College Football Playoff to Expand to 12 Teams By No Later Than 2026; Here’s How It Will Work
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images. Pictured: The College Football Playoff trophy.
The College Football Playoff will increase to a 12-team field beginning in 2026, unless an earlier implementation is possible. The contract for the current four-team playoff ends following the 2025 season.
The CFB Playoff Board of Managers, made up of university presidents, made the decision to expand the playoff. However, the 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick must determine if the playoff can be implemented before 2026.
The commissioners meet next week in Dallas.
How 12-Team Field is Determined
The 12-team field will consist of the six highest-ranked conference champions and the remaining six highest-ranked teams in the College Football Playoff’s final selection committee rankings.
This means there are no guaranteed bids to any conference champions — only the six highest-ranked conference champions.
However, this does guarantee at least one Group of Five conference champion will make the 12-team field, yet the Group of Five could have more teams in the playoff if their conference champions rank higher than five-highest Power Five conference champions.
What Does the Bracket Look Like?
The top four-ranked conference champions will receive a first-round bye and be seeded Nos. 1-4, regardless of their rankings by the selection committee. The teams will not be reseeded after the opening round.
The remaining two conference champions and six highest-ranked teams will be seeded 5-12, based on their final selection committee rankings.
The teams seeded Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 will host a first-round game at their home stadium or a neutral site of their choice: 12-seed at 5-seed, 11-seed at 6-seed, 10-seed at 7-seed, 9-seed at 8-seed.
The four winners will advance to the quarterfinals to play the top four seeds: 1-seed vs. 8-9 winner, 2-seed vs. 7-10 winner, 3-seed vs. 6-11 winner, 4-seed vs. 5-12 winner.
The quarterfinal games and semifinals will be held at bowl sites, to be determined.
What About Independent Notre Dame?
Because Notre Dame is not in a conference, the Irish will never get a first-round bye, even if Notre Dame is ranked in the top four by the selection committee.
If the Irish rank among the six highest-ranked teams (after the six highest-ranked conference champions), they would be in the playoff. If they are among the top eight-highest ranked teams, they would host a first-round playoff game.
Where and When Will Games Be Played?
The first-round games will be played at campus sites unless the higher-seeded team decides to move the game to a neutral site in either the second or third weekend in December. There must be 12 days between the conference title games and first-round games.
The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played at bowl sites. The four highest-ranked conference champions will be assigned to quarterfinal bowls on selection day in ranking order.
The quarterfinal and semifinal bowls are expected to rotate among the current New Year’s Six bowls, said Bill Hancock of the College Football Playoff. Those bowls are the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, Cotton and Peach.
“Most of us feel like it will be the same six bowls,” Hancock said. “That will depend on their responses to our specifications.”
They also will consider current bowl relationships, such as the Pac-12 or Big Ten champion going to the Rose Bowl, the SEC champ assigned to the Sugar Bowl, etc.
Although not yet finalized, the quarterfinals would be played around or on New Year’s Day and the semifinals about 7-10 days after that.
The championship game would be held in mid-to-late January. The championship sites have not been determined past the 2025 regular season.
If a 12-team playoff is adopted early, the 2024 title game will be held Jan. 20, 2025, in Atlanta. The 2025 title game would then be on Jan. 19, 2026, in Miami sources told Action Network.
What Happens to Conference Title Games?
Nothing. They will continue to be played on the first Friday and Saturday in December. The conferences make too much money to eliminate them.
What Would Last Year’s College Football Playoff Have Looked Like With 12 Teams?
Because the top six-ranked conference champions get a bid, the seedings would not have been the same as the top 12 teams ranked in the final selection committee rankings. Here’s how a 12-team playoff would have looked last year:
(selection committee rankings in parenthesis)
*-designates the six highest-ranked conference champions
- No. 12 *Pitt (12) at No. 5 Georgia (3)
- No. 11 *Utah (11) at No. 6 Notre Dame (5)
- No. 10 Michigan State (10) at No. 7 Ohio State (6)
- No. 9 Oklahoma State (9) at No. 8 Ole Miss (8)
- No. 1 *Alabama (1) vs. Ole Miss/Oklahoma State
- No. 2 *Michigan (2) vs. Ohio State/Michigan State
- No. 3 *Cincinnati (4) vs. Notre Dame/Utah
- No. 4 *Baylor (7) vs. Georgia/Pitt
- Alabama/Ole Miss/Oklahoma State vs. Baylor/Georgia/Pitt
- Michigan/Ohio State/Michigan State vs. Cincinnati/Notre Dame/Utah
The biggest takeaway is last year’s national champion, Georgia, would have had a much tougher road to win the title. Because the Bulldogs, even though they ranked No. 3 by the committee, were not conference champions, they would have been only seeded No. 5 and would have had to play a first-round game against ACC champion Pitt.
In the quarterfinals, Georgia would have faced a rested Baylor team and would have met Alabama in the semifinals instead of the championship game.
Also, because Baylor was the fourth highest-ranked conference champion, the Bears would have received a first-round bye, despite being ranked No. 7 by the selection committee.