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College Football Playoff Board of Managers vote to expand to 12 teams by 2026

By 2026 at the latest, the six conference champions and six at-large teams will compete in the expanded format.

NCAA Football: 2023 College Football Playoff National Championship Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Following initial approval from a four-person working group that spent two years evaluating more than 100 postseason proposals, the 11-person College Football Playoff Board of Managers unanimously voted to expand the playoff to 12 teams by 2026 during a virtual meeting, according to multiple reports on Friday.

The CFP Board of Managers later confirmed the news and revealed details about the new format.

“This was a very historic day for college football,” CFP board chair Mark Keenum said.

The meeting was first reported by SI’s Ross Dellenger on Wednesday and the news quickly broke on Friday from ESPN’s Pete Thamel following the vote, which represented a significant step forward after conference commissioners failed to agree on a format last year following the major realignment decision of Texas and Oklahoma to eventually decamp from the Big 12 to the SEC.

“It’s unfortunately likely to delay approval of a CFP expansion plan,” first-year Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told ESPN last July. “I think there’s going to be realignment fallout we have to get through before we understand what format for an expanded CFP works best for all of college football.”

But money fuels everything in college sports, especially football, its behemoth brand, and the annual revenue for the playoffs is set to skyrocket from the $470 million ESPN currently pays for the three games in the current model, forcing those conference entities upset about the SEC’s expansion to get in line.

As conference expansion continues to reshape college football, the new model includes the six highest-rankings conference champions and six at-large teams will compete for the national championship, a decision that ensures a Group of Five program is going to participate in the playoffs each season.

ESPN’s contract with the College Football Playoffs expires after the 2025 playoffs, so the current plan is to implement the new system in 2026, but ESPN has incentive to expand the playoffs earlier than that as long as the two sides can reach an agreement.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich discussed the pending decision on Friday morning.

“This could be — could be — a historic decision that changes college football’s postseason as soon as 2024. Sources indicate that not even people in the room know which way this is going to play out. There are several possibilities that have been mentioned,” said Dinich. “One is that they agree on a 12-team (playoff) that begins in the 2026 season. Remember, this contract goes through 2025. If it happens before 2026, these presidents and chancellors must be unanimous on the format. If it’s not unanimous, they could change it more easily for 2026. Then there’s a sense that they can work backwards and say can we do this for 2024? 2025? There are several options on that are on the table. They might not even vote. The question is can they agree on the format, and if so, when?”

With the format now agreed upon, the Board of Managers are set to meet in Dallas next week to discuss revenue distribution, automatic qualifiers, the location of games, and the Rose Bowl’s future. At least as of last year, the Rose Bowl question proved particularly thorny, with the famous bowl game wanting to maintain the same kickoff date and kickoff time, as well as its longtime relationships with the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

So there are still plenty of details to determine, but Friday’s vote ensures that the path to a national championship will be more inclusive while also subjecting players to a significantly extended season featuring enough possibility for major injuries that the new playoff format may become a yearly war of attrition.