DALLAS -- The College Football Playoff management committee concluded yet another lengthy, closed-door meeting on Thursday still undecided about when the playoff will expand to 12 teams, but encouraged it can still happen as soon as 2024, CFP executive director Bill Hancock said.
After about six hours, Hancock emerged from an all-too-familiar stuffy, windowless conference room in the DFW airport with few answers about if the format can change before the start of the 2026 season. The current 12-year contract expires after the 2025 season, and while there are no solid deadlines, the window to change the format in time for the 2024 season continues to shrink quickly.
"It's true time is not on our side, but we haven't given ourselves a deadline," Hancock said. "It's more important to get it right than to get it fast."
There was a sense of optimism entering Thursday's meeting -- multiple sources had said they hadn't heard any good reasons why the playoff couldn't expand earlier -- but there was also a realization that determining the dates for the games is a significant challenge that persists, especially with campuses hosting the first-round games. The commissioners continue to struggle with conflicts surrounding the academic calendar, including December commencement and final exams, plus finding TV windows that don't compete with the NFL.
"It's been a fascinating process, because every time you turn over one stone, you start tripping on other issues," said Mid-American Conference commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who chaired Thursday's meeting.
There have also been repeated concerns about how the New Year's Six bowl games would figure into the rotation. The four quarterfinal games and two semifinal games would be played in bowls. The CFP would have to come to terms on a TV contract for the first-round games. (ESPN would retain control, through existing bowl and playoff deals, of the quarterfinals, semis and title game until the current contract expires following the 2025 season.)
"Everybody wants to get this done in 11 and 12 if we can," AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said, referring to the 11th and 12th years of the current contract. "The prevailing view in the room is can we get it done? It's not as if we have a lot of opposition to it."
If the CFP can implement the new format in time for the 2024 season, it could garner roughly $450 million in gross revenue. Revenue distribution continues to be a limited part of the discussion, as the Big Ten and SEC are poised to become the sports' first 16-team superconferences, with an opportunity to have to more representation in the new model.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said it's just one piece of the puzzle.
"We haven't spent a lot of time on revenue distribution," he said. "We have a model that has different numbers in it. That's out there some place."
There was a different vibe following Thursday's meeting, in that there was a sense of being closer than ever to a long-awaited resolution. The commissioners' inability to initially reach a consensus is what drove the 11 university presidents and chancellors who have the ultimate authority over the CFP to hijack the process this past summer and swiftly vote in September to expand the field to 12 teams in 2026. Typically, the commissioners determine the plan and send it to the presidents to rubber-stamp.
This was the commissioners' third in-person meeting since the presidents asserted their authority over the format and charged the management committee with working out the details to implement it as soon as 2024. The 12-team model includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large teams. The rankings of the teams will continue to be determined by the CFP selection committee, which will remain largely unchanged.
The four highest-ranked conference champions will be seeded one through four with each receiving a first-round bye. Teams seeded five through 12 will play each other in the first round on either the second or third weekend of December. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be played in bowl games on a rotating basis, and the championship game will be at a neutral site, as under the current four-team format.
A renewed sense of urgency began this past spring, when it became clear there was still a possibility that Atlanta and Miami could host the national championship games on different dates. In mid-August, the CFP announced Atlanta will host the national championship game in 2025, followed by Miami in January 2026. Hancock said on Thursday that Atlanta and Miami are willing to accommodate an expanded playoff earlier. The CFP just has to tell them the dates.
"There's a feeling, a will to try," Sankey said. "That will is still there."