Sources – 14 team College Football Playoff has momentum

Sources – 14-team College Football Playoff has momentum

  • Pete Thamel

  • Heather Dinich

    CloseSources – 14 team College Football Playoff has momentum.png&h=80&w=80&scale=crop

    Heather Dinich

    ESPN Senior Writer

    • College football reporter
    • Joined in 2007
    • Graduated from Indiana University

February 28, 2024, 7:08 p.m. ET

The future of the College Football Playoff contract remains uncertain after the 2025 season. Chief executive Bill Hancock said last week there was a “need” to complete the deal next month.

Since its inception in 2014, when it created a four-team model for a sport with five major conferences, the CFP has been unwieldy and cumbersome.

The only certainty was a slow pace, turf disputes and an unstable conference environment that kept everything fluid.

But as Hancock's one-month deadline approaches in mid-March, there is optimism and “momentum” for a 14-team playoff starting in 2026, sources told ESPN. Efforts will be made to reach an agreement in the coming weeks, sources said, but nothing is certain and there are potential hurdles and expected countermeasures – as evidenced by the CFP's winding path to a 12-team playoff.

Editor favorites

  • Sources – 14 team College Football Playoff has momentum.jpg&w=130&h=130&scale=crop&location=center
  • 1709167887 900 Sources – 14 team College Football Playoff has momentum.jpg&w=130&h=130&scale=crop&location=center

1 relative

The TV side of the deal has already been agreed in principle. Starting in 2026, ESPN is poised to spend an average of nearly $1.3 billion on the playoffs for six seasons.

That leaves the CFP's two leadership groups – the Board of Directors (President and Chancellor) and the Administrative Committee (Commissioners and Notre Dame leadership) – to decide the format for implementing the deal.

The goal is for all commissioners to meet again next week via video conference to discuss things further, sources told ESPN.

“There is a lot of pressure to get it done or stop talking about it,” a source said.

Another source summed up the cautious optimism about the group's cohesion this way: “The balance in the room is to recognize the contributions of the Big Ten and the SEC while being fair and cooperative to the collective space.”

There are three main issues going forward: access through automatic qualification, the distribution of funds and the way the group is run.

Sources indicate that discussions are ongoing and fluid and work is still underway on these three main topics. This is the current state of affairs, and sources say things could change.


The expected increase in automatic qualification spots so soon after the start of the five AQ spots in the 12-team playoffs beginning this season is indicative of changing conference dynamics.

According to sources, the model most discussed at the CFP meeting in Dallas is one that includes three automatic qualifying spots for the Big Ten and SEC, two for the Big 12 and ACC and one for the Group of Five. That would leave a total of three spots left in this 14-team model.

As for Notre Dame, sources told ESPN that the most likely option being discussed is that the Fighting Irish would secure a spot in the 14-team CFP if the selection committee ranks them in the top 14 on selection day.

Sources indicate that other models are being discussed and that a more in-depth discussion needs to be had about how strength of schedule would factor into the 3/3 2/2 1 and 3 model. The CFP is not tied to this model and still has a long way to go.

Hancock and CFP officials have not yet done significant modeling on how those models would have evolved in the CFP era. If things change from the most discussed AQ distribution, it could be because of how the modeling would show what the results could look like in the coming years. However, every exercise is difficult because no one knows what a 16-team SEC and 18-team Big Ten will look like at the end of the season.

With the addition of strong programs and the weakening of other leagues, it is difficult to predict what the coming years will look like in the SEC and Big Ten. The potential for SEC and Big Ten teams to be pushed out of the Top 14 — given that they have 34 teams and a majority of title-contending programs — is real and will be examined more closely in the coming weeks.

How would that work? Essentially, for example, a team ranked 13th or 14th could end up being ousted by the winner of the Group of Five or by the second-place ACC or Big 12 team, in a year where the league has one runaway winner and no one The clear winner has second choice. However, there's also a chance that the fourth-best teams in the Big Ten and SEC – and possibly fifth – find a landing spot in the CFP through one of those three overall spots.

Modeling is difficult because college sports remain a moving target. This ESPN deal would run through the 2031 season, and it's naive to think the conference map will look the same as it does today. A senior official involved in the discussions told ESPN on Wednesday that the presidents and chancellors of both the SEC and Big Ten were in discussions about whether to continue their NCAA membership. It is a move that would impact the TV agreement and could potentially derail it.

“Those conversations are happening,” the source said, adding that some “feel pretty strongly about pulling out. I would say: very strong.”

ESPN reported earlier this month that Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti mentioned the potential of an expanded playoff in a fall meeting.

All CFP policy is local, and Petitti's chairmanship is easy to understand. It has an 18-team league with four new teams – USC, Oregon, Washington and UCLA. Two of those four — Oregon and Washington — participated in the CFP as Pac-12 members for the last decade. USC has won a national title on the field since the turn of the century.

Petitti appreciates the way automatic qualifiers could create meaning and interest late in the regular season — similar to what happens in the NFL. College football fans need to be prepared again for the fact that a three-loss team with a tough schedule can still make the playoffs even after generations where perfection or near-perfection was essentially required.


There is still some work to be done on finances and their distribution, but the picture will become clearer if a 14-team model is successful.

In the old model, about 80% of CFP revenue went to the Power 5, while 20% was allocated to the Group of 5. According to the CFP's most recent data, each of the Power 5 conferences received $79.41 million – totaling nearly $400 million – in spring 2023. The Group of 5 conferences shared $102.77 million. Notre Dame received a payment of $3.89 million by meeting the NCAA's APR standard, while the other six independent clubs shared $1.89 million.

The new model promises a greater focus on the SEC and the Big Ten.

Sources told ESPN that discussions centered on the SEC and Big Ten generating between 25% and 30% of CFP revenue. The ACC and Big 12 would be next, earning somewhere between 15% and 20%. That leaves a smaller portion – about 6 to 10% for the other leagues and almost 1% for Notre Dame.

The math isn't clean, sources warn, because some of the money will have to go to spending and to places like the other one that remains independent (UConn). But these are the general financial topics that are discussed. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey has made it clear that the SEC has delivered 40% of teams in the playoffs, and he has been a key driver behind a new revenue model.

As always with money, it's not easy. But the areas are so refined that they seem to be narrowed down.


One thing CFP leaders are unanimously in favor of is eliminating the rule requiring unanimity to make changes to the playoffs. Sometimes it's the 10 FBS commissioners who can't agree. In others, it is the eleven university presidents and chancellors who have final decision-making power over the playoffs.

Regardless, the rule has resulted in major proposals stalling entirely or causing controversial delays. In February 2022, the CFP announced it would remain a four-team playoff after the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 voted 8-3 against expansion. It wasn't until seven months later that the presidents and chancellors usurped the commissioners and unanimously agreed to expand the format to 12 teams.

CFP leaders want to avoid another situation like the one that occurred recently, when the Pac-12 single-handedly moved from a 6+6 model to a 5+7 in the 12-team format. The vote had to be unanimous, and the Pac-12 had previously either abstained from voting or asked for a postponement while it worked to determine its future after a major realignment.

Earlier this month, Washington State President Kirk Schulz, who represents the two Pac-12 schools on the CFP board, voted in favor of the 5+7 model and ultimately approved the change to have the five top-seeded conference champions with a playoff -places to reward.

“They don’t want one person to stop it,” one source said, “that just doesn’t work.”