There were no promises made to the Rose Bowl this week during negotiations that ultimately led to the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, but the CFP said it recognizes the importance of the historic bowl's traditional New Year's Day time slot, and the Rose Bowl will continue to push for it in the next contract.
"There was no intention of keeping early entry into the expanded playoff from happening," said Laura Farber, chair of the Rose Bowl Management Committee. "In our negotiations, we had initially asked for an exclusive window around the Rose Bowl Game's historic time slot at 2 p.m. PT on January 1. While we relinquished that ask, the Tournament of Roses is going to continue to work with the CFP Board of Managers on how we will fit into that CFP playoff rotation. It's our intent to keep the Rose Bowl Game on January 1, but we'll remain flexible on scheduling as needed."
The current 12-year contract runs through the 2025 season, and the Rose Bowl was the last organization to agree to what needed to be a unanimous decision to expand the field before the deal expired. Farber said there was typical "back and forth" in the negotiations this week and that "it wasn't the smoothest process," but they were "extremely pleased to have come to an agreement" with the CFP's board of managers.
"We look forward to working with them as the new system is put together and developed, because that is still in process," she said. "There's several steps that still need to be taken as the structure of the expanded playoff is still finalized -- not for 2025 and 2026 -- but obviously going forward, and we look forward to being part of that process. It's really premature to say what the schedule of the expanded playoff is going to look like. Nobody knows."
The Rose Bowl will host the quarterfinals in 2024 and 2025 in its same historical time window and its existing television contract. CFP executive director Bill Hancock said there hasn't been much discussion about the next contract, which will begin in 2026, and they will "address all the bowls on the same basis," but there is an appreciation for the Rose Bowl's traditional window, which is one of the most lucrative in all of sports.
"I would say that it would be in everyone's best interest for any CFP that happens in the Rose Bowl to kick off around 2 p.m. PT," he said. "We do know that the '24 and '25 quarterfinals will kick at 2ish Pacific. I have to emphasize that nothing is in place, nothing's locked in, nothing is guaranteed for 2026 and beyond."
That leaves the door open for future changes, including multiple broadcast partners in the next contract. ESPN is currently the sole rights holder for the CFP, which includes the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship in the new expanded format for 2024 and 2025. ESPN also has first right to acquire the four additional first-round games in those two years. Hancock said ESPN hasn't yet informed the playoff if that's their intention as those discussions are still to come.
In 2024 and 2025, the higher-seeded team will host the first round on campus. The New Year's Six bowl games will host the quarterfinals, semifinals and national championship. Hancock didn't eliminate the possibility of quarterfinal home games but declined to speculate.
"We'll learn a lot in '24 and '25, there's no doubt about that," Hancock said. "I don't want to speculate about what might change and what might not change. It's way premature to address that, but I know we're going to learn a lot about our event in the first couple of years."
The 12-team format, though, doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
Less than two hours after the CFP announced it will expand, a reporter asked the CFP executive director when it's going to 16 teams.
Hancock didn't flinch, saying the 12-team format is "solid, solid, solid in the minds of the presidents and the commissioners," he said. "Solid. Did I say solid?"
"There hasn't been any conversation about changing that," he said. "I would be stunned if that were to change."
Hancock said it's too soon to speculate when the commissioners will need to determine the contract for 2026 and beyond.
"A lot of time and conversation went into the format that we have that you're so familiar with, and everybody's happy with," he said. "We're really not talking about 2026 yet."
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.
The first round of the playoff in 2024 will take place the week ending Saturday, 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.)
Hancock said there's no timetable for making a decision on specific dates for the games to be played, but they are cognizant the CFP is likely going to compete with the NFL for viewers.
"We'll make it in conjunction with the television rights holder," he said. "That's our plan, is to the play the weekend [of Dec. 21], but I can't really speculate about when we'll get to that. These games are what, two years and one month away? On one hand, that's not a lot of time to get ready for a new event. In the other sense, it's plenty of time to decide things like game dates."
Hancock said he believes the 12-team format will make the regular season more important, particularly in November, because there will be more teams in the conversation for the playoff.
"The game of college football is certainly very healthy," Hancock said. "Look at the viewership. Look at the number of people in the stands. I think this 12-team tournament will only enhance that. When people ask me about 12, what is it about 12? For me, it's one word -- participation: More student-athletes will have a chance to compete for the national championship."