Skip to main content

CFB Playoff Expansion: Everything to Know About the 12-Team Playoff

College Football Playoff

College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff is officially expanding. After a year delay following an initial announcement of expansion in 2021, the Board of Managers voted for a 12-team format. The exact start date and some of the details remain unsettled. However, the future of the playoff was officially settled with Friday's announcement: Expansion is on the way.

Whether it's in 2024, '25 or '26, the future of the CFB Playoff is a 12-team tournament with six conference champions and six at-large teams guaranteed a spot. The four highest-ranked conference champions will receive a bye week in the first round. 

Several reasons are the driving force behind the shift to 12 teams. Factors such as better access for all 131 teams, the shift to adding more importance to the playoff, an opportunity to enhance the regular season, and adding weight to conference championships, are all factors in the expansion of the playoff. And of course, all of the conferences and teams can make extra revenue with an expanded playoff.

Here’s everything to know about college football’s new 12-team playoff format, along with the reasons why it’s changing in the near future:

CFB Playoff Expansion: Everything to Know About the 12-Team Format

The Playoff is Expanding to 12 Teams
Beginning in 2024, '25 or '26, the playoff will move from a four-team setup to a 12-team version.

When Does it Start?
To be determined. The format will officially switch by 2026, but the Board of Managers tasked the College Football Management Committee to review the possibility of starting in '24 or '25.

Six Conference Champions are Guaranteed a Spot
The six highest-rated conference champions in the CFB Playoff committee's final rankings will be awarded a spot in the 12-team field. Other conference champions can make it into the playoff, but in the new version, six teams are guaranteed entry regardless of which conference they come from.

The Top Four Teams in the Bracket Will be Conference Champions
This is an important distinction of the new format: Only conference champions can be in the top four and receive a bye week in the first round. If a team is ranked No. 2 and not a conference champion, they will drop to No. 5 and host a first-round game.

The Top Four Champions Get a Bye
To incentivize winning a conference title, the top-four rated champs will receive a bye in the first round of the playoff.

Six At-Large Spots are Up for Grabs
After six spots are decided by conference champions, six teams will be selected as at-large picks. The six at-large spots will be determined by the CFB Playoff selection committee from the top 25. 

The First Round of Games Will be Played on Campus
Teams seeded No.  5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 will host a first-round playoff game on campus. No. 5 will take on No. 12, No. 6 will play No. 11, No. 7 takes on No. 10 and No. 8 will play No. 9.

12 is an Important Number for Another Reason
The exact dates and start times for the playoff is unsettled, but the start of the 12-team format cannot begin until 12 days have passed since the conference championship.

Quarterfinals and Semifinals Will be Played at Bowl Sites
After campus locations get the first round, the scene shifts to bowl sites for the quarterfinals and semifinals.

Bowl Sites Will be Assigned for Top Teams
Some finer details like this one need a little clarity, but the basic notes are simple. According to the CFB Playoff release, the top four will be assigned to a bowl on selection day. Some consideration of current bowl relationships will be used here. For example, an SEC team ranked No. 1 is likely to go to the Cotton or Sugar Bowl. A Big Ten team ranked No. 1 would go to the Rose Bowl.

Will the Teams be Reseeded?
No. Once the 12-team format is settled and the bracket is announced, there is no reseeding after any of the rounds.

Where Will the Championship be Played?
Similar to the current setup, the national championship will be rotated among cities. Miami, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas and Indianapolis could all be potential spots for the national title - now in late January.

What Does This Mean for Notre Dame?
Although it's not necessarily an equivalent comparison, Notre Dame has ranked lower than No. 12 in the final Associated Press poll just once since 2015. Assuming that level of play holds, the Fighting Irish are likely to be an annual participant in the playoff. However, Notre Dame's Independence does have one drawback: The highest the Fighting Irish can rank is No. 5. Without a conference title, Notre Dame cannot be ranked in the top four. The Fighting Irish do not play on the final weekend of conference championships, so the program essentially has a bye week already. 

Will Notre Dame Join a Conference as a Result of Expansion?
Probably not. Notre Dame appears to be content with its Independence for now, and the expansion to 12 teams likely means this program will be in the playoff on a frequent basis.

Which Networks Will Broadcast the Playoff?
TBD. ESPN and likely FOX are expected to at least have some role in broadcast rights of the CFB Playoff. However, one of the goals of the expansion was to spread out or allow other partners to bid on the 12-team format. With that in mind, other networks (or potential streaming services) could bid for an opportunity to broadcast games.

Will an Expanded Playoff Stop Realignment and Expansion?
To be determined. The Big Ten may expand beyond 16 teams, the Pac-12 is still trying to sort out its future, and the Big 12 could opt to make a play for Utah, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado from the Pac-12.

What if a 12-Team Playoff Existed in 2021?

First-Round Games

No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 12 Pitt (Athens, Ga.)
No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Utah (South Bend, Ind.)
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 10 Michigan State (Columbus, Ohio)
No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State (Oxford, Miss.)

Second-Round Games
(Projections and winners of matchups using highest-rated seeds)

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Ole Miss (Sugar Bowl)
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 7 Ohio State (Rose Bowl)
No. 3 Cincinnati vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (Peach Bowl)
No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 5 Georgia (Fiesta Bowl)