It appears Division I college football is headed toward an expansion of the four-team College Football Playoff.
A release on the College Football Playoff website on Thursday revealed a sub-group of the CFP management committee was proposing an expansion to a 12-team format.
According to the release, the proposal was put together by a committee of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. The release says they group was “appointed by their management committee colleagues” and have been working on the proposal for over two years.
"The four-team format has been very popular and is a big success," the members of the four-person working group said in a statement. "But it's important that we consider the opportunity for more teams and more student-athletes to participate in the playoff. After reviewing numerous options, we believe this proposal is the best option to increase participation, enhance the regular season and grow the national excitement of college football."
Per the release by the CFP, the “four highest-ranked conference champions would be seeded one through four and each would receive a first-round bye, while teams seeded five through 12 would play each other in the first round on the home field of the higher-ranked team.” From there, the games would begin to be played in bowl games – both the quarterfinals and the semifinals – with the championship game continuing to be on a neutral site.
According to Brett McMurphy of Stadium, a source expects the earliest an expansion to start would be after the 2023 regular season, and his source said due to the impact of expansion for the CFP, “expect anywhere from 4-10 bowls to be eliminated by 2023.” The current four-team format is under agreement through the 2025-26 season.
Per McMurphy, “Notre Dame/Independents can’t get (first) round bye.” So only a team that plays in a conference championship game – which Notre Dame does not do since they are still considered an independent despite heavily scheduled with ACC teams – would qualify for a top four seed.
According to a story on ESPN.com, the proposal states, “No conference would qualify automatically and there would be no limit on the number of participants from a conference.”
"This is a very exciting moment for college football," the working group members said in the statement. "We think we can capture what student-athletes and fans love about the game and extend it to more people in more places, while enhancing what's great about the regular season."
Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy has long been a proponent of expanding the playoff lineup for Division I, though he stated back in 2018 that he would like to see an eight-team playoff.
"Every Power 5 conference (champion) school gets in, so if you win your conference, it means something," Gundy said in 2018. "... Everybody's gonna go crazy over watching all the conference games."
That season, UCF – a Group of 5 program – had gone undefeated and had climbed into the top 10, but were left in the cold of the CFP – which had an undefeated Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame and a one-loss Oklahoma. And Gundy, whose team was outside of the top 25 at the time, said “schools like UCF need to be in.”
However, an expansion to 12 – instead of the eight Gundy was hoping for three years ago – would have greatly benefited the Big 12 Conference had that been the total during the first seven years of the CFP.
Since the inception of the four-team College Football Playoff – which many believe was pushed forward after a one-loss Oklahoma State was left out of the BCS title game for a SEC rematch between LSU and Alabama – the Big 12 has had a team (Oklahoma) representing the conference in the playoff four of the seven years.
Looking back in the history of the CFP now, with the potential of a 12-team playoff, the Big 12 would could have had at least two in the playoffs – based on final CFP rankings heading into the bowl season – five of the seven seasons. And in the first year of the CFP, which had controversy leaving out Baylor and TCU because the Big 12 didn’t have a title game, there were three league programs within the top 12 – as Kansas State went 9-3.
OU would have been in every playoff but the first year, while Oklahoma State would have been a fringe team in 2016 – as the Cowboys were ranked No. 12 in the final ranking – and Iowa State would have been within the realm of making the playoff last season.
The expansion is still pending approval, with the next step in the process being a review of the recommendation next week when the 11-member management committee – that consists of the 10 FBS commissioners, as well as Swarbrick – convenes for a meeting in Chicago.
According to the release by the CFP, if the proposal is endorsed, or “reaches consensus on an alternative model” or elects to remain with the four-team format, the recommendation will be presented to the CFP board of managers, which meet June 22 in Dallas.
According to McMurphy when originally tweeting about the 12-team proposal, his source said, “it will be approved.”
"Now that the working group has presented its proposal, the management committee will solicit input from university presidents, coaches, athletics directors, student-athletes and others,” Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the CFP, said in the release. “That input will help inform what the management committee recommends to the ultimate decision-makers — the presidents and chancellors who serve on the board of managers. I do want to remind you that the final decision will be made by the board of managers, and that decision will not come before this fall."
Per the release from the CFP, other elements of the sub-group’s proposal states the playoff bracket would stick true to the rankings, “with no modifications made to avoid rematches of teams that may have played during the regular-season or are from the same conference.” There also would not be any form of re-seeding throughout the playoff.