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College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams starting in 2026

After years of consternation— and amidst a power struggle— the College Football Playoff agrees to triple in size for future years.

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Host Committee News Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The college football world was shaken to its core on Friday afternoon, as the College Football Playoff announced the postseason invitational tournament would expand from its current four-team set-up to a 12-team bracket, starting in 2026.

“This is an historic and exciting day for college football,” chairman of the College Football Playoff Board of Managers Mark Keenum said via press release. “More teams, more participation and more excitement are good for our fans, alumni, and student-athletes. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the board for their thoughtful approach to this issue and for their resolve to get expansion across the goal line and for the extensive work of the Management Committee that made this decision possible.”

The new 12-team format will take “the six conference champions ranked highest by the selection committee (no minimum ranking requirement), plus the six highest-ranked teams not included among the six highest-ranked conference champions,” with the top four ranked conference champions getting BYE weeks into the quarterfinals.

Rankings will still be determined by the Selection Committee, which is in charge of building the College Football Playoff rankings.

Teams 5-12 will play first-round games either on-campus or at a designated neutral location, with the higher-seeded team hosting the lower seed in the second-or-third week of December. After that, Teams 1-4 will get an opponent assigned to them from each of the first-round game winners by the selection committee based on the bracket.

The top four seeds will be assigned a bowl on Selection Day in seed order, with the conference tie-ins of the New Year’s Six bowl games taken into consideration for each game.

The Championship Game will continue to be separate from the Bowl Game System under this format.

The 12-team format had previously faced opposition during a February meeting of the Board of Managers, and was once again stymied in June, which had prompted Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher to address it at MAC Media Days with College Football Playoff president Bill Hancock in attendance.

“A four-team playoff has worked well, but it has some unintended consequences that we need to be mindful of,” Steinbrecher said during his State of the Conference remarks in July. “Inevitably, the focus in any given season is who will make the Playoff, and currently, with a four-team field, by September, we’ve gone from thinking 130 teams to 10 or 15, or less. That devalues the last two months of the regular season.”

The new system is set to take into effect in 2026, though there are potential avenues for the new changes to go into effect as soon as 2024, per The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach.