College Football Playoff expansion: Where things stand as talks resume

GRAPEVINE, Texas — Are we there yet?

Is this it?

Is the College Football Playoff really, truly finally going to expand?

Eh. Hold that thought. Maybe for three more seasons.

The College Football Playoff management committee, composed of the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, is meeting in-person on Wednesday at the DFW Grand Hyatt for another critical discussion about expanding the playoff.

It could truly go either way.

The sport’s decision-makers might remain indecisive, and their inability to come to a consensus will keep the format at four for the duration of the current contract, which runs through the 2025 season. Or … they will agree to expand to 12, and fans that have been clamoring for a larger field will finally be able to celebrate. The least-likely scenario (unpopular but not entirely impossible) is tabling the discussion for a few more weeks, or until everyone is together again at the Jan. 10 national championship game in Indianapolis.

For the playoff to expand, there has to be unanimous agreement among the commissioners before presenting it to the 11 university presidents and chancellors who comprise the CFP’s board of managers and have the ultimate authority to change the format. While many of the concerns have been addressed in previous meetings, there are still obstacles.

It’s another closed-door meeting, but unlike the previous few, this one should elicit more of a reaction from fans, coaches, players and administrators — for better or worse.

What’s at the heart of the debate?

One sticking point is automatic qualifiers. There is support for a model that awards the Power 5 conference champions and one Group of 5 champion automatic spots (five-plus-one), but there is also staunch opposition to it from at least one Group of 5 commissioner.

This season illustrates the concern for automatic bids, as No. 17 Pitt and No. 18 Wake Forest will play Saturday for the ACC title, and would be guaranteed a spot in a 12-team playoff with automatic qualifiers despite their lower rankings. It’s also possible No. 19 Utah could win the Pac-12 this year.

“I don’t want to see a system that would reward privilege for the sake of privilege,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco told the Associated Press in mid-November.

It only takes one vote to derail it, but Aresco might not be the only one who opposes it.

Another major issue is making sure to honor existing bowl contracts or properly unravel them, particularly with the New Year’s Six Bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Peach and Cotton). Nobody wants to violate any contractual obligations, but some have expressed concern that they don’t yet have all of the information necessary to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Remind me again: What was the original proposal?

The 12-team model that was made public in June included six guaranteed spots for the highest-ranked FBS conference champions and six at-large teams, with no limit on the number of teams a league can have in the field.

Is there any support for eight teams?

Not enough. The sense is that the minority who favored eight have realized there isn’t enough support for it, especially with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey stating publicly his conference is in favor of four or 12.

What do they agree on?

Everyone wants to explore a full range of media opportunities with multiple media partners. ESPN is the only rights-holder in the existing contract. There’s also a shared concern for the health and safety of the players, as well as the academic calendar.

Is the playoff ever really going to expand?

Yes. Based on multiple conversations with a majority of people involved in the discussions, the playoff will expand. Everyone is in favor of more access. The question remains if they can agree Wednesday on what it should look like and when.

What’s the timetable?

CFP executive director Bill Hancock has said that for the playoff to expand in time for the 2024 season, a decision has to be made by January. Hancock said the CFP has to identify the dates of the games, and determine logistics like lodging, convention centers and stadiums — in addition to determining the cities for the early rounds and the championship game.

This year’s national title game is Jan. 10 in Indianapolis, followed by Jan. 9, 2023 in Los Angeles, and Jan. 8, 2024 in Houston. The championship sites haven’t been announced for the 2024-25 or 2025-26 seasons. “I feel like we need to get it finished by January in fairness to the championship game hosts and the bowls,” Hancock said following the last in-person meeting in November.

That’s why many expect some sort of a resolution on Wednesday, regardless of what it is. The commissioners realize they need to make a decision, and there’s a sense of weariness about dragging the conversations on, especially during such a busy time of year. While there has been increasing pressure to come to a consensus, there’s still a small window that if they don’t, they could revisit it again in a few weeks.

The CFP’s board of managers have an annual in-person meeting at the national championship. If the commissioners and Swarbrick can agree on a format Wednesday, the presidents can vote on a videoconference before heading to Indy.

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