Sources: CFP leaders moving closer to adjusting 12-team playoff format

CFP leaders are inching forward in their effort to change the postseason format. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
CFP leaders are inching forward in their effort to change the postseason format. (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

College Football Playoff leaders continue to move closer to adjusting the postseason format in the wake of realignment.

The CFP Management Committee, the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame, is recommending that college football’s expanded playoff field encompass five automatic qualifiers (5) and seven at-large berths (7). The 5+7 format would be a change from the originally approved 6+6 model.

At their meeting Thursday in Dallas, commissioners cast votes to send a recommendation to the CFP Board of Managers — their corresponding school presidents — to make the change. Several people with knowledge of the discussions spoke to Yahoo Sports under condition of anonymity.

More discussions are necessary, and a final, unanimous vote is needed from the Board of Managers to make the decision final.

Commissioners also established a new policy requiring a league to have eight members to be eligible for an automatic qualifying spot to the 12-team playoff.

Both moves were made in the wake of the Pac-12’s collapse. In the originally approved 6+6 format, the highest-ranked six conference champions earn automatic qualifiers and the next six highest-ranked teams earn at-large bids. That format was designed based on the existence of 10 FBS conferences. Realignment leaves FBS with nine leagues, though Oregon State and Washington State are attempting for at least two years to preserve the Pac-12 as a two-team league.

The new policy requiring leagues to have eight members makes the champion of a two-team league ineligible to earn an automatic bid.

The format change, from 6+6 to 5+7, has been a hotly debated subject with a vast majority of commissioners in support of such a change in light of the situation with the Pac-12. A 6+6 format without the Pac-12 would grant not just one but two Group of Five champions a bid into the 12-team field — something SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has spoken vehemently against. There is a chance that the second-best G5 champion is unranked or, at the very least, outside of the top 15.

“The system really can’t justify that,” Sankey told Yahoo Sports last month. “If you displace the 11th-best (at-large) team with an unranked team, the system can’t explain itself.”

No commissioner voted against the format change, sources tell Yahoo Sports, though discussion was robust and at times lively.

The decision now goes to the Board of Managers, the CFP’s highest governing body which consists of one school president from the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame. The format change needs unanimity to go into effect with the first expanded playoff next year. It’s an interesting and important note since the Pac-12 retains its voting privilege on the Board of Managers.

The Pac-12’s representative on the board, Washington State president Kirk Schulz, could prevent the change. However, those at OSU and WSU are aware that a 6+6 model in a nine-conference FBS could impact the “integrity” of a playoff, Cougars athletic director Pat Chun has told Yahoo Sports in the past. “Both schools respect the playoff and understand the need to keep the integrity of the playoff,” he said last month.

CFP presidents last fall approved the expanded playoff to start in 2026 with a new television contract. Commissioners then agreed to accelerate expansion for implementation in 2024 and 2025 as well. The current 12-year deal with ESPN expires after the 2025 playoff. There is no contract binding the 10 FBS leagues and Notre Dame to a postseason event beyond that year, though commissioners are in negotiations toward a long-term television deal.

A change to a 5+7 model maintains four spots for what is now the Power Four conference champions — though they are not guaranteed — and one bid for the highest-ranked Group of Five champion. Automatic qualifying spots are not designated for a specific conference but are earned based on rankings. It would be highly unusual for a power league’s champion to be left out of a 12-team field using a 5+7 format.

Only once in the last decade, in 2020, has the second-best Group of Five champion finished higher in the CFP rankings than the worst power league champion. During that season, the Pac-12 champion would have missed the playoff while Cincinnati, then in the American, and the Sun Belt’s Coastal Carolina, would have made the field.

The four highest-ranked conference champions receive first-round byes, while seeds 5-8 host on-campus, opening-round games. Independents, such as Notre Dame, are not eligible for an automatic qualifier nor a first-round bye. A rotation of six bowls host the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Here's how many teams from each conference would've made the College Football Playoff over the last 10 years with the new format. (Yahoo Sports illustration)
Here's how many teams from each conference would've made the College Football Playoff over the last 10 years with the new format. (Yahoo Sports illustration)

Applying a 5+7 format over the previous decade produces interesting results. The SEC and Big Ten dominate the field. Between them, they would have accounted for 73 of the 120 spots (61%) in a 5+7, 12-team playoff. The latest realignment has left a weakened Group of Five, which lost some of its highest-revenue producing schools to the Big 12 (Cincinnati, UCF and Houston). In four of the 10 years, the Group of Five auto bid would have gone to a team ranked No. 19 or worse in a 5+7 model.

However, that logic has its flaws. Those calculations were made assuming there was no Pac-12. Pac-12 teams were counted as part of their new leagues.