Notre Dame cannot get a top-four bye, and the power conferences retain their protections while the 'little guys' have a more feasible path to a seat at the table.
That's the nuts and bolts of the proposal from College Football Playoff's sub-committee – a four-member panel – to expand the seven-year-old postseason soiree into a dozen participants, perhaps as soon as 2023.
After the CFP issued a statement on advancing the proposal, with meetings next week in Chicago and the following week in Dallas that will determine its ability to further advance, Playoffs President Bill Hancock as well as the members of the sub-committee – Notre Dame's Jack Swarbrick, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and the Mountain West's Craig Thompson – conducted a nearly hour-long teleconference Thursday afternoon to clarify the actions in the first meaningful step to expand the postseason title-quest.
“We cannot qualify for a bye,” Swarbrick said on the call. “It's limited to the four highest-ranked conference champions. I look forward to never hearing again about how we played one less game or don't have a conference championship.”
The Fighting Irish are coming off a CFP berth following the 2020 season, the program's only season spent in full conference play. Notre Dame is returning to its independent status in the fall after being a provisional member of the Atlantic Coast Conference last full due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for the group's work in seeking to triple the size of the tournament field, it stems from strong consideration for conference champions/top teams from Group of Five programs while also preserving the ability of non-conference champions in Power Five leagues to nonetheless qualify for the CFP.
“My sense is there's been an expectation for automatic access,” Sankey said. “I don't think automatic access works if you're reducing opportunities for those teams that are highly ranked. In other words, going to eight and allocating a certain number of (automatic qualifiers), thereby reducing effectively the at-large numbers, is not something that really resonated from my perspective.
“Twelve obviously finds a halfway-point between those conference champions that could have access, the six best, and then six of the most highly rated teams. Now, there's going to be intersection between highly ranked teams and conference champions, but ultimately that is one of the opportunities that 12 presents. I think it's also important to note you're going to have teams that might be conference champions ranked outside the 12, and one of the potential conversation points going forward is that 12th-ranked team not being a participant. That seemed really difficult to do at eight. Not that it's not going to be problematic at 12, and when you look at basketball, it's problematic at 69 on the men's side and 65 at the women's side [for the NCAA Tournaments].”
Nine of the top 12 teams in the final CFP rankings prior to last season's playoffs were P5 teams, and Notre Dame was the 10th. Cincinnati and Coast Carolina were the only G5 teams that garnered top-12 placement.
If adopted, this move projects to involve 1,020 scholarship players in the sport's top level of playoffs – up from 340 in its current format.
“Overall, I would have liked to see eight (participants),” a sitting P5 senior-level administrator told FootballScoop. But I know (at least one committee member) was totally against 8 with 5 (conference) champs, a Group of 5 and two at-large.
“Twelve will be good. It’ll make for a long season though, which is fine if you’re playing for the big prize. But man that’s brutal on these kids’ bodies… a [potential] 17-game season. I think it’ll grow college football -- the one thing that it does is that it gives more teams and a wider variety hope and exposure to new teams instead of the same group of teams every year. However, it also devalues the regular season a little bit. May be some years when a three-loss team gets in.
“I think it needs to grow from four, but I always worry about collateral damage that none of us can anticipate right now… you just don’t know until it happens and unfolds.”
Swarbrick also said a potentially expanded Playoffs field allows college football “an opportunity to reassert ownership of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in a really powerful way.”
Hancock's contention is that expansion not only provides a path to reclaim the sport's traditional postseason spotlight but also augments the opening and closing months of the regular season.
“I want to add one thing to what everybody said,” Hancock said. “Twelve keeps September important, and it also keeps November important.
“So for me, as I watched the working group work through the options, that was a real benefit of 12. Both September and November are helped.”
September, Hancock emphasizes, remains the earlier this new proposal could receive complete endorsement and then begin to be implemented in the coming seasons. He also maintains that the earliest possible expansion is the 2023 season.
The CFP's current TV contract package is with ESPN and runs through 2025.