If a 12-team format is the future of the College Football Playoff —- and odds are that it still is despite a recent detour on the road to expansion — among the many details that need to be worked out is when it would start.
Administrators who are part of the CFP management team will have two options.
— Hold the first round the second weekend of December, which would create what some members of the committee believe is an unfair advantage for playoff teams that don’t play conference championship games while also bumping into what has become the traditional standalone date for the Army-Navy game.
— Play the third week of December and deal with the possibility of scheduling the playoff around or against NFL games.
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“That’s part of what we’re trying to figure out, just the sequencing of when these games would be played and in what order,” Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips told AP this week, adding that the safety of teams playing two high-stakes games in a row was a factor.” This is why we need to be careful about not only how many games are played but also the order they are ordered.”
The committee decided not to move forward with a 12-team model, as some of the participants hoped. Instead, they are weighing the pros and cons for an eight-team structure.
There are eight teams and there is no need for games to take place in December. This eliminates conflicts with final exams at schools. It also makes the number of possible matches more attractive to committee members.
There are still obstacles that eight can’t overcome, making expansion to twelve more probable.
It is crucial that the 12-team playoff model has consensus about when it should be played. The speed at which it is put in place will decide if the playoff grows or shrinks.
SECOND WEEK DECEMBER
According to the 12-team plan, four of the initial games will be played on campus and match seed 5-12. Under the proposal, the top four conference champions would be allowed to bye into the quarterfinals, which will take place on or close to New Year’s Day.
Teams that won conference championships will have at least two seeds between 5-12. It is expected that six league champions will be automatically eligible to bid to the CFP. Other teams who lose conference championship games will also likely be in the field.
AP reviewed the 2017-19 seasons by using the CFP ranking rankings from the past to provide an incomplete guide. The Big 12 did not play a title game, and the 2020 season was cancelled due to the outbreak of the flu.
There would have been five matches between teams that participated in the conference championship games and those that didn’t.
Although none of these hypothetical matches involved Notre Dame in them, some of the members of the subcommittee have a strong interest in the Fighting Irish. Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s athletic director was part of that subcommittee which drafted the 12-team plan.
According to the proposal, an independent Notre Dame could not get a bye in the first round. Swarbrick stated that this was a fair compromise for Notre Dame not having to compete on the championship weekend. While most of the playoff candidates are playing, the Irish will always be able to take a week off.
Notre Dame is not the only one affected. The 2017-19 CFP final rankings show that 11 of the 12 teams who did not make it to their conference championships would have been included in a 12-team field.
Also, there’s the Army-Navy rivalry. Since 2009, this rivalry has been played as the sole game to take place on December 2nd.
Chet Gladchuk, Navy’s athletic director, said that “it has been enormous.” It’s helped us in every way, including television ratings and corporate sponsorship.
The move of Army-Navy one week back would have it in the middle of what will be the first weekend for bowl season. This would make it more difficult if one of the teams is in a position to play for the playoff.
Gladchuk hesitated to speculate in such uncertainty. However, he suggested that Army-Navy might move to Thanksgiving Weekend if there was a 12-team playoff.
THIRD WEEK DECEMBER
The playoff happening on Saturday means that a lot of lower-tier bowl games will need to be played at another time.
Bowl season usually begins on the third Saturday in December. There are many games that involve teams from non-Power Five conference conferences. More recently the FCS Celebration Bowl acts as de facto the national title game for historically Black colleges.
A major problem is the late-season NFL game. The NFL typically hosts games on Saturdays in December.
Due to the change in the year’s calendar, Saturday NFL games will not be held on December 3rd. However, last year was different.
ESPN can put together some minor bowls in order to compete with the NFL. However, it’s very different to request a TV partner to invest hundreds of millions in a CFP. Then expect that the network will use that money to fight the television ratings monster that is NFL.
One solution is to not play any or all the first four Saturday games, and instead make them primetime games for weeknights.
It is important to note that it could not seem as scary to go against the NFL. In 2022, Amazon will host the NFL Network’s Thursday evening package. This means that the NFL Network will have exclusive access to late-season Saturday games. These college games would also be available on ESPN/Fox (if they get into CFP).
Gladchuk did not participate in the CFP, however he felt that allowing a week of open work between the opening weekend and the first round made sense.
He stated, “They would allow (the players), a week off in order to regroup.” The fans would be able to recalibrate their minds and create destination plans.
Bill Hancock, CFP Executive Director, stated last month that a change in format for 2024 must be approved by the management committee before December 31st or January 2. If not, then the change would only be implemented for the season of 2026.
Although no official meeting has been scheduled, November may be the most important month for figuring things out. Although the most difficult hurdle isn’t the main one, it’s another on the long list.
Hancock stated, “The calendar is really complicated.”