There was a time not so long ago, 2012 to be exact, when the big news in college football was conference commissioners simply using the word playoff when talking about the future of the sports' postseason format.
Less than 10 years later, and eight years into College Football Playoff era, the number of teams that will have a chance to win a national title in the postseason is poised to triple.
The College Football Playoff announced Thursday it will consider expanding from four to 12 teams to settle the championship, with six spots reserved for the highest-ranked conference champions and the other six going to at-large selections.
“This proposal, at its heart, was created to provide more participation,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, part of the group that has been working on an expansion plan, noted that only about 4% of major college football teams reach the playoff. In most other NCAA sports, more than 20% of the competing schools participate in the championship event.
The playoff’s popularity seems to have waned as only a few teams have grabbed the majority of the spots since 2014. Alabama and Clemson have each made the playoff six times in seven years. Ohio State and Oklahoma have each been selected four times. That’s 71% of the playoff spots to just four of the 130 FBS teams.
There was concern that down the stretch of the season, the pool of teams with a legitimate chance to make the four-team playoff had become too small.
“This (proposed model) creates energy in October and November. The practical effect will be that with four to five weeks to go in the season, there will be 25-30 team with a legitimate chance,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
The CFP's surprising announcement outlined a detailed plan, but there are still steps to be taken and time for discussion and possible tweaks.
If the format is adopted — no earlier than this fall — there was no indication in the proposal about when an expanded playoff could be in place. The soonest would seem to be for the 2023 season. Implementation could also be as far off the 2026 season.
A selection committee would still be involved, and the proposed 12-team playoff would not limit how many teams can come from any one conference. The four highest-ranked conference champions would receive first-round byes and teams 5-12 would face each other in four games played on campus sometime during the two-week period following conference championship weekend, typically early December.
Quarterfinals would be hosted by bowl games on New Year's Day —- unless that falls on a Sunday, in which case those games will be played Jan. 2 — and an adjacent day.
The semifinals would also be hosted by bowl games, as is the case now. The plan calls for no re-seeding of the bracket as teams advance.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson cited the history of the bowls in college football and the desire to keep them “relevant."
He also added: “All these points are going to have an opportunity to be discussed these are the recommendations of four people. There are seven other commissioners that will get to weigh in next week in Chicago.”
A 12-team field with six spots reserved for conference champions would guarantee at least one team from outside the Power Five conferences would be in the playoff each season. The Group of Five — which includes the Mountain West, American Athletic, Sun Belt, Mid-American Conference and Conference USA — has never had a team crack the field of four or been particularly close.
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said the large jump from four to 12 made it more palatable to create automatic access points for conference champions.
“That doesn’t work if you are reducing opportunities for those highly ranked," Sankey said.
The proposal will be considered by the full CFP management committee during an in-person meeting at the Big Ten’s offices outside Chicago on June 17-18. The subcommittee comprised of Swarbrick, Bowlsby, Thompson and Sankey presented the proposal to the rest of conference commissioners in a Zoom meeting Thursday, but got no feedback.
The groups has been working on an expansion plan for two years. It might have been put forth sooner if not for the pandemic.
The proposal includes no dates for semifinals and the championship game to be played, but did indicate the semifinals would not be played as a doubleheader on a single day.
Currently six bowl games have a three-year rotation for hosting the semifinals and the championship game site is open to bidders, similar to the what the NFL does with the Super Bowl. The current semifinal bowl rotation includes the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach bowls, not they are not guaranteed to be hosts in the proposed expansion plan.
“The process for selecting the six bowls that would rotate as hosts of the quarterfinals and semifinals (is) still to be determined,” the CFP plan said.
The full management committee will determine next week whether it will recommend expansion to university presidents who make up the CFP oversight committee. The presidents are scheduled to meet with the management committee in Dallas on June 22.
If the presidents sign off, the next step is determining over the summer whether the plan can be implemented and when. Final approval would likely come in September.
The CFP is entering year eight of a 12-year agreement with ESPN. The deal doesn't lock in a format but an assumption has been that any changes would come after that deal expires following the 2025 season. Hancock has said no changes to the format could be made this season or in 2022.
