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Details behind the College Football Playoff 12-team expansion proposal

Could this benefit Utah schools and Group of Five conferences? The proposal for a 12-team field includes six conference champions and six at-large bids

Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison breaks up a pass intended for Clemson’s Artavis Scott during the NCAA college football playoff championship game on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.
FILE - Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison (15) breaks up a pass intended for Clemson’s Artavis Scott during the second half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game in Glendale, Ariz., in this Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, file photo. The College Football Playoff would expand from four to 12 teams, with six spots reserved for the highest ranked conference champions, under a proposal that will be considered next week by the league commissioners who manage the postseason system, a person familiar with announcement told The Associated Press on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the CFP has not yet released details.
Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

When the College Football Playoff management committee meets next week, it will review a proposal for the playoff to expand to a 12-team field comprised of six conference champions with six at-large bids, the committee announced Thursday.

“No conference would qualify automatically and there would be no limit on the number of participants from a conference,” the proposal states, according to ESPN.

What an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff could look like

Here’s what we know about the 12-team College Football Playoff proposal:

  • The 12-team proposal calls for the six highest ranked conference champions to make the CFP field, with six at-large spots going to the highest ranked remaining teams, as determined by the CFP selection committee rankings.
  • The 12-team field would include the highest ranked conference champions being seeded No. 1-4 and earning a first-round bye, while teams seeded No. 5-12 would play in the first round, with the highest ranked team hosting the game.
  • The quarterfinals and semifinals would then be played in bowl games, and the national championship game would remain at a neutral site venue.
  • The 12-team proposal is being recommended by a subcommittee that includes Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
  • The working group has spent the past two years researching potential changes for the CFP, and also considered six-, eight-, 10- and 16-team formats, per The Athletic.

Timeline for when College Football Playoff changes could be decided on

  • The 10 FBS commissioners and Swarbrick make up the CFP management committee, and they will meet in Chicago June 17-18.
  • If committee endorses the proposal, comes to a consensus on an alternative proposal, or decides to maintain the current four-team playoff, it will be presented to the CFP board of managers (composed of 11 presidents and chancellors) at a June 22 meeting in Dallas.
  • If the board of managers approves the plan, ESPN reported the management committee will determine how and when to implement it. Another meeting is scheduled for September.

When could College Football Playoff changes go into effect?

That remains unclear, though don’t expect it to happen in the near future for the CFP, which has five more years on its original 12-year contractual agreement. The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reported Thursday that CFP executive director Bill Hancock said any changes would not go into effect this year or next, matching previous reports that any changes likely wouldn’t happen until 2023.

How the 12-team expansion proposal would impact the Group of Five

This would be huge for teams in Group of Five conferences, which include the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. Since the start of the College Football Playoff seven years ago, no team outside the Power Five conferences — the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — has made the playoff.

It’s actually been even more exclusive than that, as 20 of the 28 available spots since the inaugural playoff in 2014 have been filled by four schools, Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, The Athletic reported.

Under this proposal, at least one Group of Five conference champion would make the field every year.

“By framing it as ‘the six highest-ranked conference champions,’ rather than guaranteeing automatic bids for every Power Five league, not only will at least one Group of Five conference champ be included every year, but it’s possible some years there could be two,” The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel wrote.

Last year, two Group of Five conference champions — No. 8 Cincinnati (of the AAC) and No. 12 Coastal Carolina (of the Sun Belt) — finished ahead of Pac-12 champion Oregon, who was No. 25 in the final CFP rankings.

How this could impact Utah schools

A 12-team field opens the possibility for schools like Utah (Pac-12) and Utah State (Mountain West) to win their conference championships and have automatic access to the playoff, as well as creates greater at-large access, including for independent BYU.

The Utes, in particular, could benefit. They’ve made appearances in 30 CFP rankings since its inception in 2014, tied for seventh most in the FBS and most among Pac-12 teams.

In 2019, for example, Utah would have qualified for the CFP under this format. Even after Utah lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship, the Utes finished ranked No. 11 in the final CFP rankings, which would have made them the final at-large team to qualify that year. Utah rose as high as No. 5 in the CFP rankings that year.