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Wayne Staats | | September 2, 2022

College Football Playoff will expand to 12 teams in 2026, maybe sooner

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An expanded College Football Playoff is coming.

On Friday, the Board of Managers that oversees the CFP unanimously voted to expand the Playoff from four teams to 12. The larger field will begin with the 2026 season, though the College Football Management Committee will look into possibly moving up to the 12-team field for the 2024 or 2025 season.

The 12-team Playoff will be made up of the six conference champions ranked highest by the committee, with no minimum ranking requirement, and the six highest-ranked teams not among the conference champions. The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded Nos. 1 through 4 and will receive a first-round bye. The other eight CFP teams would play in the first round (No. 12 at No. 5, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7, No. 9 at No. 8) held at the higher seed on a campus site or another location selected by the higher seed.

As an explainer, here's how the first-round matchups would have looked in the 2021 season if it were around at the time, with the final College Football Playoff ranking noted in parentheses. Again, this is just as an explainer for the future policies:

  • No. 5 seed Georgia (No. 3 in final CFP ranking) vs. No. 12 Pitt (ACC champ, No. 12 in final CFP)
  • No. 6 Notre Dame (No. 5 in final CFP) vs. No. 11 Utah (Pac-12 champ, No. 11 in final CFP)
  • No. 7 Ohio State (No. 6 in final CFP) vs. No. 10 Michigan State (No. 10 in final CFP)
  • No. 8 Ole Miss (No. 8 in final CFP) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (No. 9 in final CFP)

The four teams with first-round byes would be the highest-ranked conference champions:

  • No. 1 Alabama (SEC champ, No. 1 in final CFP) vs. Ole Miss/Oklahoma State winner
  • No. 2 Michigan (Big Ten champ, No. 2 in final CFP) vs. Ohio State/Michigan State winner
  • No. 3 Cincinnati (AAC champ, No. 4 in final CFP) vs. Notre Dame/Utah winner
  • No. 4 Baylor (Big 12 champ, No. 7 in final CFP) vs. Georgia/Pitt winner

The four quarterfinal games and two Playoff semifinals would be played at bowls on a rotating basis, as would the national championship.

Here's what else the board approved, per the CFP website:

  • The ranking of the teams will continue to be done by a selection committee whose size, composition, and method of selection will remain substantially unchanged. The Management Committee will modify the selection protocol as required by the change to the playoff structure.
  • The model allows for first-round games to be played on either the second or third weekend in December in a way that best accommodates the format and the participating teams, with at least 12 days between the conference championship games and the first-round games. The Management Committee would make the final determination of the calendar.
  • Subject to reaching agreement with bowls, the four highest-ranked conference champions will be assigned to quarterfinals bowls on selection day in ranking order, and in consideration of current contract bowl relationships if those bowls are selected for the rotation. For example, if the Pac-12 champion were ranked #1, the Big Ten champion were ranked #3, and the Rose Bowl were a quarterfinal site, the Pac-12 champion would be assigned to the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten champion would be assigned elsewhere
  • With the four highest-ranked champions assigned to quarterfinal games in bowls, the opponent from first-round game winners will be assigned by the selection committee based on the bracket.
  • The higher seeds would receive preferential placement in the Playoff Semifinal games.

"This is an historic and exciting day for college football," said Mark Keenum, the President of Mississippi State and the chairman of the CFP Board of Managers, in the official release. "More teams, more participation and more excitement are good for our fans, alumni, and student-athletes. I'm grateful to my colleagues on the board for their thoughtful approach to this issue and for their resolve to get expansion across the goal line and for the extensive work of the Management Committee that made this decision possible."

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