College Football Playoff
|College Football Playoff|
|Preceded by||BCS (1998–2013)
Bowl Alliance (1995–97)
Bowl Coalition (1992–94)
|Number of playoff games||3 per season|
|Championship trophy||College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy|
|Television partner(s)||ESPN (2014–2025)|
|Executive director||Bill Hancock|
The College Football Playoff (CFP) is the system in American college football that will determine a national champion for the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) beginning in the 2014 season. Under the playoff, four teams play in two semifinal games, with the winners advancing to the new College Football Championship Game. Six bowl games — the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl — rotate as hosts for the semifinal games. The rotation is set on a three-year cycle with the following pairings: Rose/Sugar, Orange/Cotton, and Fiesta/Peach. The two semifinals plus the other four top-tier bowls are marketed as the "New Year's Six", with three bowls played per day, typically on consecutive days that include New Year's Day.
The championship game is played on the first Monday that is six or more days after the semifinals. The game's venue is selected based on bids submitted by cities, similar to the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four, with AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas hosting the first title game on January 12, 2015. The winner is awarded a new trophy instead of the AFCA "crystal football", which had been regularly presented after the championship game since the 1990s; officials wanted a new trophy that was unconnected with the previous championship systems. The new College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is sponsored by Dr Pepper, which paid an estimated $35 million for the sponsorship rights through 2020. The 26.5-inch high, 35-pound trophy was unveiled on July 14, 2014.
Unlike college football's title system used from 1998 to 2013, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the new format does not use computer rankings or polls to select the participants. Rather, a committee of 13 experts will select and seed the teams. The playoff system is the first time the top-level NCAA football championship is determined by a bracket competition. The new format is a Plus-One system, an idea which became popular as an alternative to the BCS after the 2003 and 2004 seasons ended in controversy.
The playoff system is contracted to be in place through at least the 2025 season per an agreement with ESPN, which owns the rights to broadcast all games. The network reportedly paid $7.3 billion overall for the 12-year TV rights.
The first College Football Playoff selection committee was announced on October 16, 2013. The group consists of 13 members who generally serve three-year terms, although some initial selections will serve terms both shorter and longer than three years "to achieve a rotation" of members.
|Member||Position||Conference affiliation[a]||Term expires|
|Jeff Long (chairman)||Arkansas athletic director||SEC||February 2018|
|Barry Alvarez||Wisconsin athletic director||Big Ten||February 2017|
|Michael C. Gould||Former Air Force Academy superintendent||N/A||February 2016|
|Pat Haden||USC athletic director||Pac-12||February 2016|
|Tom Jernstedt||Former NCAA executive vice president||N/A||February 2018|
|Oliver Luck||West Virginia athletic director||Big 12||February 2017|
|Archie Manning||Former NFL and Ole Miss quarterback||N/A||February 2017|
|Tom Osborne||Former Nebraska coach and athletic director||Big Ten||February 2016|
|Dan Radakovich||Clemson athletic director||ACC||February 2018|
|Condoleezza Rice||Former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford provost||N/A||February 2017|
|Mike Tranghese||Former Big East commissioner||The American||February 2016|
|Steve Wieberg||Former USA Today reporter||N/A||February 2018|
|Tyrone Willingham||Former Stanford/Notre Dame/Washington coach||N/A||February 2018|
- Current or former. Athletic department administration only.
The committee members include one current athletic director from each of the five so-called "major" conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). Other members are former coaches, players, athletic directors, and administrators, plus a retired member of the media, Steve Wieberg. The goal was for the panel to consist proportionally of current athletic directors, former coaches, and a third group of other voters, excluding current conference commissioners, coaches, and media members. During the selection process, organizers said they wanted the committee to be geographically balanced. Conference commissioners submitted lists totaling more than 100 names from which to select the final committee members.
The selection of Condoleezza Rice, a former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford University provost, was met with some backlash within the sport and the media. Critics questioned her qualifications, citing lack of football experience and gender.
The committee picks four teams for the playoff and seed them, plus select the pairings in the other four bowl games (subject to certain restrictions and tie-ins). The group will release its top 25 rankings weekly on Tuesdays seven times during the season, with the first release on Oct. 28, 2014 and the final rankings Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. The group, which meets at the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine, Texas, will reportedly meet in person up to 10 total times a year.
A team's strength of schedule will be one of the most pertinent considerations for the committee in making its selections. Other factors that the committee will weigh are conference championships, team records, and head-to-head results, plus other points such as injuries and weather. Unlike the BCS system, the AP Poll, Coaches' Poll, Harris Poll, and computer rankings will not be used to make the selections. Advanced statistics and metrics from ESPN are expected to be submitted to the committee, though like other analytics, they will have no formal role in the decision. Committee members will not be required to attend games.
