There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few years about an expansion of the College Football Playoff before the current ESPN TV contract ends following the 2025-26 season. Expansion talk started almost as soon as the playoff itself did in 2014-15, grew more and more significant in 2019, and seemed like an almost sure thing in the summer of 2021 when the CFP working group recommended a 12-team model.
Of course, it wasn’t a sure thing at that point. Conference leadership backed off that around Oklahoma and Texas announcing departures for the SEC, with some citing concerns around ESPN’s influence. And CFP executive director Bill Hancock said in February they would stay at four teams through the end of their current contract (which runs through 2025-26). But the conference decisionmakers then changed their tune again in late August, eventually voting early this month to go to 12 teams beginning in 2026-27 at the latest, with the chance of doing so for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons as well.
And that early expansion chance is interesting, but difficult. As Ralph D. Russo explored in an Associated Press piece Tuesday, a key issue for an expanded playoff is dates, especially when it comes to stadium and TV window availability, plus a desire to not go head-to-head with the NFL. And the latter is likely to lead to more weeknight games.
A warning to college football fans: Be prepared for playoff games on weeknights.
…Starting the third weekend of December, the CFP can expect the NFL to play multiple Saturday games through mid-January and the first two weekends of its playoffs.
The CFP will either relinquish scheduling games on Saturday or risk going head-to-head with the NFL.
…“I think if I’m a network, I’m saying, ‘If you’re going to mandate that we go up against an NFL game, I know that my rating is going to be down so I’m not going to bid as much,’” [former Fox Sports Net president Bob] Thompson said.
No specific dates are confirmed yet, but Russo explores some possibilities in his piece. Under the model the CFP has agreed to use beginning in 2026 if not before, the first round sees the top four seeds get a bye, with the other eight teams playing either at the higher seed’s campus or at a location selected by the higher seed. The winners of those games would then go to quarterfinals, which would likely take place on or around Jan. 1 in the non-playoff New Year’s Six bowls already set, which then would be followed by semifinals the following week or weekend and then the championship the week after that (Monday, Jan. 20 in the 2024-25 season). But both the first-round games and the semifinal games are likely to run into the NFL. Unless they go for weeknights. (And even there, the NFL is potentially in the way on Mondays and Thursdays.)
It’s also notable that this comes as the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame are proposing revamping the college football calendar, specifically with removing the waiver requirement to play in what’s currently “Week 0.” That could be a prelude to shifting up the whole regular season. That change is likely a little further out, but it’s worth keeping in mind around all this discussion of when the playoff games might happen.