Four of the most influential executives in college athletics united Thursday to recommend that the College Football Playoff triple its size to include a dozen teams each year.
The proposal by the working group of executives — the commissioners of the Big 12, Mountain West and Southeastern Conferences, and the Notre Dame athletic director — is not binding on the larger committees that administer the playoff. But the recommendation amounts to the most substantive effort to reimagine the playoff, which debuted with the 2014 season and succeeded the routinely maligned Bowl Championship Series system.
“The four-team format has been very popular and is a big success,” the group said in a statement. “But it’s important that we consider the opportunity for more teams and more student-athletes to participate in the playoff. After reviewing numerous options, we believe this proposal is the best option to increase participation, enhance the regular season and grow the national excitement of college football.”
A final decision is not expected to be made until at least this fall.
Year after year, college sports leaders have come under pressure to modify the playoff system, which, in its current form, has guaranteed that at least one Power 5 conference would not be represented by a team each season. The system’s design has also led to sustained friction because it routinely shut out strong teams from less influential leagues like the American Athletic and Sun Belt Conferences.
Under the proposal by the working group, which will be considered next week during a meeting of the larger playoff management committee, the six highest-ranked conference champions would be included in the field, as well as six more teams with the highest rankings, regardless of whether they won conference titles. No conferences would be guaranteed a bid, and the playoff would continue to rely on a selection committee to rank teams.
It is not clear when the new strategy, if approved, would take effect, though changes are not expected for the next two seasons. Had the proposed system been in place for the 2020 season, the playoff would have included Alabama, Cincinnati, Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Instead, the playoff featured only Alabama — the eventual champion — Clemson, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Just in April, the playoff said that members of the working group continued “to support and believe in the four-team playoff as it is currently constituted,” but that they were studying at least 63 models for the future. Those possibilities included fields of six, eight, 10, 12 and 16 teams.
The N.C.A.A., which governs the lucrative Division I men’s basketball tournament, does not control the playoff. Instead, commissioners of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and Notre Dame’s athletic director largely run the competition, with ultimate power vested in a group of 11 university presidents and chancellors.
If the commissioners advance the proposal next week, the presidents and chancellors could decide as soon as this month to approve “feasibility assessments” and other planning steps toward an expanded playoff. They would likely review the results during a meeting planned for September.
The existing television rights agreement with ESPN, valued at more than $5.6 billion over its 12-year term, does not expire until the end of the 2025 season.