Sean Pendergast

Four Thoughts on the Expanded College Football Playoff

Baylor has a good chance of being in the first round bye group in the new playoff scheme.
Baylor has a good chance of being in the first round bye group in the new playoff scheme. Photo by Jack Gorman
On Friday, over a year after floating the idea of playoff expansion, the College Football Playoff Board of Managers voted unanimously to expand the CFP from 4 teams to 12 teams, and to do so as soon as possible, with 2026 being the latest it would happen. The hope is that it could happen as early as the 2024 season.
Among the measures approved by the CFP board Friday were these details of how the playoff would operate under the expanded structure:
12-team bracket: Six highest-ranked conference champions (no minimum ranking requirement), plus next six highest-ranked teams

Rankings system: CFP Selection Committee will continue to determine weekly rankings with criteria to be reevaluated

Bracket placement: Four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded 1-4 with first-round byes; four highest remaining seeds will host lower seeds at sites to be determined

Scheduling: First-round games will be played at campus sites* on either the second or third weekend in December, at least 12 days after conference championship games

Bowl relationship: Quarterfinal and semifinal games will be played at rotating bowl sites subject to agreements being reached; national championship will continue being played at neutral sites; existing conference relationships with bowls will be considered for game placements

* Exceptions may be made, for example, if a team with a smaller stadium prefers to host in a larger nearby venue or a Big Ten team wants to play at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, home of the Big Ten Championship Game, sources told Dodd.
Here are a few thoughts on this historic development:

This should stabilize some of the conference realignment movement
Conference realignment is always primarily about money, so as long as there are conferences making much, much more on their TV deals, there will be schools looking to move there. However, the secondary concern when big name schools leave the Big XII or Pac 12 is that those conferences will get minimized and de facto excluded from a four team playoff conversation. With the top six conference champions being included in this playoff format automatically, this not only maintains the relevance of the Big XII and Pac 12 (and ACC, for that matter), but also keeps the pulse alive on the Group of Five as part of the new playoff landscape. This is really positive for the sport overall, with more schools able to promise kids the dream of participating in a playoff run.

Similarly, this should quell talk of a complete break-off by the power conferences
This playoff expansion was a topic last spring, when the CFP powers that be held meetings to seriously discuss it. Then Oklahoma and Texas announced they were going to the SEC, and everyone pressed PAUSE on playoff expansion. It seems like the next big realignment shift, USC and UCLA announcing a few months ago they were leaving the Pac 12 for the Big Ten, perhaps accelerated playoff expansion talk. The fear that Power Five college football at its highest level was going to split off into a couple super-conferences, a fear that reached a fever pitch earlier this year, should be quelled for the time being.

We get on campus playoff games!
So let's dig into the details of the new playoff, whenever it gets started. To me, the most significant and exciting development of all the bullet points above is that there will be first round playoff games held on campuses. This is fun and should make for great atmospheres that pop on the broadcasts. For sake of reference, here is what those games would have looked like in 2021, if this format existed:

FIRST ROUND BYES: 1. Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Baylor

FIRST ROUND MATCHUPS

12. Pitt at 5. Georgia
11. Utah at 6. Notre Dame
10. Michigan State at 7. Ohio State
9. Oklahoma State at 8. Ole Miss

Meaningful December games at Sanford Stadium, Notre Dame Stadium, the Horseshoe, and The Grove? Give it all to me, please!

The Notre Dame Situation
Speaking of Notre Dame, they're the most intriguing team in the new, evolving framework of college football. First, they're one of the few teams (hell, maybe the ONLY team) that significantly expands the TV pie for an existing conference. The Irish value their independence in football, even if it means less TV money than they would make in, say, the Big Ten. As for this playoff, their independence hits the Irish, because under this format, only conference champions get byes in the first round. They're not in a conference. However, the fact that they're virtually guaranteed a spot if they're in the top 10 in the rankings makes this format, I would imagine, A-OK with the Irish.

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast