The last remaining obstacle to expanding the College Football Playoff to 12 teams in the 2024 and 2025 seasons has been cleared.
A source told ESPN on Wednesday night that the Rose Bowl has agreed to terms that will pave the way for the College Football Playoff to expand in the final two seasons of the current contract — 2024 and 2025.
Any more steps toward an expanded playoff are a formality, as the formal announcement of the CFP expansion beginning in 2024 is expected to be imminent.
In early September, the College Football Playoff board of managers voted to expand the CFP to 12 teams starting in 2026.
With nearly $450 million at stake in the final two years of the current contract, the path toward expanding in those two seasons has been fraught with complications.
But after months of haggling, getting the Rose Bowl on board loomed as the final step. The Rose Bowl needed to amend its contract as the other five so-called “contract bowls” needed to do in order to accommodate the new system. Ultimately, the Rose Bowl’s cooperation loomed as the final barrier.
A source told ESPN’s Heather Dinich earlier this week that the Rose Bowl was essentially given an ultimatum this week to agree to terms or risk being shut out of the next television contract, which begins in 2026.
The Rose Bowl’s requests for special treatment included an exclusive window for the game — a television window considered one of the most valuable in sports — in years when the Rose Bowl wasn’t hosting a College Football Playoff game on New Year’s.
Essentially, sources told ESPN that CFP officials told Rose Bowl officials this week that they’d make good-faith efforts to work with them. But that would not include the exclusive window for the Rose Bowl that isn’t a part of the CFP. Any of the Rose Bowl’s requests that involved the next contract — be it financial or otherwise — were impossible to even address, as there’s no way to know what the television contracts for the next iteration of the CFP will look like.
Ultimately, if the Rose Bowl wanted to take part in the next version of the CFP, it needed to accept a role that didn’t include significant special favors. The upcoming announcement puts an end to the awkward and complex process to expand the College Football Playoff, which has epitomized the fractured and nonlinear structure of college sports. To reach the September expansion decision to 12 teams, it took significant momentum swings that included introducing a 12-team proposal in June 2021. That eventually got shot down amid conference fighting, leading to second-guessing on why a potential model was announced before it was approved by all the constituents.
The following year, the college presidents who make up the CFP board of managers essentially decided to work backward, first approving the 12-team model in September that would start in 2026. They then targeted 2024 and 2025, which was always going to be complicated because it required presidents from all 10 conferences and Notre Dame to agree unanimously.
Then the group of commissioners dove in for months of meetings, calls and all the details involving schedule, bowl games, game sits, the academic calendar and television contract complications. Three full months later, the board of managers pushed through all the issues — revenue distribution was a big one — until finally solving the Rose Bowl conundrum on Wednesday night. The 12-team playoff will start in the 2024 season, meaning just two more four-team playoffs — this year and next — before the sport’s postseason changes indelibly.