football-fbs flag | December 28, 2019

How the College Football Playoff works

No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 1 LSU square off in the CFP semifinals

We started the College Football Playoff era starting with the 2014 season. The format: four teams in two semifinals played in bowl games and a national championship game. The semifinals rotate among six bowls: Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar. Each semifinal will be played around the New Year's holiday with the national title game on a Monday night at least a week later.

FOLLOW BOWL SEASON: Schedule, scores, and previews for each bowl game

A committee of university presidents approved a plan for a four-team college football playoff. Here's what you need to know about the postseason format put together by the commissioners of the 11 major college football conferences and Notre Dame's athletic director.

Who votes on the College Football Playoff rankings?

There are 13 members on the CFP selection committee. It's a collection of people with experience as coaches, players, college administrators, athletic directors and journalists. Here are the members:

  • Rob Mullens (chair) (Oregon athletic director)
  • Gary Barta (Iowa athletic director)
  • Frank Beamer (former Virginia Tech head coach)
  • Paola Boivin (Arizona State professor)
  • Joe Castiglione (Oklahoma athletic director)
  • Ken Hatfield (former head coach at three FBS schools)
  • Chris Howard (Robert Morris president)
  • Ronnie Lott (Former Southern California All-American)
  • Terry Mohajir (Arkansas State athletic director)
  • Ray Odierno (Former United States Army Chief of Staff)
  • R.C. Slocum (former Texas A&M head coach)
  • Todd Stansbury (Georgia Tech athletic director)
  • Scott Stricklin (Florida athletic director)

What is the 2019 College Football Playoff rankings schedule?

All times Eastern:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 5 — 9-9:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
  • Tuesday, Nov. 12 — 7-8 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 19 — 7-8 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 26 — 7-8 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Tuesday, Dec. 3 — 7-7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Sunday, Dec. 8 (selection day) – Noon-4 p.m. (ESPN)

*Approximate start time. Rankings will be revealed live between the Kansas vs. Duke and Michigan State vs. Kentucky college basketball games.

The College Football Playoff Selection Committee will announce the playoff semifinal pairings and semifinal bowl assignments at noon on Sunday, Dec. 8. The committee responsibilities include ranking the Top 25 teams and assigning the top four teams (CFP semifinalists) to the semifinal sites. The committee will also assign teams to New Year's Six bowls and consider geography when making these decisions.

How often are the rankings announced?

The Selection Committee members will meet weekly, in person, on Mondays and Tuesdays to produce rankings. The committee will issue its first rankings Nov. 5 after the completion of the 10th week of the regular season. The committee’s rankings will be announced on ESPN each Tuesday evening — until the selection announcement on Sunday, Dec. 8.

What will the committee use to rank teams?

Selection Committee members will have a wealth of information including review of video, statistics and their own expertise to guide them in their deliberations. They will emphasize obvious factors like win-loss records, strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head results and results against common opponents. The playoff group has retained SportSource Analytics to provide the data platform for the committee’s use. It will also include general information such as each team’s opponents’ record. The platform will allow the committee members to compare and contrast every team on every level possible.

It should be noted that the committee will not use a single data point such as the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) that is used for NCAA championships.

How does the voting process work?

The committee will rank the top 25 teams in the country and assign teams to the semifinals and to the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange and Peach bowls in years when they are not hosting semifinal games. The committee will identify small groups of teams that will then be evaluated against each other in a detailed and deliberative manner. The committee will then vote the teams into the rankings in a combined selection-and-seeding process.

Voting Protocol

  1. Each committee member will create a list of the 30 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
  2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot. This is called a "listing step."
  3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The top team in each member’s ranking will get 1 point; second‐best, 2 points, third-best, 3 points, etc. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
  4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
  5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded. There will be seven rounds of voting. Each round will have a "listing step" and a "ranking step."

Notes, per

  • Any “recused” member can participate in Step No. 1, but cannot list the team for which he or she is recused. “Recused” teams (i.e., teams for whom a member has been recused) receiving at least three votes in Step No. 1 will remain under consideration.
  • A recused member can participate in Step No. 2, but cannot list the recused team. If a recused team is within one vote of advancing to the pool, that team will be pooled with the team (or teams) receiving the fewest votes. A “tie-breaker” ranking vote will be conducted among those teams to identify the team or teams that would be added to the pool.
  • A recused member cannot participate in Step No. 3 if the recused team is in the pool.
  • Between each step, the committee members will conduct a thorough evaluation of the teams before conducting the vote.
  • After the rankings are completed, any group of three or more teams can be reconsidered if more than three members vote to do so. Step No. 3 would be repeated to determine if adjustments should be made.
  • After the first nine teams are seeded, the number of teams for Steps No. 2, 3 and 4 will be increased to eight and four, respectively.
  • At any time in the process, the number of teams to be included in a pool may be increased or decreased with approval of more than eight members of the committee.
  • All votes will be by secret ballot.

Where and when are the games played?

The committee will place teams in the CFP semifinals as part of the New Year's Six games. These games will be rotated among the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Peach and Fiesta Bowls.

Teams in the Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls are contracted outside of the CFP arrangement:

  • Orange: ACC against the highest-ranked available team from the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame)
  • Rose: Big Ten and the Pac-12
  • Sugar: SEC and Big 12

If the conference champion from these conferences is in the College Football Playoff, the bowl will pick a replacement from that conference. When these bowls have a CFP semifinal and their contracted champions do not qualify, the displaced champions will move to one of the other New Year's Six games.

Also, when the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach Bowls do not host a semifinal, they will be a spot for a displaced conference champion and the top-ranked champion from a non-contract conference.

Here's the upcoming CFP schedule, including the National Championship Game, through the 2025 season (which goes into the 2026 calendar year for bowl season).

2019-20 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Dec. 30 Dec. 28 Dec. 28 Dec. 28 Jan. 13
(New Orleans)
2020-21 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Jan. 2 Dec. 30 Jan. 1 Jan. 2 Jan. 11
2021-22 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Dec. 31 Dec. 31 Dec. 30 Jan. 1 Jan. 10
2022-23 Jan. 2 Jan. 2 Dec. 30 Jan. 2 Dec. 31 Dec. 31 Jan. 9
(Los Angeles)
2023-24 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Dec. 30 Jan. 1 Dec. 29 Dec. 30 Jan. 8
2024-25 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Dec. 28 Dec. 28 Dec. 28 Dec. 30 Jan. 6
2025-26 Jan. 1 Jan. 1 Dec. 30 Dec. 27 Dec. 27 Dec. 27 Jan. 5
Bold denotes the bowl playing host to a semifinal game.

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