Last week, the Football Bowl Series (FBS) commissioners voted to expand the College Football Playoff (CFP) from its current four teams to 12 teams. However, while the expanded playoff will begin by 2026 at the latest, many decisions still need to be made. But just by virtue of approving the CFP expansion, there are significant changes ahead in college football, including…
More Teams In The Playoff
Obviously, expanding from four teams to 12 means more teams will now make the playoffs. But how those teams are selected is what has everyone excited. While currently limited to the four highest ranked teams in the CFP standings, the expanded playoff will not include the six highest ranked conference champions and six at-large berths. That means the Power 5 conferences (SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and ACC) will all likely land their conference champion in the playoff. But most importantly, it guarantees representation from at least one team from the Group of 5 conferences (the All-American Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West, and Sun Belt).
Aside from the six conference winners, the six at-large berths could also mean playoff spots for teams that might be highly competitive but, for whatever reasons, didn’t win their conference title. Now, teams that may lose their conference title game, played a bad game during the season, or simply lost a close one won’t automatically be eliminated from the playoff. Right now, it’s likely teams from the Big 10 and SEC could end up with more at-large bids than other conferences, but it does open up room for more teams from other conferences too.
More college football playoff games mean more games available for TV broadcasts. And more TV games mean more money from the networks who televise them. And that means more money for all the schools in Division I. Though it’s estimated to be around half a billion dollars, until the contracts are signed for the new playoff arrangement, it is unknown how much more money the expanded playoffs will generate or how it will be divided. But, no matter how it’s split, it is safe to say that every Division I football school will see lots more money in the athletic department coffers.
Less Emphasis On The Regular Season
With only the top four teams making the playoff, it often meant that one loss made reaching the playoffs difficult, while two losses virtually eliminated a team. But with conference champions guaranteed a spot, a team can lose a regular season game, but still win their conference and earn a playoff berth. To extend that further, a two-loss team could also now make the playoff simply by winning their conference. And with six additional at-large spots available, a one-loss team that doesn’t win their conference can still reach the playoffs, assuming it ranks high enough. Add it all up, while it may encourage more big-name, non-conference matchups, the do-or-die premise of regular season college football could disappear once teams don’t have the pressure of winning every game.
Fewer Players Opting Out
As the existing playoff games became the only games that mattered, post-season bowl games became glorified exhibitions. That led to more players with NFL potential opting out of their team’s bowl to prepare for the draft and avoid the risk of injury. With added games with more on the line, more talented players will likely stay with their teams for another chance to shine on the national stage.
More Stability (Maybe)
While SEC and Big 10 schools have made the four-team playoff almost every year since its inception, a guaranteed berth in the CFP and additional revenues could create more stability with the remaining Power 5 conferences. That’s especially important for the Pac-12 and Big 12, who have seen their two marquee schools and highest revenue producers jump to other conferences. With more focus on conference matchups, and more money flowing to all the conferences, an expanded playoff might result in less conference realignment and more stability in the college football landscape.