Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports just broke this story. He calls expansion of the playoffs an “inevitability” that has been “embraced around every corner of the sport.”
LET’S FUCKING GO.
Some details from the story:
The next three weeks offer a critical period in charting what the future of the College Football Playoff will look like. A pair of CFP meetings are expected to decide a specific recommendation, with a final decision, details and television contract determined later in the fall.
Yahoo Sports spoke to more than a dozen stakeholders Monday on every side of the playoff decision – university officials, athletic directors, media executives and others around college sports. Amid those conversations, a surprise emerged — officials on campuses, in conference offices and in the television world have expressed an openness toward a 12-team playoff as the most likely result.
While it’s unfair to say momentum has built toward a 12-team playoff before models have been presented to the commissioners or presidents, the 12-team model has emerged as the favored outcome over the eight-team playoff within the industry.
“The reason that you go to 12 is because you can develop the road of least resistance toward a good result,” said a high-ranking college official with knowledge of the process.
Basically, a small group (4) comprised of conference commissioners and other college football big wigs are meeting in Chicago about a week-and-a-half from today and are going to put forward a recommendation, which will then be brought before the CFP’s “board of managers,” which is basically 11 of the most powerful and influential college presidents in the nation. This board of managers will then put their heads together and come up with an outline of what the new playoff is going to look like, with the details to be ironed out down the road.
The 12-team playoff is apparently the overwhelming favorite at this point in time, but there are still lots of meetings and negotiations between the power players in the near future that could alter things. It’s expected that the new playoff format won’t be announced for at least a few more months, which means obviously the changes won’t be coming for the 2021-22 season. Thamel says the earliest we could see the expanded playoff is 2023, meaning three seasons from now including the upcoming season.
Now on to the rationale behind the 12-team model. I had previously on this site written and advocated for an 8-team playoff with 5 automatic bids plus a 6th for Notre Dame if they finish ranked in the top-8, but I actually like the points they bring up for the 12-team playoff:
In the current four-team College Football Playoff model, all four teams are at-large. In a majority of the eight-team models that have been projected, there’d likely be either five or six automatic bids. That means a decrease in at-large bids, which would not be of much interest to the SEC — or even Notre Dame — which could perceive the expanded playoff as having less access. (The Pac-12 and entire Group of Five, to counter, would likely not be interested in expansion without some type of automatic bids).
Another snag that makes some uncomfortable with eight teams is who’d get left out. If there are six automatic bids, for example, a team ranked No. 4 or No. 5 could theoretically be left out and a team ranked No. 18, for example, makes the field. That scenario makes some uncomfortable.
As it should.
The issues are complex, but essentially, there are enough stakeholders who’d prefer to stay at four because of the advantages it gives them over growing to eight. Therefore, the likelihood of a 12-team version — there will even be some chatter about a 10-team tournament as a compromise — has bubbled up.
A 12-team version would answer a lot of the immediate looming issues with the College Football Playoff — lack of diversity of programs, access for Group of Five and the erosion of the importance of supposed top-tier bowl games outside the CFP thanks to player opt-outs.
Check, check, check.
How would 12 teams work? The basic thought is automatic bids for the five major conferences — which also juices up their league title games as play-in games — and one for the highest ranked Group of Five champion. The other six spots would be at-large bids. That gives automatic bids to some of the have-nots and more potential spots for the more powerful leagues, and compromise is important in a vote where consensus is needed.
I love it. But, my one concern is this: if there’s six at-large bids, couldn’t that diminish the importance of the regular season somewhat? Or at least winning your conference? For instance, if Bama and Georgia square off in the SEC Championship and both are ranked in the top-5, both teams are getting in no matter what happens in the SEC Championship game.
The answer to that: byes for the top-seeded teams.
The details of how those 11 games in a 12-team system would unfold will still need to be worked out in upcoming months. But the thought is that the first four teams would get a bye and teams No. 5 to No. 8 would host teams No. 9 through 12 at home sites. (This could, of course, irk teams that finished higher and don’t get the big gate, memorable experience and home-field advantage of a playoff game.)
Then the bowl system could potentially fill in from there, with the expectation being that many of the high-end bowls in the system now would remain.
Okay, sounds good. I’m all for it. Sign me up.
