College Football Playoff set to expand to 12-team format

Although set to take place in 2026, the transition can happen as soon as 2024.


Alex Liscio

University Press stock photo.

Cameron Priester and Matthew Vogdes

On Sept. 2, the College Football Playoff Board of Managers unanimously voted to expand the playoff to a 12-team format.

“This is a historic and exciting day for college football,” said Mark Keenum, chairman of the CFP Board of Managers and President of Mississippi State University. “More teams, more participation and more excitement are good for our fans, alumni, and student-athletes.

Although the expansion is set to take effect in 2026 at the latest, the transition can happen as soon as 2024.

The 10 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick met at Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Ill., in September to discuss their end goal of implementing the new format by 2024. Though no decisions were made, CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock told Sports Illustrated the group “made progress” and will reconvene in Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 20 in an attempt to finalize an agreement.

Daniel Cornely, the assistant director of the MBA in Sport Management program at FAU, described the expansion as an overall “positive” for the sport.

“When you look at high school, what do they do? A playoff system. When you look at the highest level, the NFL, what do they do? A playoff system,” said Cornely. “I think naturally it made sense for college football to develop some sort of playoff system.”

Under the 12-team format, the six highest-ranked conference champions will receive an automatic bid, while the remaining seeds will be filled by the six highest-ranked non-conference champions.

The top four seeds will receive an automatic bye into the quarterfinals, while seeds five through 12 will play the four first round games on the campus of the better seed. Six alternating bowl games will host the quarterfinals and semifinals, with the national championship game being played at a neutral site.

With eight extra spots being added, technically speaking, every team’s chance of receiving a bid goes up. However, it seems the consensus is that the expansion benefits group of five schools—members of the Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference-USA and the American (AAC) athletic conferences—FAU included, more than anybody.

Since the current four-team format took effect in 2014, only one group of five schools has earned a bid to the playoff, which came last season when the University of Cincinnati of the AAC, FAU’s future affiliate, earned the number four seed.

Due to the automatic bids given to six conference winners, there will now be at least one group of five schools in the playoff every season.

“It’s an opportunity to possibly even the playing field. You never know for sure what conferences are going to have more teams involved or not, but I think it absolutely gives more opportunity to others,” said Cornely.

With their transition to the AAC at the end of this season, the expansion will only bolster FAU’s chances of potentially earning a bid in the future.

Many within the AAC refer to the conference as one of the “Power Six,” due in part to a marketing initiative the conference released in 2017 under the same name, and rightfully so. Not only are they the first to earn a trip to the playoff, no other group of five conference has had more appearances in the AP Top 25 rankings during the playoff era. With Cincinnati currently ranked 24th in the latest poll, the AAC is currently the only group of five conference with a team in the AP Top 25.

With how competitive they have been with power five conferences on the playing field and the recruiting, it’s safe to assume that the AAC will consistently be competing for that sixth automatic bid.

“This format will provide for memorable postseason experiences for many student-athletes,” said Mike Aresco, the AAC Commissioner. “I applaud the Board of Managers for acting in the best interest of college football.”

The competition FAU will face on the field and recruiting trail will only get stronger. However, the expansion and transition seems like it can only increase the Owls’ chances of making a trip to the playoff one day.

Head coach Willie Taggart also spoke on what the expansion means for the program, saying FAU “can be part of the party” now.

“It’s great for college football. I think it’s great for a program like ours and I think everybody is excited about that. You’ll probably see some surprises as you go, but I think it’s really good for the game,” Taggart said. 

The exact timeline of the expansion will be a lot clearer after Swarbrick and the 10 commissioners meet again in Dallas on Oct. 20. Even amidst the uncertainty of when this will happen, one certain thing is the landscape of college football will be changing drastically in the near future.

“The four-team playoff has been highly popular and successful,” said Keenum. “I believe this new format will be even more popular and successful.”

Cameron Priester is the Sports Editor and Matthew Vogdes is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email them [email protected] or [email protected], or tweet @PriesterCameron