Wednesday, December 7, 2022

College Football Playoff expansion talks reignite: Friday meeting could create larger field as soon as 2024

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

The vote must be unanimous by the 11 members of the board. If enacted, expansion would likely triple access to the playoff from 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 been moved up.

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

There is still widespread support for CFP media rights to go out to multiple bidders. If expansion is instituted in 2024, ESPN would still have the rights to all the games for the final two years of a 12-year deal. Sports Illustrated first reported the approaching CFP meeting.

If expansion is approved Friday, the playoff would move to at least 12 teams, according to one person participating in the process. However, that source left the door open for a 16-team playoff to be considered by the body.

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

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

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

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

The board would only approve expansion as a concept. It would then be up to the commissioners that comprise the CFP Management Committee to oversee implementation. One of the key questions remaining is whether the CFP can find enough game sites (possibly on campus for early-round games) and put in place logistics such as as hotel rooms, practice facilities, etc. in a short time period. While those remain large hurdles, several sources believe all could be cleared with 28 months to go until the first expanded playoff.

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

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

During a meeting the day of the CFP National Championship on Jan. 10, the commissioners of the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 voted against expansion, thus scuttling the idea. The final total was 8-3 in support of expansion, but again, a unanimous vote was required. A source in the room said the Board of Managers largely expected to rubber stamp the commissioners’ vote that day but were surprised by the number of issues still being worked through.

A presidential source expressed frustration over not getting the “response” out of the commissioners that was needed to move expansion forward. Since the formal process for expansion started 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 expansion is adopted.

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