College Football Playoff officials are discussing further expansion through 2026

GRAPEVINE, Texas — College football commissioners on Wednesday discussed the possibility of growing the College Football Playoff field to 14 or 16 teams when the next CFP contract takes effect in 2026. They have a month to do it.

As the CFP faces pressure and a time crunch to finalize its new television deal with ESPN, detailed conversations about the changes were expected within the board. The CFP Board of Directors consists of 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame's athletic director. Members expected the Big Ten and the SEC to put specific ideas on the table Wednesday, and by all accounts they did.

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“This was the most productive meeting I've had since I started as commissioner,” Big Ten Commissioner Tony Pettiti said. “We talked about some design, and 14 came up. There was a good discussion about that. After that, there were no details other than that we didn't have much work. I feel good about the way everyone came together.

A 12-team format is set for 2024 and 2025. In light of the debacle of Pac-12, the Board of Managers, comprising university heads, on Tuesday approved the shift from 6+6 to 5+7 pattern. Five conference champions will receive automatic bids for the next two years, while four will receive first-round byes. Seven teams will take the big spots.

Now the conversation has shifted entirely to 2026, where there is no agreement and decisions require no consensus. The executive committee met for more than eight hours at DFW Airport on Wednesday, including two hours of Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame incoming athletic director Pete Bevacqua.

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“Today is another example of looking at the possibility of going to other numbers, like 14, through continued conversations,” ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said.

The 14-team model has two first-round byes instead of four, and the 16-team model has no byes. Both will now offer more seats to the Power 4 conferences, which have more CFP appearances between them with new members than any other conference in terms of size and, in particular, the Big Ten and SEC.

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While the commissioners agreed on the extent of possible further expansion, they would not get into details about the possibility of adding additional automatic eligibility spots to the Big Ten and the SEC. It was expected to push the pair at other conferences, and it was at least one topic on Wednesday.

“I'm not comfortable giving details because it's all just coming in,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said of the auto auctions. “It needs to be talked about on campuses and in conference board rooms before we get into the details of things like this.”

Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark described the auto-bid conversation as exploratory: “We're looking at the numbers,” he said. “It's brought up. We have to go through the process.

“They're all very premature,” Phillips said. “Ultimately, what is the right model for (2026) and beyond? We're constantly listening to each other and trying to practically put together something that's good for college football, the conferences and the health and well-being of Notre Dame and college football, long term.

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After months of refusing to give a deadline, Hancock said the CFP needs to receive potential design changes and that the TV contract must be finalized by next month, meaning there will be a short window to deal with these major design changes. This is a window in which the commissioners have conference basketball tournaments on their plates. Revenue sharing and voting powers for 2026 are also at the top of the debate.

Athletic ESPN and media representatives for the College Football Playoff announced last week that they have agreed to terms on a new television deal and extension worth $7.8 billion over six years from 2026 to 2032. Next two years. That deal has yet to be voted on, and ESPN is frustrated with how long it has dragged on. CFP officials would not comment if the expanded field would increase the value of that deal.

The idea of ​​more first-round games was not negotiated in the current agreed terms with ESPN, according to executives familiar with the discussions. While ESPN is willing to talk about them, ESPN's budget is an agreed-upon annual average of $1.3 billion, so there's no guarantee that more games will mean significantly more money or anything else.

“We should be done with this within a month,” Hancock said. “I don't know that anybody wants to put an artificial deadline on anything, but we have to do this. I think it gave everyone a sense of encouragement that we're getting it done today.

It took almost four years for the CFP expansion to go from a subcommittee formation to a fully formed reality. Now commissioners — many of whom weren't there when the 12-team model was proposed in the summer of 2021 — are debating changing it back before it even begins. And they don't have much time to nail it.

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“We're still undecided about everything,” said outgoing American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco. “We're trying to make some progress.”

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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