The four-team playoff was implemented in 2014, a natural progression from the Bowl Championship Series, which matched No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the title game from 1998-2013.
Before the BCS, and its predecessor the Bowl Alliance, college football used bowls and polls for decades to determine a champion. There were some playoff proponents, but detractors warned it would ruin the drama and high-stakes of the regular season.
Now, college sports leaders have not only embraced the playoff, but they're banking on a big one to enhance the regular season.
"Twelve keeps September important but also keeps November important,” Hancock said.
Tom Oates: Only one thing remains unchanged in Big Ten this season — Ohio State's dominance
Top five Heisman Trophy candidates
1. Justin Fields (above), QB, Ohio State: Run-pass threat leading a national title contender is a winning Heisman formula.
2. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue: Injuries limited college football's most electrifying player to four games last year.
3. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota: Supreme deep threat — 20.3 yards per catch in 2019 — opted out, then back in.
4. Master Teague, RB, Ohio State: With J.K. Dobbins in the NFL, Teague should get more than 135 carries this year.
5. Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota: Toughest hurdle might be loss of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca to Penn State.
Top five quarterbacks
1. Justin Fields (above), Ohio State: In 10 games against Big Ten teams, he threw 30 touchdown passes and one interception.
2. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota: He may not have a big arm, but Morgan is the ultimate gamer, especially in the clutch.
3. Sean Clifford, Penn State: There was little dropoff from Trace McSorley to the strong-armed Clifford last year.
4. Michael Penix, Indiana: Split time with Peyton Ramsey in 2019, but athleticism and arm strength won him the job.
5. Adrian Martinez, Nebraska: Jack Coan's injury opens up this spot for Martinez, who played hurt all last season.
Top five running backs
1. Journey Brown (above), Penn State: Averaged 6.9 yards per carry last year, better than Jonathan Taylor or J.K. Dobbins.
2. Master Teague, Ohio State: Had limited touches, but his 5.8 yards per carry made him third-team All-Big Ten.
3. Stevie Scott, Indiana: Leading returning rusher in the conference has effective combination of size and speed.
4. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota: Were those 140 rushing yards against Auburn in the bowl a sign of things to come?
5. Zach Charbonnet, Michigan: He showed a nose for the end zone as a freshman but will be counted on to do more.
Top five wide receivers
1. Rashod Bateman (above), Minnesota: Had 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns paired with departed Tyler Johnson.
2. Rondale Moore, Purdue: His 4.3 speed and elusiveness as a runner make him Big Ten's ultimate big-play weapon.
3. Chris Olave, Ohio State: Despite Buckeyes' wealth of talent at wide receiver, Olave was third-team All-Big Ten.
4. David Bell, Purdue: Following in Moore's footsteps, sure-handed Bell was Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2019.
5. Whop Philyor, Indiana: Philyor, Bateman and Bell were three of Big Ten's four 1,000-yard receivers last year.
Top five tight ends
1. Pat Freiermuth (above), Penn State: Hasn't had huge numbers, but he catches everything in sight and moves the chains.
2. Jake Ferguson, UW: With wide receiver Quintez Cephus gone to NFL, Ferguson could become Badgers' go-to-guy.
3. Peyton Hendershot, Indiana: A good fit for Hoosiers offense, his production made him third-team All-Big Ten.
4. Luke Farrell, Ohio State: Although an afterthought in Buckeyes offense, Farrell also was third-team All-Big Ten.
5. Sam LaPorta, Iowa: After emerging late in his freshman season, LaPorta looks like next great Hawkeyes tight end.
Top five offensive lineman
1. Wyatt Davis (above), G, Ohio State: Powerful run blocker returned after considering NFL in January, opting out in August.
