The College Football Playoff is expanding.
The CFP board of managers unanimously voted Friday to approve a new 12-team format, the organization announced. For now, it is set to begin in 2026, the first year after the CFP’s current ESPN media deal expires, but it could happen earlier.
Jumping from three to 11 games will dramatically increase the revenue—and the payouts—for the CFP, which currently distributes about $500 million each year to schools and conferences around the country. Last year, this 12-team format was projected to be worth an additional $450 million in television revenue in just 2024 and 2025, were it to be implemented. One possible avenue: Go to market for the rights from 2026 onwards, then negotiate separately with ESPN for an expansion of the final two years of the existing deal.
Friday’s vote is just the latest in a series of business sea changes in college sports. The NCAA, which doesn’t control the college football postseason, has gradually ceded power to individual schools and conferences. New transfer rules, NIL rights and conference realignment have further shaken college athletics, with the largest conferences beginning to flex their financial advantages.
Now that a format has been agreed upon, the group will need to hammer out the specifics, including when to start, and what to do about the TV contract. Many college stakeholders have expressed apprehension about ESPN’s current stranglehold on college football’s postseason, and it seems likely that the expanded version will have multiple media partners.
The move follows months of starts, stops and in-fighting about whether the four-team playoff, which was implemented in 2014, should include more teams, and how to select those teams. Bigger conferences were pushing for automatic berths specifically for their schools, while smaller conferences were fighting to preserve relevance by securing a broader format for selection.
The format approved Friday will help those smaller leagues by keeping their conference races relevant to the national championship picture. The structure grants automatic entry to the six highest-ranked conference champions, with the other six slots reserved for the next six highest-ranked teams. The four highest-ranked conference champs will receive first-round byes. The first rounds will be played on campus, while the quarters and semis will be hosted by a rotation of bowls.
The 11-member board of managers is comprised of the 10 FBS conference commissioners, plus Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick.