The College Football Playoff’s board of managers unanimously voted Friday to expand the CFP to 12 teams in 2026 but is encouraging the sport’s commissioners to try to implement it as soon as 2024.
The board’s 11 presidents and chancellors approved the original 12-team model, which includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams, the board announced on Friday.
“This is an historic and exciting day for college football,” said Mark Keenum, the president of Mississippi State and chairman of the CFP board of managers, in a statement. “More teams, more participation and more excitement are good for our fans, alumni, and student-athletes. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the board for their thoughtful approach to this issue and for their resolve to get expansion across the goal line and for the extensive work of the Management Committee that made this decision possible.”
The rankings of the teams will continue to be determined by the CFP selection committee, which will remain largely unchanged.
The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded one through four with each receiving a first-round bye. Teams seeded five through 12 will play each other in the first round on either the second or third weekend of December. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played in bowl games on a rotating basis, and the championship game will be at a neutral site, as under the current four-team format.
The 12-team model was originally put together by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Swarbrick, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and former Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. It was floated publicly in June 2021 but got bogged down by conference politics. In February, the CFP announced it would not be expanding in the current contract, which expires after the 2025 season.
The major holdup had been specific objections from the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12. But after the thunderbolt of realignment this summer with USC and UCLA committing to the Big Ten and that conference signing a historic television deal, the issues from those leagues began to fade into the background.
Two weeks ago, the CFP board held an unannounced call, discussing expansion and the possibility of a 12-team playoff starting amid the structure of the current contract. That manifested itself Friday afternoon, a landmark day in the sport, on the cusp of the formal start of the football season Saturday.
“The Pac-12 is strongly in favor of CFP expansion and welcomes the decision of the CFP Board,” the Pac-12 said in a statement Friday. “CFP expansion will provide increased access and excitement and is the right thing for our student-athletes and fans. We look forward to working with our fellow conferences to finalize the important elements of an expanded CFP in order to launch as soon practicable.”
It might take weeks or months to work out the possibility of playing a 12-team playoff in 2024 or 2025. While CFP officials have laid out the obstacles to such a sudden move — venues, hotels and television contracts — money can loom as a powerful motivator for change.