College Football Playoff leaders continue to inch closer to adjusting the playoff format in the wake of realignment.
The CFP Management Committee, the 10 FBS Conference Commissioners and Notre Dame are recommending that the expanded College Football Playoff field include five automatic qualifiers (5) and seven at-large spots (7). The 5+7 format would be a change from the initially approved 6+6 model.
At their meeting Thursday in Dallas, commissioners voted to send a recommendation to the CFP board of directors — their corresponding school presidents — to make the change. Several people with knowledge of the discussions spoke to Yahoo Sports on condition of anonymity.
Further discussions are necessary and a final, unanimous vote is required from the board of directors for the decision to be final.
The commissioners also established a new policy requiring a league to have eight members to be eligible for an automatic qualifying spot for the 12-team playoffs.
Both moves were made in the wake of the Pac-12’s collapse. In the originally approved 6+6 format, the six highest-ranked conference champions earn automatic qualifiers and the next six highest-ranked teams earn at-large bids. This format was designed based on the existence of 10 FBS conferences. The realignment leaves FBS with nine leagues, although Oregon State and Washington State have been trying 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 win an automatic bid.
The change in format, from 6+6 to 5+7, has been a hotly debated topic with a large majority of commissioners favoring such a change in light of the Pac-12 situation. A 6+6 format without 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 out vehemently against. It’s possible that the second best G5 champion will be unseeded or, at the very least, outside the top 15.
“The system really can’t justify this,” Sankey told Yahoo Sports last month. “If you replace the 11th best team (overall) with an unranked team, the system can’t explain itself.”
No commissioners voted against the format change, sources told Yahoo Sports, although discussions were intense and at times heated.
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The decision now rests with the Board of Trustees, the CFP’s highest governing body, comprised of a school president from all 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame. The format change requires unanimity to take effect with the first expanded playoffs next year. This is an interesting and important note since the Pac-12 retains its voting privilege on the board.
The Pac-12’s representative on the board, Washington State Chairman 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 the playoffs, Cougars athletic director Pat Chun said , to Yahoo Sports in the past. “Both schools respect the playoffs and understand the need to maintain the integrity of the playoffs,” he said last month.
Last fall, CFP presidents approved expanding the playoffs to begin in 2026 with a new television contract. Commissioners then agreed to accelerate the expansion for implementation also in 2024 and 2025. The current 12-year contract with ESPN expires after the 2025 playoffs. There is no contract binding the 10 FBS leagues and Notre Dame has a playoff event beyond this year, although commissioners are in negotiations for a long-term television deal.
A change to a 5+7 model maintains four spots for what are now the Power Four conference champions – although they are not guaranteed – and a bid for the top-ranked Group of Five champion. Automatic qualifying spots are not designated for a specific conference but are earned based on ranking. It would be highly unusual for a Power League 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 playoffs while then-USA Cincinnati and Sun Belt Coastal Carolina would have entered the field.
The four top-seeded conference champions receive first-round byes, while seeds 5-8 host first-round games on campus. Independents, like Notre Dame, are not eligible for automatic qualification or a first-round bye. A six-bowl rotation hosts the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Applying a 5+7 format over the previous decade produces some interesting results. The SEC and Big Ten dominate the field. Between them, they would have accounted for 73 of 120 spots (61%) in a 12-team 5+7 playoffs. The latest realignment weakened the Group of Five, which lost some of its highest-earning schools to the Big 12 (Cincinnati, UCF and Houston). In four out of ten years, the Group of Five automotive bid would have gone to a team ranked 19th or worse in a 5+7 model.
However, this logic has its flaws. These calculations were made assuming there was no Pac-12. Pac-12 teams were counted in their new leagues.