The College Football Playoff is set to expand.
While only three games determine a champion, the current format consists of seven games: two semifinals, a title game, and four tent bowls. Converting a four-team playoff to a 12-team version requires four more games and about three more weeks.
The four-team model is already planned for the 2024 and 25 seasons, but the conference commissioners managing the CFP are working to flip the format for those years.
“There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of individual parts,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said earlier this month after a management committee meeting in Dallas.
True, but the framework is there.
The expansion for the 2024 and 25 seasons – and access to an additional $450 million in revenue over those two years – largely depends on whether the semifinals and league games can be rescheduled from their existing dates, with the availability of Venues, accommodation for large events and TV windows all lined up.
“It’s the calendar,” said CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock. “When are we going to play these games?”
The NFL schedule will play a big part in deciding when games will be played in a 12-team format for 2024 and 25 and beyond.
A warning to college football fans: prepare for playoff games on weekdays.
The four new first-round games to be played on campus will be played at least 12 days after the conference championship games, which are currently being played on the first weekend of December. This gives teams battling for their conference titles added peace of mind and keeps Army-Navy on call as the only major college football game the second weekend of December.
The NFL avoids the first two Saturdays of December out of deference to college football, but that’s about it. Beginning the third weekend of December, the CFP can expect the NFL to play multiple Saturday games through mid-January and the first two weekends of its playoffs.
The CFP will either give up scheduling games on Saturday or risk messing with the NFL. There are also NFL games that stream Thursday nights on Amazon, and the NFL is basically unrivaled when it comes to attracting American viewers.
“It’s just such a ratings giant,” said Bob Thompson, former president of Fox Sports Network.
There have been 18 college football playoff semifinals. Five have attracted television audiences of more than 20 million viewers. The remainder ranged from 15.7 million to 19.5 million.
Last year, ESPN’s NFL season Monday Night Football averaged 14.2 million viewers and NBC’s Sunday Night Football averaged 18.5 million.
Perhaps the CFP can schedule a first-round game or two for the third Saturday in December, when NFL games are likely to be broadcast by the NFL network.
“I think if I’m a network, I’ll say, ‘If you hire us to play an NFL game, I know my rating is going to go down, so I’m not going to bid that much,'” Thompson said.
But that’s a reality to deal with no matter when the CFP is enlarged, and not a reason to avoid early enlargement.
For the 2024 and 25 seasons, the CFP Quarterfinals would be played in a 12-team format in the non-playoff New Year’s Six Bowls scheduled as early as January 1st.
This should be a relatively easy swap.
In fact, the existing bowl lineup for those two years offers some help in the expansion effort. Neither the rose nor the sugar bowl would have to be postponed from their contractually bound time windows on January 1st. The dates of the other two games may need to be changed, but only by a few days.
This is where things potentially get complicated. For example in the 2024/25 season:
– The semifinals are scheduled to be played at the Cotton and Orange Bowls on Saturday, December 28. To keep the semi-finals in a 12-team format, these games would likely need to be played on Wednesday 8 January at the earliest.
The NFL schedule is once again pushing what the CFP has available. The NFL wildcard weekend would be Jan. 11-12, 2025. Ideally, the CFP would play its semifinals this weekend or Monday, Jan. 13 — but the NFL’s extended wildcard round now has six games, including one on Monday evening.
– That would make Thursday, January 9th and Friday, January 10th the best dates for the CFP semifinals, which will be played in North Texas and South Florida, both in stadiums used by NFL teams.
– The championship game for this season was recently awarded to Atlanta and is scheduled for Monday, January 6th. That would probably have to be pushed back two weeks to Monday 20th January.
Hosting the CFP Championship also requires more than an available soccer stadium.
Hotel space is needed for teams, media and thousands of fans from out of town. In addition, the CFP plans events in and around the host city in the run-up to the championship and tries to convey a Super Bowl feeling.
“So you need to look at the convention center for Playoff Fan Central. Local parks for potential concert venues. What could the media day look like? It’s a multitude of different checks in terms of availability that would really determine feasibility,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission in Florida. Tampa hosted the 2017 CFP Finals.
Higgins said that ideally, major events like a CFP championship are scheduled three to seven years in advance.
“However, a shorter schedule might still be possible if hotels and facilities can be provided by the host,” he said.
The CFP Administrative Committee will meet again next week near Chicago. On Wednesday, the 2024 semifinals are exactly two years and three months away.
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