Grandfather of them all is lining up.
According to sources, the Rose Bowl has agreed to amend its contract to pave the way for the College Football Playoff to be extended in two years, after months of delay. sports illustrated. CFP is expected to announce soon that the Playoffs will expand from four teams to 12 teams starting from the 2024 season.
While there were still logistical hurdles to overcome, the bowling delay was the biggest obstacle to early expansion. In many proposals made to CFP officials, the Rose Bowl, the oldest actively operating bowl, demanded a guarantee to preserve the traditional date and time in future iterations of the Playoffs, but the CFP board refused. Since there are no contracts, little can be guaranteed for the Playoff beyond 2025.
A few weeks ago, CFP gave the Rose Bowl a month-end deadline for self-determination, the SI reported Monday. In many ways, the Rose Bowl was holding CFP hostage, risking its own stake in future Playoffs.
Rose was in a position to single-handedly delay the Playoff expansion. CFP officials needed unanimous agreement from six CFP bowls to expand the Playoffs to 12 teams before contract with ESPN expired after the 2025 Playoffs. Five of the six bowls—Candy, Orange, Fiesta, Peach, and Cotton—supported the change of the contract for early extension.
Rose could have cost college football $450 million in additional revenue from an expanded playoff in 2024 and 25, as well as 16 extra Playoff spots. The decision to delay further may have undermined his legacy and eroded goodwill among top Playoff decision makers.
The decision puts the sport at a historic moment. For the first time in major college football history, a comprehensive Playoff will determine the champion.
More than two months ago, CFP executives unanimously approved an extended 12-team Playoff to begin in 2026, the first year that will be a new CFP contract with six bowling teams and a broadcast partner or partners. The format is as follows: (1) the six highest ranked champions are automatically placed; (2) the next highest placed teams are placed in the wide spots; (3) goodbye to the top four conference champions; and (4) the first round matches are played at the better player’s home stadium, and the quarterfinals and semifinals are played in a rotation of six bowls.
Jack Swarbrick, 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director, has spent the last few weeks focusing on expanding into the ’24 or ’25, not 2026 and beyond. At each meeting, the commissioners resolved numerous issues, most notably the scheduling of eight additional Playoff games, the revenue distribution model, and the logistics of holding the first round on campus sites.
Commissioners have set tentative dates for four rounds of the expanded CFP, but nothing concrete.
– The first round will be played in the third week of December and will probably start on Friday and Saturday.
– CFP quarterfinals are scheduled around New Year’s Eve, three quarterfinals will likely be on New Year’s Eve and one quarterfinal will be on New Year’s Eve or January 2.
– The semi-finals will be held approximately one week later, depending on the year. In 2024 this would be the weekend of January 10-12. Thursday and Friday may be the best options because of the NFL playoff games that weekend.
– The championship game is expected to be delayed by a week or two from the original schedule and remains on Monday.
Future iterations of the Playoffs, which begin in 2026, will likely have a different look – as a program, not as a format. There is serious discussion about moving the entire regular season calendar up one week, turning Week 0 into Week 1, and shifting the conference championship weekend from December to Thanksgiving weekend. That would also push the competitive weekend up by a week. It provides more flexibility for such a narrow December window, while ensuring that the sport doesn’t get too far into January.
Rose’s decision ends an 18-month period of pettiness, disappointment and hostility among a group of FBS commissioners who cannot agree on a format. The problems were bad enough that their boss, FBS heads, took control of the expansion and approved a plan on September 2 that would take effect by 2026 at the latest. They encouraged commissioners to explore up to 24 expansions.
The implications of an extended Playoff are far-reaching. Perhaps more importantly, the expansion these two years offers a total of 16 new opportunities in a sport that has struggled to achieve equality. The playoff period was marked by the progress of the same teams from the same leagues towards the post-season.
For example, over the eight-year CFP period, six teams made 25 (78%) of the 32 playoff spots. Last year, three of the five power conferences were not represented at the Playoffs, the second time in CFP’s eight years. Pac-12 and Big 12 teamed up to qualify six teams to eight Playoffs – the same amount as the Big Ten. The SEC qualified for the 10 and the ACC for the eight.
The expansion doesn’t fix a decades-old parity problem in sports, but it’s expected to at least create more critical end-of-season matches for more programs. Even in late November, as many as 30 teams may still be alive to pitch. Get it this year. There aren’t more than six teams with realistic chances to make their way to the Playoffs into the final weekend. In a 12-team version, this number will rise to over 20.
“If there were more teams in the mix, that would be a good thing for college football in general,” Bob Bowlsby, former Big 12 commissioner who helped create the 12-team model, said in January. “We don’t always need the same teams. It reduces interest in the event on a national basis.”
College football’s postseason will now more closely mirror other NCAA sports. A four-team Playoff only includes about 3% of college football teams. Most NCAA postseason courts contain at least 10% of a sport’s total teams, such as basketball, baseball, and softball.
Historically protected by long-standing relationships with the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the Rose Bowl nearly destroyed any hope of early expansion. Rose deferred her decision, sending at least two different proposals outlining her wishes to the CFP board, an 11-member group of FBS presidents that presided over the Playoffs. While working on deadlines set by CFP officials, Rose initially demanded to maintain the special January 1 window for future Playoffs, something CFP executives objected to. In the expanded Playoff format approved by the presidents on September 2, the six bowls will host the quarterfinals and semifinals alternately. When the playoff game didn’t fall on New Year’s Day, Rose wanted to hold a non-CFP game against the Pac-12 and Big Ten teams in a special window at its traditional date and time.
In its latest offer, the Rose Bowl said it would forego the special window in exchange for hosting a semifinal on New Year’s Day in two of its three-year rotations — a request that CFP presidents have also refused.
Months, even years, of frustration with the Rose Bowl’s position culminated this week, with a senior CFP executive even recommending that the bowl be removed from the six-bowl rotation starting in 2026 if it doesn’t agree to early expansion.
“Only human nature will have a real discussion to be had about the future of the Rose Bowl if they’re not willing to work with us,” the CFP source says. “And it doesn’t have to be unanimous.”
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