Get ready for more of the gridiron rotation of Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson and occasionally others. College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock announced Friday that the CFP will stay at its current four-team format through the end of the 2025, when its current 12-year contract also expires. The dozen-year deal started in the inaugural season of the national-championship competition.
The statement concludes months of lengthy debate and multiple meetings about the possibility of expanding the playoffs to anywhere from eight to 16 teams. The proposal with the most support was a 12-team model, publicly supported by the American Athletic Conference, the current home of CFP outsider Cincinnati. University presidents and athletic directors appear to be content with the oversaturation of the highest level of the biggest collegiate revenue sport and player opt-outs of every bowl game.
“Even though the outcome did not lead to a recommendation for an early expansion for the end of the current 12-year contract, the discussions have been helpful and informative,” Hancock said. “I am sure they will serve as a useful guide for the Board of Managers and for the Management Committee as we determined what the playoff will look like beginning in the 2026-27 season.”
Staying at four teams is a failure for college football, with the loss of nearly a half-billion dollars in revenue for the 10 FBS conferences, Notre Dame, and the rest of the classification’s independents. Many of the Power Five Conference teams could benefit from an expanded playoff. The Southeastern Conference has continually had multiple of the quartet of teams qualify to be two games from a national title. That total would no doubt increase every year.
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Take the 2021 season. The national championship combatants of Georgia and Alabama would’ve been joined by Ole Miss. The Big Ten Conference also would’ve had a trio of teams make the cut with Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. You’re telling me a conference that has won one national championship, the first, in the CFP era wouldn’t want a fourth of the selected field? I guess it’s the same as what they had in 2021, but Michigan got steamrolled by Georgia. Increasing the number of teams that can bring home a title is beneficial in every way.
The other school of thought in keeping it exclusive matters and still has legs. Every week matters. If you slip up on a random Saturday in the fall, the chances of a national championship may go up in smoke? That’s an incredibly high bar. Every team making the current four-team field deserves it because of those expectations. It also gives way more legitimacy to the teams that just miss out. Under the favored 12-team format, being No. 13 holds little weight that you’re national-championship good. Being in 12th isn’t much better. But they can prove it, having to go through Nos. 5, 4 and 1 if seeding holds to even reach a title game. That’s one heck of a proving ground.
Under that 12-team scenario, the top four teams would all get byes to the quarterfinals, where the traditional New Year’s Six would begin. That would place four first-round CFP games on college campuses. Those would be near-guaranteed sellouts. Unique matchups with huge stakes would create incredible atmospheres. One comparable example would be when Cincinnati traveled and beat Notre Dame early into the 2021 season, likely knowing its CFP chances would be nonexistent with a loss. The Bearcats beat the Fighting Irish and carried the weight of the Group of Five with them the rest of the year.
The statement from Hancock won’t do much for the average college football fan. The stakes of a semifinal will draw viewership, but doesn’t feel as interesting watching the same programs compete for the title. Those in the elite club won’t care. It’s better for more schools to use the recruiting pitch “we’re going to compete for a national championship” and actually back it up. Knowing we’re four seasons away from that becoming reality, at least, is a sad realization. The sooner a new model for the College Football Playoff is adopted, the better the sport will be.