2. Cole Van Lanen, T, UW: Injuries limited Van Lanen's effectiveness in 2019, but he's healthy and ready to go now.
3. Alaric Jackson, T, Iowa: Overpowering run blocker was third-team All-Big Ten despite sitting out four games.
4. Josh Myers, C, Ohio State: Third-team All-Big Ten pick leads what should be conference's best offensive line.
5. Jalen Mayfield, T, Michigan: Nasty on-field disposition gives him edge over Ohio State tackle Thayer Munford.
Top five defensive lineman
1. Kwity Paye (above), DE, Michigan: Prototypical NFL edge rusher was only scratching surface with 6.5 sacks last year.
2. Shaka Toney, DE, Penn State: Another freak athlete who has amassed 15.5 career sacks for the Nittany Lions.
3. George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue: Made freshman All-America teams after producing 7.5 sacks in his first go-around.
4. Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State: Program that produced the Bosa brothers and Chase Young now turns to Harrison.
5. Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE, UW: A big man who can move, Loudermilk looks poised to put it all together this season.
Top five linebackers
1. Paddy Fisher (above), MLB, Northwestern: Fisher has been around so long he might have played with coach Pat Fitzgerald.
2. Antjuan Simmons, OLB, Michigan State: Played all over last year, even safety, but those 16 TFLs speak volumes.
3. Jack Sanborn, ILB, UW: The next great Badgers linebacker is Sanborn, who plays with speed, toughness, smarts.
4. Cameron McGrone, MLB, Michigan: Anchor of a defense that is expected to be the strength of the Wolverines.
5. Jake Hansen, ILB, Illinois: Veteran tackling machine led all FBS players in forced fumbles last season.
Top five defensive backs
1. Shaun Wade (above), CB, Ohio State: Latest in long line of elite cover corners with great closing speed at Ohio State.
2. Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Penn State: Thought about heading to the NFL but was limited by injury late in season.
3. Eric Burrell, S, UW: Whether it's interceptions, tackles or TFLs, Burrell can usually be found around the ball.
4. Daxton Hill, S, Michigan: Didn't live up to his 5-star billing as a freshman, but he's a budding star now.
5. Tiawan Mullen, CB, Indiana: Broke up 13 passes last year, tops in the nation among freshman defensive backs.
Top five specialists
1. Keith Duncan (above), K, Iowa: Longest field goal was only 49 yards, but he was good on 29 of 34 attempts last season.
2. Blake Hayes, P, Illinois: Like Duncan, was named first-team All-Big Ten after averaging 44.6 yards per punt.
3. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, KR, Iowa: Blazing fast, he averaged 29.6 yards on kickoff returns, scored two touchdowns.
4. Blake Haubeil, K, Ohio State: Ryan Day usually eschews field goals, but Haubeil was 13-for-15 with a long of 53.
5. Aron Cruickshank, KR, Rutgers: Averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return at UW, then took his talents to Rutgers.
Top five transfers
1. Trey Sermon (above), RB, Ohio State: Oklahoma transfer will shine if Master Teague is slowed by spring Achilles injury.
2. Peyton Ramsey, QB, Northwestern: Capable starter for 2½ seasons at Indiana, he could revive Wildcats.
3. Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State: Sat out last year after being named a freshman All-American at Western Michigan.
4. Omar Manning, WR, Nebraska: Top-ranked junior college receiver is needed immediately after J.D. Spielman left.
5. DaMarcus Mitchell, LB, Purdue: New 3-4 scheme needs linebackers and huge junior college transfer will play outside.
Top five position groups
1. Ohio State offensive line: Thayer Munford (above), Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers passed on NFL, will be high picks in 2021.
2. Penn State running backs: Journey Brown, Noah Cain, Devyn Ford combined for 1,647 yards and 6.2 yards per carry.
3. Purdue wide receivers: Rondale Moore was Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2018, David Bell was the same in 2019.
