Before this season, College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said the CFP Management Committee was “quite happy with the four-team playoff.”
That is certainly not the case anymore.
Stadium contacted all 11 members of the College Football Playoff Management Committee – the 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director. They were asked individually if they were in favor of expanding to an eight-team playoff (if the myriad of hurdles could be solved) before the current contract ends in 2026.
Of the 11 members:
* 3 individuals are in favor of expanding to eight teams before 2026;
* 3 individuals are undecided;
* 1 individual wants to remain at four teams;
* 4 individuals abstained from voting.
The College Football Playoff Management Committee consists of the 10 conference commissioners (Mike Aresco, Karl Benson, Bob Bowlsby, Jim Delany, Judy MacLeod, Greg Sankey, Larry Scott, Jon Steinbrecher, John Swofford and Craig Thompson) and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. Each individual was guaranteed anonymity to participate in Stadium’s survey.
The fact more than half of the 11 committee members either favored an eight-team playoff before the current contract ends or were undecided about it is a drastic shift in the mindset of the sport’s most powerful individuals and shows a growing momentum toward expanding the playoff.
Just last January, the management committee unanimously agreed the College Football Playoff should not expand beyond four teams.
Of the committee members who told Stadium they wanted to expand the playoff to eight teams, the reasons included that it would guarantee each of the Power 5 conference champions a berth and also would provide access to a Group of 5 conference team into the playoff.
One of the individuals that was undecided said, “Sooner or later, this (eight-team playoff) discussion should happen. I’m willing to dig in on the specifics.”
Even the only individual of the 11 to vote for keeping the College Football Playoff at four teams doesn’t appear dead set against expansion.
The “no vote is not to be confused with a reluctance to evaluate the current format and consider alternatives as appropriate,” the individual said. “That evaluation is simply what any good business does.”
The four-team College Football Playoff is completing its fifth season of its 12-year contract. If a change to the playoff format would happen, it most likely would occur at the contract’s midway point after next season – in part because the New Year’s 6 bowls would have all hosted the College Football Playoff semifinals two times each.
Among the biggest questions is when and where to play the quarterfinal round of games, how it would impact the bowl system, and whether the changes can be implemented in time before the 2020 regular season. It’s obviously not that simple just to add another round to the playoffs.
Based on the initial guidelines and recommendations of the College Football Playoff Board of Managers, made up of 11 university presidents and chancellors, when the four-team playoff was implemented in 2014, the presidents were against playing the week after the conference title games (because of conflicts with final exams) or the following week (holiday breaks/Christmas) and also did not want the season extended into the spring semester (past the second Monday in January when the title game is currently held every year).
To get around those issues, some have suggested starting the season a week early (which would impact several traditional Thanksgiving weekend rivalries), reducing the regular season by one game and/or getting rid of the conference championship games, which are played the first Friday or Saturday of December.
Unless the presidents have changed their viewpoint on these items from 2014, for now, those all appear to be unrealistic solutions.
An SEC athletic director recently told Stadium there was “less than a zero percent” chance the SEC, which was the first FBS conference to hold a conference title game, would stop playing its championship game for the sake of an eight-team playoff.
The College Football Playoff Management Committee and Board of Managers will have the opportunity to hold formal discussions about the future of the playoff when they meet January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.