The College Football Playoff is about to get much, much bigger. As reported by ESPN’s Pete Thamel, the CFP Board of Managers has voted unanimously to expand the College Football Playoff, increasing its playoff field to 12 teams beginning in 2026. Those changes could be implemented sooner, though Thamel believes doing so would be “complicated,” noting that CFP’s contract expires in 2026, which would make for a relatively smooth transition.
The current, four-team format was first instituted in 2014, succeeding the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which determined the two title-game participants from 1998-2013. Friday’s announcement was met by mixed responses, with many suggesting they would have preferred eight teams instead of 12. Others were perplexed about the timeline, confused as to why the proposed changes won’t go into effect for another four years.
College football, at least relative to other major sports, has suffered from a lack of parity, with eight schools—Alabama (three times), Clemson (twice), Georgia, LSU (twice), Ohio State, Florida (twice), Florida State and Auburn—accounting for the last 16 champions. Growing the playoff field to 12 teams would be an improvement in that regard, theoretically allowing representation from each of the “Power Five” conferences (SEC, ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12) while also affording more opportunities to Group of Five (American, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt and MAC) schools like Boise and San Diego State.
While an undertaking of this magnitude will always invite a certain degree of skepticism, this was always the expected outcome, an inevitability with the CFP Board of Managers shrewdly recognizing an opportunity for greater television exposure, adding two more weeks of live programming—and the revenue that comes with it—to what was already a ratings bonanza. Like NILs, conference realignment and the mass exodus of transfers through the NCAA’s new “portal” system, the move to 12 teams was, more than any other factor, about money. College football, you could argue, has never been more profitable, and adding potentially eight more games (assuming byes for the top four teams) to a jam-packed calendar of tentpole events is precisely how America’s fastest growing sport keeps winning.