4. UW secondary: Rising star Reggie Pearson was lost to injury, but unit returns 11 others who have started games.
5. Ohio State linebackers: Nothing flashy about Tuf Borland, Baron Browning and Pete Werner; they're just good.
Top five freshman
1. Rakim Jarrett, WR, Maryland: First committed to LSU, but changed his mind and stayed home to play for Terps.
2. Jalen Berger, RB, UW: True freshman running backs from New Jersey have a way of making immediate splash at UW.
3. Julian Fleming, WR, Ohio State: Big, fluid route-runner with a 5-star rating will help ease loss of K.J. Hill.
4. Maliq Carr, WR, Purdue: Freshman wide receivers thrive at Purdue and 6-5, 225-pound Carr enrolled in January.
5. Graham Mertz (above), QB, UW: Jack Coan's foot injury thrusts heralded recruit into limelight after redshirt season.
Five best games
1. Ohio State at Penn State, Oct. 31: With apologies to UW and Michigan, this is de facto Big Ten championship game.
2. UW at Iowa, Dec. 12: These teams have won five of the six West titles, could play for another one on final day.
3. Penn State at Michigan, Nov. 28: Home team has won last four in game that usually determines second in East.
4. Minnesota at UW, Nov. 28: This could be West's new rivalry after each team won on road the last two years.
5. Michigan at Minnesota, Oct. 24: Suddenly there is more at stake in this season opener than the Little Brown Jug.
Five easiest schedules
1. Ohio State: Buckeyes' West Division foes are Illinois and Nebraska. Better yet, they don't have to play Ohio State.
2. Penn State: Getting Iowa at State College in a crossover game is nice, getting Ohio State at home is even nicer.
3. Minnesota: Gophers open at home against a Michigan team that has a brand-new quarterback. Toughest test is at UW.
4. Rutgers: With Maryland and Michigan State down and crossovers versus Illinois and Purdue, losing streak could end.
5. Northwestern: Crossovers are Maryland and Michigan State, plus Wildcats get UW at home, where they've had success.
Five toughest schedules
1. Nebraska: Crossover games are Ohio State and Penn State, proof the Big Ten office knows how to carry a grudge.
2. Michigan: Wolverines face UW and Minnesota, the two best teams in West last year, and at recent nemesis Ohio State.
3. Maryland: Terps play Penn State and Michigan on road and have daunting home games against Minnesota and Ohio State.
4. Michigan State: Back-to-backs at Michigan and Iowa early, back-to-backs against Ohio State and at Penn State late.
5. Iowa: Back-to-back roadies at Minnesota and Penn State mar otherwise manageable schedule that ends with UW at home.
Five coaches with something to prove
1. Jim Harbaugh (above), Michigan: He's 0-5 versus Ohio State, hasn't reached Big Ten title game and lost a ton of experience.
2. Scott Frost, Nebraska: Allegedly strong recruiting has yet to show on field, where Huskers have 6-12 Big Ten record.
3. James Franklin, Penn State: His 3-9 record against Ohio State and Michigan puts up obstacle to Big Ten title, CFP.
4. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: Wildcats went from first to worst in West, leading some to question beloved coach.
5. Jeff Brohm, Purdue: Purdue's upward mobility stalled in 2019, prompting change to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
Five teams with no hope of Big Ten title
1. Rutgers: There won't be a one-year turnaround under Greg Schiano (above) for team that has lost 21 straight Big Ten games.
2. Maryland: Terps cratered last season, then lost six players to COVID-19 opt-outs, including quarterback Josh Jackson.
3. Illinois: Yes, the Illini won four Big Ten games and went to a bowl last year. No, they won't match that this year.
4. Michigan State: Mel Tucker doesn't have a single recruit on roster and had no spring ball to get to know new team.
5. Indiana: Hoosiers coming off breakthrough 8-5 season, but path in East blocked by Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan.
Top five contenders for Big Ten title
1. Ohio State: Buckeyes didn't miss a beat under first-year coach Ryan Day (above), winning third straight Big Ten title.
2. Penn State: Nittany Lions' chance of unseating Buckeyes in East took hit when linebacker Micah Parsons opted out.
3. Wisconsin: Badgers are deep and experienced, especially on defense, but must replace stars on both sides of ball.
4. Minnesota: Gophers a handful on offense, but will inexperienced defense play well enough to knock off UW in West?
5. Iowa: If Hawkeyes find a quarterback, they could contend in West, especially since they have the Badgers at home.