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College Football Playoff Will Expand to 12 Teams

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The College Football Playoff, already a financial gusher for the country’s strongest conferences, will triple in size to 12 teams no later than the 2026 season as organizers seek to capitalize on the nation’s vast appetite for the game.

The plan, which could quiet arguments that the race for national glory is just too exclusive, calls for a playoff field of the six highest-ranked conference champions and the six highest-ranked teams that didn’t win league titles. The playoff will still rely by itself selection committee to set its rankings, and there’ll still be no guaranteed bids or caps on invitations for any conferences.

The expanded system announced on Friday might be in place as soon as 2024, but executives must still negotiate the logistics and nuances that include a bigger field and a latest surge of games with national-title implications. Whether or not the redesigned format starts that soon, Friday’s decision set the playoff on a clearer course toward the most important television contract in college sports history, one which analysts have said could fetch near $2 billion a 12 months.

The agreement on Friday represented a big turnabout from the skid that expansion ambitions had entered, including an announcement in February that the tournament would “proceed the present four-team playoff for the following 4 years.” By then, dreams for expansion, which some college sports executives had judged last summer as a fait accompli, had sputtered as leagues jostled over members, mistrust boomed and concerns over ESPN’s role because the playoff’s lone television partner bubbled.

Lots of those questions and issues remain. But Friday’s unanimous vote by 11 university presidents and chancellors reflected the broadly held view contained in the richest reaches of the faculty sports industry that the playoff should grow sooner quite than later.

Mark Keenum, the president of Mississippi State University and the chairman of the playoff’s Board of Managers, said the university leaders had concluded they needed to offer athletic administrators, corresponding to conference commissioners, “direction.”

“We felt like we wanted to offer them a definitive, ‘That is where we’re, that is where we expect college football must be headed,’ so far as the playoff is anxious,” Keenum said.

If the playoff expands for the 2024 season, its television rights could swell to about $695 million, from roughly $470 million a 12 months, for every of the prevailing contract’s last two seasons.

Far larger paydays beckon once the present take care of ESPN expires at the top of the 2025 season. With an expanded playoff now planned for 2026 at the newest, some executives and consultants imagine that the following deal, which could include an array of broadcast partners, could yield nearly $2 billion in annual television revenue.

If those forecasts prove accurate, the playoff would have the most important annual television rights deal in college sports. The N.C.A.A.’s Division I men’s basketball tournament, a 67-game showcase that underpins the bonanza often called March Madness, is anticipated to average $1.1 billion in television money a 12 months starting later this decade.

But Keenum insisted Friday that the allure of more cash “hasn’t been the driving force behind” expansion.

“We’re not naïve to grasp there’s added value,” he said, adding: “But I can let you know from being a component of those discussions from the very starting, what motivated the presidents — and me as well — was that we’d like to have some opportunity for more participation of teams in our nation’s national championship tournament.”

He said that having 4 teams was “not fair to our student-athletes from a participation standpoint.”

The football expansion effort is unfolding at a time of sustained tumult in college sports, especially for the industry powers — the ten Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, in addition to Notre Dame — that jointly run the playoff and distribute shares of its income to universities across the country. As television money is increasingly raining down on leagues corresponding to the Big Ten Conference, which last month announced a record-setting suite of media contracts that can pay it a minimum of $1 billion a 12 months, and the Southeastern Conference, other leagues fear being left behind, in perception or reality.

Beyond business rivalries, the leagues and the industry that dominate in the general public imagination have faced legal and political setbacks, particularly around the foundations that restricted unpaid college athletes for generations. Still, for a lot of fans, antitrust law matters far lower than the right way to crown a football champion.

The playoff is the successor to the Bowl Championship Series, which used a posh formula to assist determine matchups for elite games, including the title contest, for 16 seasons. The four-team playoff system debuted with the 2014 season and offered football devotees a latest method to grow to be baffled and infuriated by rankings.

There can be ritualized gripes in regards to the conclusions of the committee charged with rating teams, in fact, however the tournament’s small size also left it vulnerable to complaints in regards to the limited variety of teams in a position to compete. (Although the N.C.A.A. manages the postseason for Football Championship Subdivision universities, which regularly have loyal local followings but little national renown, it has no control over the playoff that pulls powerhouse brands corresponding to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma.)

Alabama has won three national championships within the playoff era, and Clemson has won two. Georgia, Louisiana State and Ohio State have one playoff title apiece. Deepening the sense of exclusion, just 13 of the 131 F.B.S. schools have made appearances in semifinal games, and a minimum of one Power 5 league is currently guaranteed to be disregarded in any given season.

The Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences all missed the playoff last season, with the Pac-12 enduring its fifth straight 12 months of not receiving an invite.

Alabama, Cincinnati, Georgia and Michigan reached the playoff in 2021; Alabama and Georgia advanced to the title game for an all-SEC matchup, which Georgia won.

Had the model approved on Friday been in place last 12 months, the sphere would have included all of those teams, in addition to Baylor, Michigan State, Mississippi, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Utah. No. 12 Pittsburgh, the A.C.C. champion, would have been the lowest-ranked team.

However the system wouldn’t have been enough to attract in past playoff participants like Clemson, Oregon and Oklahoma.

Under the expanded format, the 4 conference title winners with the best rankings will receive first-round byes. The remainder of the participants will play their opening games on campuses or at “other sites” chosen by the teams with higher seeds.

Whilst executives pronounced themselves pleased with the 12-team approach, Keenum acknowledged that playoff officials could someday decide to expand again.

In spite of everything, he noted with amusing, his own university’s football coach, Mike Leach, has floated the concept of a 64-team format.

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