The College Football Playoff announced months ago that it would expand for the 2026 season, if not earlier.
On Thursday, the date became official: The long-awaited 12-team event will start in the 2024 season after the final obstacle — the Rose Bowl — reportedly agreed to amend its contracts and participate.
“Everyone realized that this change is in the best interest of college football and pulled together to make it happen,” Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director, said Thursday in a prepared statement.
For the Pac-12, the timing couldn’t be better.
Its first season without USC and UCLA, which are headed to the Big Ten in the summer of 2024, will feature the expanded playoff with the Pac-12 champion virtually guaranteed a berth.
The format calls for the six highest-ranked conference winners to receive automatic bids. There are 10 conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision: the Power Five and the Group of Five, which includes the American Athletic Conference and the Mountain West.
The Pac-12 winner could be the lowest-ranked of the Power Five champions, but as long as it’s ranked ahead of either the American or the Mountain West winners, a berth awaits.
In other words, even a three-loss Pac-12 champ would be well positioned to participate.
Playoff expansion elevates the importance of the regular seasons for the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, which have been relegated to a tier below the SEC and Big Ten behemoths after the former agreed to add Texas and Oklahoma and the latter gobbled up USC and UCLA.
The thunderous news of early CFP expansion comes while the Pac-12 is deep in negotiations for a new media rights agreement in the aftermath of USC and UCLA announcing their departures for the Big Ten.
The Rose Bowl was the last obstacle in a complicated process that began years ago and appeared to stall indefinitely last winter, when three conferences (the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12) voted against expansion for various reasons.
But the dramatic realignment moves over the summer — and the threat of further disruption — changed everything. The university presidents who oversee the playoff solved issues the conference commissioners could not and announced in September that playoff expansion would begin in 2026, if not earlier.
A series of contractual and logistical issues — the Rose Bowl’s status chief among them — had to be resolved in order for the event to expand in either the 2024 or 2025 seasons.
The Rose Bowl held out for preferential treatment but caved when, according to Sports Illustrated, the CFP reportedly threatened to lock the game out of future playoff contracts.
“It’s been a long process, but we are pleased that more teams and more students will have the opportunity to compete for the national championship beginning in the 2024 season,” Hancock said.
“A new era of college football is about to begin. I look forward to it.”
Under the 12-team format:
— The six highest-ranked conference champions and the six highest-ranked non-champions will advance to the playoff.
— The top four seeds will receive opening-round byes.
— The opening-round games will be played in the middle of December on the campus of the higher seeds (No. 5 vs. No. 12, etc.) or a neutral field designated by the higher seed.
(In the 2024 event, those games are slotted for the week ending Dec. 21.)
— The major bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach) will host the quarterfinals and semifinals.
— The quarterfinals will be played on or around Jan. 1, with the semifinals approximately a week later, followed by the national championship at a neutral site.
The Rose Bowl scheduled for next month will be the last traditional matchup of the top teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. The game will host CFP semifinals next season and then participate in the expanded playoff — as a quarterfinal or semifinal host — starting in 2024.
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