Rose Bowl agrees to deal allowing early CFP expansion in '24

The last remaining obstacle to expanding the College Football Playoff to 12 teams in the 2024 and 2025 seasons has been cleared.

The Rose Bowl reached an agreement that officially paves the way for the College Football Playoff to expand in the final two seasons of the current contract -- 2024 and 2025.

"We're delighted to be moving forward," CFP executive director Bill Hancock said in a prepared statement released Thursday. "When the board expanded the playoff beginning in 2026 and asked the CFP Management Committee to examine the feasibility of starting the new format earlier, the Management Committee went right to work. More teams and more access mean more excitement for fans, alumni, students and student-athletes.

"We appreciate the leaders of the six bowl games and the two future championship-game host cities for their cooperation. Everyone realized that this change is in the best interest of college football and pulled together to make it happen."

The first round of the playoff in 2024 will take place the week ending Sat., Dec. 21, at either the home field of the higher-seeded team or at another site designated by the higher-seeded school. (No. 12 at No. 5, No. 11 at No. 6, No. 10 at No. 7, and No. 9 at No. 8.) The specific game dates, likely late in that week, will be announced later.

For the 2024 and 2025 seasons, the four quarterfinal games and two semifinal games will be played in bowls on a rotating basis. The 2024 quarterfinals will take place in the Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, while the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl will host the semifinals. The 2025 quarterfinals will take place in the Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, while the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl will host the semifinals. Specific dates for all quarterfinal and semifinal games will be announced at a later time.

The national championship games will be played Jan. 20, 2025, in Atlanta, and Jan. 19, 2026, in Miami.

"I'm excited for College Football Playoff expansion, as I said from Day 1," Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren told ESPN on Thursday. "I was supportive of it, and I was supportive of the 12-team playoff. We just had a lot of issues to work through.

"We're partners with the Rose Bowl and I have great respect for the Rose Bowl. Any time you have the length of the relationship we've had, it's one of the cornerstones of college football. I didn't take it at all personal that they were holding anything up. They've been one of the key components of the college football postseason championship, from the BCS to the CFP."

In early September, the College Football Playoff board of managers voted to expand the CFP to 12 teams starting in 2026.

With nearly $450 million at stake in the final two years of the current contract, the path toward expanding in those two seasons has been fraught with complications.

But after months of haggling, getting the Rose Bowl on board loomed as the final step. The Rose Bowl needed to amend its contract as the other five so-called "contract bowls" needed to do in order to accommodate the new system. Ultimately, the Rose Bowl's cooperation loomed as the final barrier.

A source told ESPN's Heather Dinich earlier this week that the Rose Bowl was essentially given an ultimatum this week to agree to terms or risk being shut out of the next television contract, which begins in 2026.

The Rose Bowl's requests for special treatment included an exclusive window for the game -- a television window considered one of the most valuable in sports -- in years when the Rose Bowl wasn't hosting a College Football Playoff game on New Year's.

Essentially, sources told ESPN that CFP officials told Rose Bowl officials this week that they'd make good-faith efforts to work with them, but if the Rose Bowl wanted to take part in the next version of the CFP, it needed to accept a role that didn't include significant special favors.

Thursday's announcement puts an end to the awkward and complex process to expand the College Football Playoff, which has epitomized the fractured and nonlinear structure of college sports. To reach the September expansion decision to 12 teams, it took significant momentum swings that included introducing a 12-team proposal in June 2021. That eventually got shot down amid conference infighting, leading to second-guessing on why a potential model was announced before it was approved by all the constituents.

The following year, the college presidents who make up the CFP board of managers essentially decided to work backward, first approving the 12-team model in September that would start in 2026. They then targeted 2024 and 2025, which was always going to be complicated because it required presidents from all 10 conferences and Notre Dame to agree unanimously.

Then the group of commissioners dove in for months of meetings, calls and all the details involving schedule, bowl games, game sits, the academic calendar and television contract complications. Three full months later, the board of managers pushed through all the issues -- revenue distribution was a big one -- until finally solving the Rose Bowl conundrum on Wednesday night. The 12-team playoff will start in the 2024 season, meaning just two more four-team playoffs -- this year and next -- before the sport's postseason changes indelibly.