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12-team playoff likely coming to college football

College football is quickly heading toward a 12-team playoff tournament after a sub-group of College Football Playoff’s management committee presented a proposal to move from the current format four teams all the way to 12.


The 12-team bracket will be made up of the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the six highest-ranked other teams as determined by the CFP selection committee. While it’s very likely that the six highest-ranked conference champions would include the five power conference champions, there is no guaranteed inclusion for those conferences — the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. There would also be no limit on the numbers of teams from one conference, meaning (conceivably but virtually impossibly), seven teams from one conference could make the field of 12.

The Nos. 1-4 seeds would receive first-round byes and will go to conference champions, while the Nos. 5-8 seeds would host games against the Nos. 9-12 seeds. The quarterfinals and semifinals would be played as bowl games and the championship game would be held at a neutral site. According to The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach, Notre Dame would be unable to receive a top-four seed because they do not belong to a conference and cannot be a conference champion.

Nothing official will be done with this proposal until September and the four-team format will continue through at least this season and the 2022 season. The current agreement for the four-team playoff runs through the 2025-26 season, but this change could take place following the 2023 season.

The first-round games would take place sometimes during the two-week period following conference championship games. Quarterfinals would be held on January 1, or January second is New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday. Semifinals and the championship game dates are still to be determined, but it’s unlikely the semifinal games would be played as a doubleheader.

There would be no modification of the rankings to avoid regular season rematches or pitting teams from the same conference against each other. There will be no re-seeding after rounds. The group did not make a recommendation as to which bowls might be a part of the CFP in the future, but it did recommend that if traditional bowls host games, teams would be assigned to their traditional bowls for quarterfinal games with priority going to the higher-seeded team.

Playoff expansion is great news for the Pac-12, which has gone four years without having its conference champion selected and has filled just two of the 28 spots over the seven years of the playoff. Expansion is something incoming conference commissioner George Kliavkoff specifically mentioned during his introductory press conference as something he wanted to address and change.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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