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College Football Playoff looks set to expand to 12 teams

At least WSU has a shot at this one!

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Ohio State vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve grown weary of seeing the same handful of teams comprise the bulk of the spots in the College Football Playoff year after year after year — or, if you’re frustrated by the fact that your favorite team, the Washington State Cougars, has no realistic path to participation — good news: There’s a very real chance that the CFP will be expanding in the near future after a committee recommended increasing the field to 12 teams.

For now, it’s simply a recommendation; the format would need to be agreed upon by all the FBS commissioners next week, and then it would need to be formally approved by the CFP board of managers on June 22. In theory, either of those groups could reject the proposal, but let’s be real — things like this don’t get leaked and floated (with a press conference, no less) unless it’s a foregone conclusion that the rough outlines are acceptable.

So here are the rough outlines:

  • 12 teams — six conference champions, six at-large bids.
  • The six highest-ranked conference champs (via the CFP) will receive autobids, regardless of conference affiliation.
  • The next six highest-ranked teams will receive at-large bids.
  • The four highest-ranked conference champs will receive byes into the quarterfinals. (Independents, such as Notre Dame, will not be eligible for a bye.)
  • The other eight teams will be seeded according to CFP rank — regardless of whether they’re conference champs — and will play first round games at the home stadium of the higher-ranked team.
  • The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played at traditional bowl sites, while the championship still will be played at a neutral site.

After hearing for years that there was no appetite for expansion, the primary driver for change seems to have been the thing that bothers most fans: There’s no viable path to the playoff for anyone outside of a handful of teams.

You’d think not everyone would be on board, given that a couple of conferences have benefited disproportionately from the current system. But when you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense for everyone.

From our perspective, this is great news for the Pac-12, which has only participated in the playoff twice in the CFP’s seven years. While the conference isn’t technically guaranteed a spot in the field, the reality is that if this system had been in place for the first six years, the Pac-12 would have three teams in the field once, two teams in the field three times, and one team in the field twice.

The Pac-12 would have missed out last year, but ... whatever. I remain unconvinced that last year even happened, actually.

It’s also not super hard to see why the SEC and Big Ten would support this, even though it might not make sense at first glance — they’ll still be dominating the at-large berths. And it guarantees a Group of 5 team — whose exclusion from the CFP never sat well with most fans — access to the playoff.

It’s the closest thing to an actual meritocracy as college football has ever had.

As for the Cougs? All the fun we had back in 2018 wondering if WSU might be able to push its way into the top four? We knew then that it was all but impossible to get there, since you have to start the year highly ranked to really have any shot at all. But under this format, the path is no longer impossible. Heck, there’s a chance that WSU would have done enough to get there in 2018 with just a win in the ...

Ah, never mind. Let’s just savor the fact that getting into the playoff is no longer a total pipe dream.

There’s little doubt that this moves college football farther away from its roots and fulfills the worst nightmare of those traditionalists who decried the CFP in the first place. But time — and money — waits for nobody, and this pretty well sums it up:

Personally, I prefer the sort of chase that this format will facilitate. And it doesn’t enfranchise so many schools as to render the regular season meaningless. The loss of tradition that will come along with it — particularly the inevitable permanent loss of the Rose Bowl’s traditional matchup — is lamentable, but let’s be real: this eventual outcome has been a foregone conclusion since 1992. Once they started down that road, it was always only a matter of time. It just took 30 years to get there.

Besides, we’ll still have at least another year or two to try and get back into the Rose Bowl. This new format isn’t going to come into play until the 2023 season at the soonest, and there’s a chance it takes even longer than that, owing to the media rights contract with ESPN that runs until 2026. They could renegotiate it early, or they could stick with the current format before throwing it open to the market for the next deal. Either option likely will be mind-bogglingly lucrative.

Which means we should point out that college football players are going to be asked to play even more games that generate even more money for everyone but themselves — potentially up to *17* games in a season. It’s unlikely a team will play the maximum, but still possible.

This, again, would probably be a great time to figure out how to pay them for their work.


How are you feeling about a 12-team CFP?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    (127 votes)
  • 10%
    That’s too many teams - why don’t we just starting giving out participation trophies??
    (19 votes)
  • 20%
    Why only 12?
    (38 votes)
184 votes total Vote Now