CFP approves 5+7 model for 12-team playoff

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The College Football Playoff board of managers unanimously approved a model that will guarantee the five highest-ranked conference champions’ inclusion in the expanded 12-team field this fall, along with the next seven highest-ranked teams, the CFP announced Tuesday.

After months of delay at the behest of the dwindling Pac-12, the decision was made Tuesday morning in a virtual meeting of the 10 FBS presidents and chancellors and the Notre Dame president, Rev. John Jenkins. The vote had to be unanimous for the 5+7 format to be approved, and the Pac-12 had either previously abstained or asked for a delay as it worked on determining its future following sweeping conference realignment.

Washington State president Kirk Schulz, who represents the Pac-12 on the board, told ESPN last week he would confer with Oregon State president Jayathi Y. Murthy and “be ready to vote” on Tuesday. Neither school can qualify for an automatic bid as a conference champion in each of the next two seasons, so Schulz conceded the seven at-large bids would be more beneficial to them than the original proposal of six conference champions and six at-large teams. That format was proposed before the Pac-12 lost USC, UCLA, Washington and Oregon to the Big Ten; Cal and Stanford to the ACC; and Utah, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado to the Big 12.

The Pac-12 and Mountain West have agreed to a temporary scheduling partnership in which Oregon State and Washington State will play at least six MWC opponents in 2024.

“For our two schools in the Pac-12 as it’s currently configured, there is no question that five-seven, with seven at-larges, is better than six at-larges,” Schulz told ESPN. “… There’s no question our football coaches are going to want to compete for one of those seven slots, and seven is going to be better than six.”

In most years, the 5+7 format will assure the conference champions from the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC a spot in the playoff, along with the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion. The CFP intentionally won’t refer to the Group of 5 in its description of the format, though, because there is a chance that a champion from one of the Power 4 conferences finishes ranked below the top champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference.

In 2021, for example, when undefeated No. 4 Cincinnati was the American Athletic Conference champion, ACC champion Pitt finished at No. 12 with two losses. In the 12-team format, the four highest-ranked conference champions will receive a first-round bye.

Tuesday’s meeting was also an opportunity for Washington State and Oregon State to request continued Power 5 revenue and voting rights in the new CFP contract. For the next two years, the remainder of the CFP’s current 12-year contract, Washington State and Oregon State will each continue to receive the full Power 5 revenue distribution, which is $5 million to $6 million per school. They are asking to continue to receive that amount in the next CFP contract, not knowing what their conference affiliation will be.

According to the Pac-12’s proposal, which Schulz shared with ESPN, Oregon State and Washington State are asking for “a distribution share and voting rights equal to the lowest per school pro rata share of the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, or SEC conference’s distribution, regardless of how those four conferences actually distribute CFP distributions to their members.”

“We were in a game of musical chairs and the music stopped and we had two schools standing,” Schulz said. “We’ve invested and been considered autonomy five school and conference for decades. We just don’t think that because of the musical chairs that the two remaining schools in the Pac-12 should be penalized.”

Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, the chair of the CFP board, told ESPN last week that none of the conferences know yet what the revenue distribution will be in the next contract.

“None of us do,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that’s going to have to entail on behalf of our commissioners and others to bring some recommendations to the board. They’re not there. We’re not there. I hear what he’s saying, but I don’t know you commit to a school.”

The CFP’s management committee, which comprises the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, are meeting in Dallas on Wednesday to continue working on the implementation of the 12-team playoff for this fall, along with weighty decisions about the future of the sport’s postseason in the next contract. The top priority, according to multiple sources, is coming to an agreement on a new TV deal, but they will also continue to talk about access and revenue distribution.

One change they are close to agreeing on, according to multiple sources, is eliminating the contracts the New Year’s Six bowls have with respective conferences in the new contract. The Sugar Bowl has a historical agreement with the SEC and Big 12, while the Rose Bowl has long been contractually tied to the Big Ten and Pac-12, and the Orange Bowl with the ACC, Big Ten and Notre Dame.

While those agreements are expected to remain for this season and next, there is a desire among CFP leaders to have more flexibility in where teams are placed moving forward — e.g., allowing Georgia to play in the Peach Bowl instead of the Sugar Bowl one year if it makes more sense.

“We’ve enjoyed a long relationship with the SEC and to a shorter extent also with the Big 12,” Allstate Sugar Bowl CEO Jeff Hundley told ESPN on Tuesday. “It’s been a great partnership for the past 10 years, and while it’s unfortunate if that is to go away, we understand the world around us is changing. The Sugar Bowl’s position from the outset — once the expanded playoff became a discussion — we have pledged to our partners and the rest of the conferences that we’re going be a help and not a hindrance in the process. We aim to stick by that.”

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