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College Football Playoff board decides on format for 12-team expansion as conferences brace for big changes

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America/TNS

Discussions for how to structure the NCAA’s expanded College Football Playoff have crossed the goal line.

Effective next season, the 12-team playoff will include the five highest-ranked conference champions and seven at-large selections, the CFP’s board of managers announced Tuesday in a unanimous agreement.

Billed as the “5+7” format, the new model will see the four highest-ranked conference winners receive first-round byes, with the No. 5 seed opening against No. 12, No. 6 facing No. 11, and so on.

The decision marks a revision to an earlier model that would have granted playoff spots to the six highest-ranked conference winners and six at-large selections.

Tuesday’s development comes amid sweeping changes within the NCAA’s traditional power conferences, including Texas and Oklahoma going from the Big 12 to the SEC in 2024 and nearly every Pac-12 school leaving for another conference.

“This is a very logical adjustment for the College Football Playoff based on the evolution of our conference structures since the board first adopted this new format in September 2022,” Dr. Mark Keenum, chair of the CFP board of managers, said of Tuesday’s agreement.

“I know this change will also be well received by student-athletes, coaches and fans. We all will be pleased to see this new format come to life on the field this postseason.”

Expanding to 12 teams marks the biggest change to the NCAA’s postseason format since it introduced a four-team playoff in 2014. Under that model, the committee tasked with selecting the four schools often faced criticism, including after the 2023 season, when injury-plagued Florida State wasn’t chosen for the playoff despite going 13-0 and winning the ACC.

Tuesday’s vote followed months of holdouts by the Pac-12 as a result of 10 of its 12 schools preparing to officially leave this August. Those departing the conference include USC, Washington, Oregon and UCLA, which are joining the Big Ten; Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado, which are joining the Big 12; and Stanford and Cal, which are joining the ACC.