Long said the panel considered less frequent rankings, but ultimately decided on a weekly release. "That's what the fans have become accustomed to, and we felt it would leave a void in college football without a ranking for several weeks," he said. Long also noted: "Early on there was some talk that we would go into a room at the end of the season and come out with a top four, but that didn't last long." In analyzing this change in thinking, Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated commented: "The whole point of the selection committee was to replace the simplistic horse-race nature of Top 25 polls — where teams only move up if someone above them loses — with a more deliberative evaluation method. Now the playoff folks are going to try to do both." Addressing the "pecking order" nature of traditional polls, George Schrodeder of USA Today wrote that "if it actually works as intended, we could see volatile swings" from week to week, with lower-ranked teams moving ahead of higher-ranked teams without either team losing (a rarity in traditional polls). Both Long and Bill Hancock, the CFP executive director, say they expect that to happen.
The committee's voting method will use multiple ballots, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament selection process. From a large initial pool of teams, the group will take numerous votes on successive tiers of teams, considering six at a time and coming to a consensus on how they should be ranked, then repeating the process with the next tier of teams. Discussion and debate will happen at each voting step. All votes will be by secret ballot, and committee members will not make their ballots public. Each week's ranking process will begin anew, with no weight given to the previous week's selections.
Committee members who are currently employed or financially compensated by a school, or have family members who have a current financial relationship (which includes football players), are not allowed to vote for that school. During deliberations about a team's selection, members with such a conflict of interest cannot be present, but can answer factual questions about the institution. All committee members have past ties to certain NCAA institutions, but the committee decided to ignore those ties in the recusal requirements. "We just boiled it down to where we felt this group was fit to its high integrity and would differentiate from those past relationships," Long said. Some football writers, like Dodd and Mark Schlabach, have said the recusal arrangement isn't transparent or objective, suggesting that members' alma maters and former coaching jobs should be considered disqualifying conflicts of interest.
Impact on scheduling
Due to the increased emphasis on strength of schedule under the new playoff system, teams will consider playing more challenging opponents during the non-conference portion of their schedules. Some teams have traditionally played three or four "weak" non-conference opponents, but wins against such low-level competition are unlikely to impress the committee. For teams on the cusp of making the playoff four, "I think one of the first things the committee will look at is strength of schedule," said selector Oliver Luck.
Teams in the Big 12 and Pac-12 play nine conference games on their 12-game schedules, and so only have flexibility in choosing their opponents in the three non-league games. (Opponents in conference games cannot be replaced with tougher competition.) Some programs are opting to increase their national media exposure by scheduling high-profile matchups at neutral sites and on weeknights, garnering primetime TV exclusivity. The Big Ten plays eight games in 2014 and 2015 but will move to a nine-game league schedule in 2016.
In response to the new playoff system, the Southeastern Conference considered increasing its conference schedule from eight to nine games. But many in the SEC, which enjoys a reputation as the toughest conference in the country, were concerned that an extra intraconference game could result in poorer records for the league's top teams. Some officials favored a stronger out-of-league schedule, which would likely impress the committee, instead of an increase in conference games. In April 2014, the league voted to mandate that all SEC teams must play a "major" foe (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12) in its non-conference slate beginning in 2016. In the 2014 season, nine of the 14 teams are scheduled to play one "major" conference opponent and three lower-level opponents, which includes one FCS school. Four teams do not face a "major" foe, and one team will play two "major" opponents.
The ACC, whose teams also play eight conference games (plus Notre Dame once every three years), also considered moving to a nine-game conference schedule. However, the league opted to stay with the eight-plus-Notre Dame model, stipulating instead that teams would have to play one "major" school in their non-league slates beginning in 2017, which could include other ACC schools being considered "non-conference"; the Notre Dame game would also fill this requirement. Despite the push to increase schedule strength across football, some ACC coaches preferred the scheduling flexibility available with fewer permanent fixtures on a team's slate. Opinion was split among league athletics directors on moving to a nine-game schedule prior to the vote. An SEC expansion to a nine-game schedule would limit the ACC's opportunities to play "major" non-conference opponents.
The College Football Playoff will use a four-team bracket to determine the national champion. Six bowl games will rotate as hosts for the semifinal games. The two-bowl rotation is set on a three-year cycle with the following pairings: Rose/Sugar, Orange/Cotton, and Fiesta/Peach. The selection committee will seed and pair the top four teams, plus assign teams to the at-large bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach) in years when they do not host semifinals.
