If the College Football Playoff is going to expand to 12 teams as early as the 2024 season, everyone involved in the existing 12-year contract must unanimously agree to changing the terms, and the CFP and the Rose Bowl are still negotiating the historic game's role in the new model, a top Rose Bowl official told ESPN on Wednesday in an exclusive interview.
Laura Farber, the chair of the Rose Bowl Management Committee, said the game would like to maintain its exclusive broadcast window on January 1 at 2 p.m. PT in years that it would also host a CFP semifinal, but the Rose Bowl hasn't heard back from the CFP in two weeks.
The discussion is centered around one of the most lucrative television windows in college sports, and while it's not the only issue surrounding early expansion, it's one of the most complicated.
The Rose Bowl seems willing to temporarily concede its relationship with the Big Ten and Pac-12 to host a quarterfinal game in 2024 and 2025, but in return, it's asking for assurances in the new contract. While the CFP is going to expand no later than the start of the 2026 season, there is no contract in place beyond the current 12-year deal, which runs through the 2025 season.
"The possibility of early entry to an expanded College Football Playoff is not something we're against," Farber said. "We continue to work with the CFP on this issue. We last spoke two weeks ago to the CFP, but have not heard back from the CFP."
CFP executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN "nothing has changed" since they last spoke with Rose Bowl officials.
In the proposed 12-team format for 2024, the Cotton and Orange bowls would stay true to the current agreement and host semifinals, and in 2025, the Fiesta and Peach bowls would also host semifinals as currently planned, but the Rose Bowl would have to agree to relinquish its partnership with the Big Ten and Pac-12 in order to host quarterfinal games that might not feature teams from those leagues. When the new CFP deal begins in 2026, the playoff could have quarterfinal games played on New Year's Day, which would compete against the Rose Bowl in the same time slot once every three years if that's the rotation the CFP decides on.
A CFP source said, "We have not decided anything about 2026 and beyond. Should the Rose Bowl tell us where to play our games? Most of us think not."
Sources within the CFP said the Rose Bowl is asking for guarantees that the other five major bowls (Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach) have agreed not to ask for. If the CFP were to acquiesce the exclusive January 1 window, it wouldn't be able to maximize its revenue. Farber said the Rose Bowl recognizes "the importance of flexibility in our discussions with the CFP leadership."
"We're very supportive of the College Football Playoff," she said. "As the only New Year's Six bowl with an independent contract, we're working to navigate our existing agreement. While we're willing to work through certain areas, we've maintained that an exclusive broadcast window on Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. PT is important to the Rose Bowl Game."
According to multiple sources, there is a sense of frustration within the CFP that the Rose Bowl is trying to dictate when the sport's championship plays its games. As the window to expand early continues to shrink, the Rose Bowl Game remains a major question at the heart of the debate, but the Rose Bowl insists it's not the only reason for the delay.
"For anyone to say that the Rose Bowl Game is the sole reason right now that expansion may not happen before the current cycle runs out is categorically wrong," Farber said. "Yes, we need to work through the details of our contract and our separate broadcast agreement, but we remain open to that. There are also issues not specific to our game that need to be resolved, including the NFL schedule, revenue sharing and on-campus schedules."
The Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls all have independent contracts with ESPN, and each has a separate agreement with CFP to televise the CFP semifinals once every three years. The Rose is the only bowl to have contracts with the CFP and ESPN for the semifinals.
"What we're asking for is a three-hour window every three years," Farber said. "If you think about that in the big picture, it's not a big ask. Jan. 1 is an important part of the Tournament of Roses New Year's celebration. We believe that fans will expect to see that and want to see that.
"You start out with the Rose Parade, and on the same day you have the Rose Bowl Game to celebrate the start of the New Year. It's not only tradition, it's part of the brand, and who we are, and what has been built since 1903."
Farber said the Rose Bowl has historically found a way to "keep and integrate the Grandaddy of them All into a postseason model," including the Alliance, the BCS and the CFP. The difference, though, was that it wasn't competing against a quarterfinal game.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff declined to comment for this story, but told ESPN this summer he said he plans to continue to stump for the Rose Bowl, even in the wake of the Big Ten adding two of the Pac-12's most valuable brands.
"Three hours every three years for the Rose Bowl," Kliavkoff said. "We're 100 percent committed. It's important. It's part of the history and tradition of college athletics. When we start throwing out traditions for money, that's when we get ourselves in trouble. It's not a big ask."
Under the proposed 12-team model, the six highest-ranked conference champions and the next six highest-ranked teams would earn bids to the playoff, which means the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions would be unavailable to the Rose Bowl. It's highly likely the second- and even third-best teams from those leagues would also be unavailable. Currently, No. 6 Oregon and No. 8 USC would join No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan. USC and UCLA are also poised to join the Big Ten in 2024. There's a frustration amongst some in the CFP room that the Rose Bowl is pushing for what will ultimately be a watered-down game further devalued by the uncertain future of the Pac-12 without its flagship programs in L.A.
Still, Farber said the Rose Bowl would have ranked teams that would give fans a quality matchup.
"We still believe it would be a great game with a Big Ten team and a Pac-12 team that may not be the conference champion, but could still provide a wonderful game," she said.
"There will be a 12-team CFP in 2026," Hancock said. "We know that. The management committee is still considering whether we can expand in 2024 or 2025. Everyone is trying to work it out so we can start early, but there are still some details that have to be ironed out."