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New CFP Format: Here’s How It Works

Photo Courtesy of College Football Playoff

It’s official–the new setup for the 12 team College Football Playoff format is finally here!

The College Football Playoff Board of Managers unanimously approved a new 5+7 model, which will guarantee the five highest-ranked conference champions' inclusion in the expanded 12 team field this fall, followed by the next seven highest-ranked teams. They announced this new model on Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

This change modifies the original plan, which called for the bracket to include the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the following six highest-ranked.

Conference Changes Bring Playoff Change

This change comes as the conferences have changed greatly throughout the past year. President of Mississippi State University and Chair of the CFP Board of Managers, Dr. Mark Keenum said, “This is a very logical adjustment for the College Football Playoff based on the evolution of our conference structures since the board first adopted this new format in September 2022.”

The NCAA FBS conferences consist of the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12, AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and FBS Independents. In the past, these differentiations were simpler because conferences mostly consisted of colleges that were regionally close to each other. However, in the last two decades, conferences have evolved beyond regional boundaries. 

As of August 4, 2023, the Pac-12 Conference has quite literally fallen into ruin. The once esteemed and revered conference with a 108 year legacy, abundant with  All-American athletes and National Championship teams, has been reduced to only two schools: Oregon State University and Washington State University. 

This comes as five of the Pac-12’s beloved teams had retreated from the conference that same day. The University of Washington and the University of Oregon announced they were joining the Big Ten beginning in 2024. Simultaneously, the University of Arizona, the University of Utah, and Arizona State University revealed their plans to join the Big 12, echoing the move made by the University of Colorado just a week prior. 

These shifts in conference alignment have sent shockwaves through the college football landscape, leaving fans, administrators, and players alike struggling with the implications. The sudden unraveling of the Pac-12 has sparked widespread uncertainty about the future of college football. 

The Pac-12 is currently unable to satisfy the NCAA's criteria for a proper conference structure, so a scheduling agreement has been made with the Mountain West Conference. This agreement allows Washington State and Oregon State to compete within a Mountain West Conference schedule, despite not being an official member of the conference.

While this agreement could eventually lead to Washington State and Oregon State joining the Mountain West Conference, this temporary agreement serves as a lifeline for the Pac-12. The Pac-12 has until 2026 to satisfy NCAA conference requirements. If it is unable to do so, the conference will be dissolved.

Photo Courtesy of Alika Jenner/Getty Images

So, How Will This New Format Work?

According to the College Football Playoff, “Under the 12 team playoff format that begins this fall, the four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded one through four and each will receive a first-round bye, while teams seeded five through 12 will play each other in the first round on the home field of the higher-ranked team. (The team ranked #5 will host #12; team #6 will meet team #11; team #7 will play team #10; and team #8 will meet #9.)”

“The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played in the New Year's Six bowl games [the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Vrbo Fiesta Bowl, Capital One Orange Bowl, Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl Game presented by Prudential and the Allstate Sugar Bowl], the National Championship game will continue to be at a neutral site. No conference will qualify automatically and there will be no limit on the number of participants from a conference.”

This coming season’s quarter finals will take place on December 31, 2024 and January 1, 2025. The semifinals will be January 9-10, 2025. 

The College Football Playoff National Championship will be held on Monday, January 20, 2025, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Help or Hindrance?

The playoff format change undoubtedly provides a reprieve amid the mayhem of conference realignment. However, questions linger about its long-term efficacy. Some argue that it only contributes to the existing chaos in college athletics, potentially making the current complexities faced by teams, coaches, and fans worse. As schedules near finalization, uncertainty remains over the ultimate ramifications of these changes.  Unfortunately, only time will tell if such change will actually be of benefit to college football, its teams, coaches, and fans.

Edited by: Hadlea Lindstrom

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