But, we know that the initial four-team CFP television deal with ESPN was for 12 years, and since it started in 2014, that means the deal doesn’t expire until 2026. If they want to get this 12-team playoff up and running as soon as possible–and they absolutely do because it will be an even bigger cash cow than the current playoff given that it will have triple the teams involved–then they’ll have to renegotiate that TV deal with ESPN.
I’m sure if ESPN could get exclusive coverage of the 12-team playoff, they’d renegotiate the contract tomorrow. But it’s hard to see FOX and CBS sitting back and allowing ESPN to get exclusive rights to an expanded playoff without a fight. With a 12-team playoff, you have to figure FOX and CBS will get in on the action.
The TV deal is one of the biggest question marks hanging over this whole thing. The current deal is worth $7.2 billion; the new deal could be worth up to triple that.
Thamel, however, makes clear that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey will have the most influential voice in the room in all of this. The Big Ten has a brand new commissioner, Kevin Warren, and the ACC just got a new commissioner in December, Jim Phillips. And since the SEC wants 12 teams (because it makes them a virtual lock to have at least two teams in the playoff every year, possibly even three or four, while an 8-team playoff does not), that’s likely what we’re going to get. The Pac-12 is also getting a new commissioner very soon here.
CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd has more on the coming expansion:
College Football Playoff expansion discussions are moving faster than anyone initially thought. Doubling the CFP field to eight teams is all but assumed at this point, but expansion may not stop there, multiple industry sources tell CBS Sports.
Outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told the New York Times on Monday that he expects a decision “in principle” by the commissioners next week when they meet June 17-18 in Chicago. Incoming Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff came out in support expansion in what was a prominent part of his introductory press conference.
Talks have progressed since April. A working group made up of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick — chairman of the group — will update their peers next week. The presidents who oversee the CFP will meet on June 22 in Dallas.
It’s not clear yet when a detailed expansion announcement could come. The commissioners could recommend one or multiple models to the presidents next week.
Thoughts seem to be coalescing around a final decision on the future look of the CFP coming by September at the latest. A meeting between the CFP Management Committee (commissioners) and CFP Board of Managers (presidents) has already been scheduled for that month.
I thought this was interesting:
A significant part of the discussion is less about access and more about enhancing the value of the regular season. A sort-of playoff fatigue has formed around the recent stranglehold Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma have put on the game.
“We could go to 24 , and you might still have Alabama and Clemson playing for the championship,” said one person with intimate knowledge of the process.
Concern was expressed that ESPN’s “Who’s In?” advertising campaign for the CFP has drained interest from the second half of the college football season. That source wasn’t the only one who thought the playoff-or-bust mentality had impacted interest. A growing number of ADs and coaches have been critical.
There has been enough thought on the subject that one Power Five source speculated about the impact of a 24-team field.
“You’d have half of FBS that would still be alive in November for those slots,” the source said. “We’re not going to 24, but theoretically, that’s what I think we can accomplish with this.”
Basically, if you’re still in the hunt to win your division and make your conference championship game, you’re still (technically) in the hunt for the National Championship. So, far from diminishing the importance of the regular season, it would actually greatly increase the importance of the regular season for most teams.
With 12 playoff spots, you’ll have more teams playing meaningful games late into the season. Instead of only a few games with playoff implications, there will now be a lot more. Because really, all you have to do is win your division, then you get a shot at the Conference Title, which in turn is your ticket to the Playoff. So many more teams will be alive in the playoff hunt late into the season. This is great for college football.
The CBS Sports article is pretty long, but it has a lot of good information in it and I’d recommend reading the entire thing at the link here. But basically, the takeaway is that college football is way more complex and de-centralized than any sport in the country. Not only are there myriad conferences, there’s TV deals and mega-contracts, as well as bowl game contracts and conference agreements, etc. It’s very messy and complicated.
But the bottom line is that it will all get figured out because a 12-team playoff equals Billions and Billions of Dollars for everyone involved.
This is great news, though. We’re finally going to get a real playoff in college football–an NFL-style playoff. This is a great day for football fans everywhere. I can’t wait to hear the details as they emerge over the coming months. We should have a clearer picture of how it’s all going to work by the time we kick off the season in late August/early September.