News: College Football Playoff Decision-Makers Discussing Expanding Field to 14 Teams

We've yet to play a single college football season under the 12-team College Football Playoff format, and conference administrators are already discussing further expansion.
Fans stop to take photos with the College Football National Championship trophy at Meijer in
Fans stop to take photos with the College Football National Championship trophy at Meijer in / Kimberly P. Mitchell / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2024 college football season will be the first to feature the new 12-team College Football Playoff format. After a decade of the initial 4-team playoff, the overwhelming desire of the nation to see an expanded playoff reached its tipping point, and the playoff field was expanded to 12. Last week, a "5 + 7" format was officially adopted, granting automatic bids to the five highest ranked conference champions with seven at-large bids.

But it seems conference administrators aren't satisfied with stopping expansion at 12. On Wednesday, Ross Dellenger of Yahoo Sports reported that college football's decision-makers are having serious discussions about moving to a 14-team playoff.

And beyond simply expanding the field to 14 teams, they're looking to adopt a unique selection format for the playoff. In this format, the SEC and Big 10 would both receive three automatic bids while the ACC and Big 12 would both receive two automatic bids. The highest ranked Group of 5 champion would earn a bid, and there'd be three at-large spots left for anyone else. If adopted, the format would go into effect in 2026.

Does an unbalanced bid model make sense?

The most notable piece of news with this discussion around an expansion to 14 teams is that not all conferences would have the same number of automatic qualifiers. The SEC and Big 10 would both be guaranteed a minimum of three teams in the field whereas the ACC and Big 12 would only be guaranteed two spots each.

This, of course, would be in response to the "super league" status of the SEC and Big 10 relative to the rest of the sport. After the most recent rounds of conference realignment, the vast majority of college football's national title-contending programs reside within those two leagues. The ACC has a few such programs, most notably Clemson and FSU, but is extremely top heavy. And while the Big 12 is loaded with quality programs that should consistently be competitive, you can easily argue that none of it's 16 member institutions truly have championship ceilings.

This is somewhat similar to the UEFA Champions League for European football, where the nations that have performed the best in recent seasons are guaranteed the most teams in the field. The difference is that in the Champions League, which nations have the most spots in that field is ever-changing based on performance. For this 14-team College Football Playoff, the SEC and Big 10 are always rewarded most.

Would the ACC and Big 12 ever agree to this?

Under the current 12-team format or a more traditional 14-team field featuring one automatic bid per league, it would be a near certainty that the majority of at-large bids go to SEC and Big 10 teams each season. Most of the teams likely to play at a high enough playoff to earn an at-large selection are in those leagues. This format would simply guarantee that to always be the case. But why would the ACC or Big 12 agree to that as opposed to leaving things in the hands of the Selection Committee and, theoretically, giving their teams a fair shot at selection?

For starters, this format would assure them multiple bids. In the current format, it's not at all unrealistic to envision a scenario where all seven at-large bids go to the SEC, Big 10, and Notre Dame. This way, they at least get multiple seats at the table, even if it means sacrificing a spot to a super league (that likely would've had that spot anyways).

Secondly, with the way the sport is currently trending, a breakaway by the teams at the top of the sport, specifically the SEC and Big 10, from the rest of college football almost seems eminent. We may only be a handful of years removed from those two conferences forming a minor-league NFL of sorts and having their own playoffs. And if they don't feel the current playoff format gives them the guaranteed access they believe they deserve, that speeds up the clock on said breakaway.

That would be a death-sentence to the ACC and Big 12 with regards to involvement in major college football.

If the SEC and Big 10 are playing for their own championship, the ACC's elites would move as swiftly as possible to leave the conference and join the super leagues. Florida State has already very publicly challenged the ACC's grant of rights in an attempt to break away from the league. To remain viable, the ACC needs those elite brands as members. And the only way that can happen is if those brands believe they can play at college football's highest level whilst remaining ACC members.

As for the Big 12, they simply want their league to still be a part of major college football, despite not having any programs that could jump for the super leagues. It's very possible the Big 12 and ACC would be on board with conceding bids to the super leagues for their own self-preservation. Basically, they'd be keeping the SEC and Big 10 content to avoid the death of FBS football.

How would this impact Mississippi State football?

When it comes to their chances at making the playoff and playing on college football's biggest stage, a potential 14-team field with three automatic qualifiers from the SEC would be very beneficial to Mississippi State football. The 12-team playoff already provides more potential access to a program like Mississippi State. Had their been an expanded playoff back in 2014, Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs would've been in.

Three guaranteed spots for the SEC plus the three available at-larges makes it highly likely that were the Bulldogs to have a breakthrough season where they won 10, perhaps even nine, games, they'd almost certainly make the playoff. And even in seasons where State isn't in playoff contention, more SEC teams in the playoff likely means bigger payouts to the league that would be distributed amongst league members. Extra cash never hurts.

Still, it's important to know this is merely one format of many being discussed by the College Football Playoff's decision-makers. There's no guarantee they choose to expand the field further, and even if they do, there's no guarantee they'd adopt this specific format for team qualification. Regardless, this is something to keep a close eye on in the sport moving forward.