The College Football Playoff logo. The College Football Playoff logo.

There’s still uncertainty on if the College Football Playoff will actually expand to 12 teams ahead of 2026, but the odds seem to be shifting more and more towards it. As we discussed last month, there are plenty of potential hurdles to that. One particularly big one is overlap with Saturday and Sunday NFL games in December and January.

That presents the CFP committee with a choice.  They could avoid the NFL entirely with games on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But that has its own potential for ratings drops and for lower ticket sales. Or they could go head-to-head with the NFL and take the assured rating drops that would include. As per Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, it now sounds like the CFP committee is looking at at least some overlap with the NFL, but also complaining about it, and in non-playoff news, also complaining about the NFL daring to launch a Black Friday game:

The NFL continues to encroach on the territory that has for years belonged to its free farm system. Black Friday is only the latest. The NFL starts playing regular-season games on Saturdays in mid-December, has expanded its own playoff to create an additional wild-card game and has started to dominate Thursday nights with the league’s streaming package on Amazon.

All of this has college football executives rightfully stewing as they attempt to schedule eight additional games in an expanded playoff—all the while trying to avoid going head-to-head with America’s No. 1 sport.

“You’re just trying to minimize all the ways the NFL will f— you,” says one top CFP official.

…One of the main issues that commissioners are haggling over seems very simple but isn’t at all: When do you play the games? And to that end, do you go head-to-head against the NFL?

Commissioners are starting to grapple with the answer: Yes, you do.

“The NFL is squashing us,” says one commissioner. “And now Black Friday? Where does it end?”

It’s amusing from this corner that an article on the College Football Playoff expanding (by eight teams, and by eight games) has quotes on “all the ways the NFL will f*** you” and “The NFL is squashing us.” It’s not the NFL adding eight games of inventory here, and the lone national slot they have added in this case is on Black Friday; that may be a day where college football has historically played and the NFL historically hasn’t, but it is not directly connected to the playoff. And this expanded playoff’s new eight games will likely at least have some overlap with NFL dates that have been established for some time. Delllinger outlined some of the permutations he sees as likely in this tweet, which include particular overlap on the Saturday of the first round:

It’s of course possible to consider the NFL’s steps over the past two decades into Thursdays and Saturdays as “encroachment” on and “squashing” of college football, and that appears to be a key part of the grievances aired here. But no sport has an inherent right to any given date; executives can (and often do) put games wherever they want. And while there can be backlash and viewer loss if something’s scheduled against something else, those are factors to consider, not anything that specifically prohibits a move. That’s what’s enabling the CFP to potentially expand onto turf the NFL has already claimed. And CFP executives can certainly complain about various NFL encroachment on traditional college football dates over the past decades, but they look to be the ones making the latest aggressive move against existing NFL dates here, deciding that that seems better than emphasizing Wednesdays or Fridays more. (And it may well be.)

The discussion of overlap isn’t moot, of course. There’s a significant crossover in TV audience for college football and the NFL. And that overlap’s going to affect both sides; these CFP games going head-to-head with the NFL will likely draw fewer viewers than if they were on a Saturday without the NFL, and the semifinals on Thursday and Friday may draw fewer viewers than if they were on a non-NFL Saturday. This is also a potential issue for broadcasters, as ESPN (the CFP’s current broadcaster) and the broadcast networks that might be interested in an expanded playoff all have NFL deals.  So, as Dellenger’s piece goes on to note, the ultimate solution to minimize CFP-NFL overlap may be by moving up the college football season.

We’ve already seen steps toward that with the recent emphasis on Week 0. And as Dellenger has previously reported, college football officials are exploring “potentially making Week 0 fully permissive” (meaning games then wouldn’t require a waiver), and that could turn today’s Week 0 into Week 1. And if that winds up being a whole calendar shift, then the first-round games would take place on Friday and Saturday in the second week of December (no NFL yet), the quarters would have some third-week overlap (but could go Thursday-Friday), the semis would take place around New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day as we’ve seen before, and the championship would be where it usually is, on the Monday following the end of the NFL regular season.

That kind of schedule shift might limit “all the ways the NFL will f— you.” And it might make this whole discussion of CFP/NFL overlap a little smoother, and it’s a decision that college football executives can make on their own without the NFL (it would need support from a wide variety of NCAA figures, though). That doesn’t appear imminent, but it may be the eventual way to resolve this problem. Until then, though, if CFP expansion is going to go ahead before 2026, it looks like it may include games on some NFL dates.

[Sports Illustrated]


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.