants believe the next deal, which could include a variety of broadcast partners, it could generate nearly $2 billion in annual television revenue.

If those forecasts prove correct, the playoffs would have the largest annual television rights deal in college sports. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, a 67-game showcase that underpins the bonanza known as March Madness, is expected to average $1.1 billion in TV money a year starting this decade.

The football expansion effort is unfolding at a time of sustained tumult in college sports, especially for industry powerhouses (the Football Bowl Subdivision’s 10 conferences, as well as Notre Dame) that co-host the playoffs and distribute shares of its proceeds to universities around the world. country. As TV money increasingly rains down on leagues like the Big Ten Conference, which last month announced a record set of media contracts that will pay at least $1 billion a year, and the Southeastern Conference, other leagues fear being left behind. in perception or reality.

Beyond business rivalries, the leagues and industry that dominate the public imagination have faced legal and political setbacks, particularly around rules that restricted unpaid college athletes for generations. Still, for many fans, antitrust law matters far less than how to crown a soccer champion.

The playoff is the successor to the Bowl Championship Series, which used a complex formula to help determine matchups for elite games, including title competition, for 16 seasons. The four-team playoff system debuted with the 2014 season and offered soccer devotees a new way to puzzle and rage over the standings.

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There would be ritualized complaints about the conclusions of the ranking committee, of course, but the small size of the tournament also left it vulnerable to complaints about the limited number of teams that can compete. (Although the NCAA manages the postseason for the Football Championship Subdivision colleges, which often have loyal local fans but little national renown, it has no control over the playoffs that attract powerhouse brands like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma).

Alabama has won three national championships in the playoff era, and Clemson has won two. Georgia, Louisiana State and Ohio State each have one playoff title. Deepening the sense of exclusion, only 13 of FBS’s 131 schools have appeared in semifinal games, and at least one Power 5 league is currently guaranteed to be out in any given season.

The Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences all missed the playoffs last season, with the Pac-12 enduring their fifth straight year without an invite.

Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia and Michigan made the playoffs in 2021; Alabama and Georgia advanced to the title game for an SEC matchup, which Georgia won.

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