DESTIN, Fla. — Executives of the College Football Playoff plan to give guidance soon to the CFP commissioners in an effort to restart negotiations over playoff expansion a year ahead of a deadline of sorts.
Mark Keenum, the chair of the CFP Board of Managers, says his “hope” is that the group can agree on a playoff format by next summer. The CFP Board, the Playoff’s highest-ranking governance body made up of 10 FBS presidents and the president of Notre Dame, is planning to meet in August to give more direction on expansion discussions to the CFP Management Committee. The CFP Committee is made up of the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
“I hope we can get something done within a year,” Keenum, the Mississippi State president, tells Sports Illustrated at SEC spring meetings in Destin.
The CFP Board is taking a more authoritative role in guiding the next round of expansion discussions, Keenum says. CFP Committee members could not agree on a new playoff format during months of negotiations last year. They needed unanimity for the proposal to pass, but three of the 11 Board members—from the ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten—voted against a 12-team model that was at first proposed last summer.
The new playoff model would have been implemented in the last two years of the current contract—2024 and 2025—and would have provided an additional $460 million in revenue and 16 extra playoff spots.
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“It was frustrating,” Keenum says. “The same people who wanted expansion originally voted against (the proposal).”
A subsection of the CFP Management Committee spent two years narrowing more than 60 expansion models to a single, 12-team format presented last summer. In the model, the six highest-ranked conference champions receive an automatic berth while the next six highest-ranked teams get at-large bids into the field. The four highest-ranked conference champions get a first-round bye. First rounds are played on campus while quarterfinals and semifinals are hosted by a rotation of six bowls.
A new round of expansion negotiations would start and build around 12 teams, Keenum says. However, a 16-team proposal is “out there,” he says without elaborating. This time, a new playoff would not require unanimity among the conferences. Months after the latest proposal failed, Keenum feels that 10 of the 11 CFP members would support an expansion model. Representatives of the ACC have publicly said that any expansion of the playoff should follow a resolution of a myriad of issues around college football, including name, image and likeness (NIL), the transfer movement situation and uncertain future of NCAA governance.
However, CFP officials are working under a deadline. There is no playoff plan beyond 2025, when the current contract with ESPN expires. A plan needs to be finalized well before 2025, though. A litany of issues would need to be resolved, including sites for future championship and playoff games and a new media rights contract.
Under the current contract, ESPN has an exclusive negotiating window in October of 2024. Keenum is open to taking the new playoff format to market and have more than one media partner. “But we have to get past the (format) step first,” he says.
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