What A 12-team Playoff Field Looks Like

The College Football Playoff board met Friday to discuss the potential for expanding the current format. The changes would occur as early as the 2024 college football season as long as the board met and unanimously approved changes. News broke late Friday that the board did, in fact, come to a unanimous decision, and a 12-team College Football Playoff would be the result.

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Sources indicated to The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach that the decision was unanimous during a virtual meeting with the 10 FBS commissioners, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, and CFP executive director Bill Hancock. The decision to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams, though not official, moves the bracket from four to 12, answering the public rally cries to allow a multitude of programs with differing circumstances throughout every college football season admittance to the field.

The timing of this news is not a surprise as the College Football Playoff signed a 12-year contract with ESPN that was set to expire in 2025. In a likely scenario to push their contract talks to a massive extension with ESPN, the field needed to expand. Adding eight teams to make it a round number of 12 certainly drives the bargaining price up for the College Football Playoff.

This was, of course, after the board members ended discussions earlier this year without coming to a unanimous vote. As a reminder, the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 voted against the first of the 12-team proposals despite other members voting for it.

So, what would a 12-team playoff look like? According to The Athletic, the 12-team format was approved, but it is important to note how we got here.

The original 12-team plan included six conference champions and six at-large teams. The qualifications of that plan for the at-large bids had not been made public, and concerns over the happenings of historic events like the Rose Bowl and how they would fit into the model ultimately was its end.

With the deal reportedly unanimously voted in favor of, the original 12-team model is either put back on the table, or a version of it was made. Considering the original 12-team model took over two years to construct, one would believe that those six conference champions and six at-large teams would be the most likely scenario.

And as the light began to shed on the deal, it would be the six highest-ranked conference champions and the six highest-ranked at-large teams. That all but means we’re guaranteed the best teams in college football but further indicates just how difficult this will all be to work out. The deal will likely not start until the 2025 season now that it has been set in stone, but some in the room indicated they were weary of it kicking off until 2026.

Regardless, what happens next is figuring out logistics. Where are these games hosted? What happens to the events like the Rose Bowl? When do these new playoff games get played? And those are just the jump-off questions, as each of those answers will certainly have a trickle-down effect on the sport.

Aside from conference realignment and the transfer portal, the expansion of the College Football Playoff has been the largest storyline for the sport over the past calendar year. With this potential expansion on the horizon, fans are left with more questions, but at least there’s progress to an end goal they wanted.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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