Hopes grow for college football playoff expansion deal as interest in 16-team model grows

INDIANAPOLIS — Just as it seemed the college football playoff expansion was heading toward finality, the conference realignment started by Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC put the entire process on hold. Last month’s meeting of FBS commissioners in Park City, Utah, went so well that those who have spent the past year fighting for PCP expansion seem to be closing in on a format.

“We didn’t resolve anything, but we had a really good meeting,” one of the meeting attendees told CBS Sports. “I came out of that meeting pretty upbeat. Then, five days later, boom. I don’t know what kind of effect we had on that. We had the best meeting we’ve had in over a year. year.”

That “boom” moment came on June 30 when news broke that USC and UCLA were joining the Big Ten. But even since then commissioners have been optimistic about CFP expansion to the point that Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren recently expressed interest in a 16-team model.

“I want to watch 16,” Warren told CBS Sports on Big Ten Media Days. “I want to watch them all. I want to watch all but four.”

As proposed last year, a 12-team playoff would have included the six highest-ranked conference champions plus six overall nominations. Warren voted against this model because he wanted a guaranteed spot for the Big Ten champion.

(Spoiler alert: The Big Ten champion would have been a virtual lock on making the conference’s top six champions every year.)

Warren was joined in that “no” vote by Pac-12 Commissioner Georgia Kliavkoff and ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips. At the time, adoption required unanimous consent.

On Tuesday, Warren said he was “100%” in favor of the expansion. He then told The Athletic that he was “going to soften [his] position” regarding the six highest ranked champions.

It may have something to do with the Big Ten and SEC separating from the rest of college football. It may also be the realization that after the current CFP contract expires after the 2025 season, a unanimous vote will no longer be required to change the structure.

Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, chairman of the CFP board, said earlier this summer he hoped the presidents would sort out the expansion by next summer. Expanded support would be in place for the 2026 season.

Last week, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey indicated he would back a range that includes the best teams available, whether or not they are conference champions. Sankey was part of a four-person subcommittee that took two years to model everything from a four-team to 16-team playoffs before settling on the proposed 12-team format.

The sudden interest in 16 might best be explained as “Why not?” Still, one industry high profile called the idea “madness”, saying Sankey’s original subcommittee had succeeded with 12 teams.

A 12-team bracket is valued at about $1.2 billion a year, industry sources told CBS Sports.

Support for the 16-team bracket may have blossomed while the commissioners were in Park City for the annual meeting of the Collegiate Commissioners Association. Of those eligible to attend the meeting, only Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was absent due to a previous commitment.

“I don’t have a problem with 16,” Big Ten senior football adviser Barry Alvarez said. I think we need more access. College football needs more playoff access. Before, every game was important. Now you see people lose interest when someone loses a game early. Well, they’re out of the playoffs.”

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, one of those expansion architects along with Sankey, explained that up to 30 teams would be in contention through November if a 12-team bracket were to be filled.

Warren and others have already predicted that a 16-team bracket would require each program to begin its regular season the last week of August. Currently, this space is labeled “Week Zero” – openings for a handful of teams ahead of the traditional Labor Day weekend openings.

The 12-game season would then end in time for the first round of playoff games to likely begin in the second week of December.

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