The four-team format will pit the No. 1-ranked team against No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3. The selection committee will seed the two semifinal games to prevent the top seed from playing in a "road" environment. There will be no limits on the number of teams per conference, a change from previous BCS rules. However, some non-semifinal bowl selections will be based on conference tie-ins, similarly to the BCS's automatic qualifier berths. A team from the "Group of Five" mid-major conferences is guaranteed a spot in one of the six bowls.
In years when the bowls are not part of the playoff bracket, the highest-ranked non-playoff teams from the following conferences or groups will be selected as follows:
- Rose Bowl — Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
- Sugar Bowl — SEC #1 vs. Big 12 #1
- Orange Bowl — ACC #1 vs. SEC #2, Big Ten #2, or Notre Dame
- Cotton Bowl — at-large or "Group of Five" (committee selection)
- Fiesta Bowl — at-large or "Group of Five" (committee selection)
- Peach Bowl — at-large or "Group of Five" (committee selection)
- Additional selection criteria
- The highest-ranked champion from the "Group of Five" mid-major conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) is guaranteed a berth if the group's top team is not in the playoff.
- The remaining five at-large bids will be determined by committee rankings.
- If the Big Ten or SEC champion is available for a non-playoff bowl in a year when the Rose and Sugar Bowls are hosting semifinals, that team will appear in either the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl, but not the Orange Bowl.
- In the Orange Bowl, the SEC and Big Ten are guaranteed at least three appearances during the eight non-playoff years, while Notre Dame can only appear a maximum of twice.
- In non-playoff years, if the Orange Bowl matchup creates a regular-season rematch for the ACC representative, the bowl may choose to "skip over" the prescribed opponent from the SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame group and select the next highest-ranked team from the group. The team that was rejected would be placed in one of the three at-large bowls, if it meets ranking standards.
- In years when the Orange Bowl is a national semifinal, the ACC champion will play in the Fiesta or Peach bowls if it is not selected for the playoff.
- In choosing the pairings for the four non-playoff bowls, the committee will try to create "the most compelling matchups possible", while taking into account geography and team rematches from both the regular season and recent bowls.
These bowl games and venues will host College Football Playoff semifinal and championship games:
|Year||Semifinal game||Semifinal game||Semifinals date||Title game venue||Championship date|
(New Orleans, LA)
|January 1, 2015||AT&T Stadium
|January 12, 2015|
(Miami Gardens, FL)
|December 31, 2015||University of Phoenix Stadium
|January 11, 2016|
|December 31, 2016||Raymond James Stadium
|January 9, 2017|
|2017–18||Rose Bowl||Sugar Bowl||January 1, 2018||TBA
|January 8, 2018|
|2018–19||Orange Bowl||Cotton Bowl||December 31, 2018||TBA
|January 7, 2019|
|2019–20||Fiesta Bowl||Peach Bowl||December 31, 2019||TBA
|January 13, 2020|
|2020–21||Rose Bowl||Sugar Bowl||January 1, 2021||TBA
|January 11, 2021|
|2021–22||Orange Bowl||Cotton Bowl||December 31, 2021||TBA
|January 10, 2022|
|2022–23||Fiesta Bowl||Peach Bowl||December 31, 2022||TBA
|January 9, 2023|
|2023–24||Rose Bowl||Sugar Bowl||January 1, 2024||TBA
|January 8, 2024|
|2024–25||Orange Bowl||Cotton Bowl||December 31, 2024||TBA
|January 13, 2025|
|2025–26||Fiesta Bowl||Peach Bowl||December 31, 2025||TBA
|January 12, 2026|
Cities around the country bid to host each year's championship game and the playoff group's leaders make a selection from those proposals, in a similar fashion to other large sporting events, such as the Super Bowl or Final Four. Officials say the championship game will be held in a different city each year, and that bids must propose host stadiums with a capacity of at least 65,000 spectators. Under the system, cities cannot host both a semifinal game and the title game in the same year. AT&T Stadium, an NFL stadium in Arlington, Texas, was chosen to host the first game in January 2015.
Four cities submitted bids for the 2016 game: Glendale (University of Phoenix Stadium), Jacksonville (EverBank Field), New Orleans (Mercedes-Benz Superdome), and Tampa (Raymond James Stadium); and six metropolitan areas vied for the 2017 game: the San Francisco Bay Area (Levi's Stadium), Minneapolis (Vikings Stadium), San Antonio (Alamodome), Miami Gardens (Sun Life Stadium), Jacksonville, and Tampa. Host selections were announced in December 2013 with Glendale (University of Phoenix Stadium) being awarded the 2016 title game and Tampa (Raymond James Stadium) winning the bid for 2017.
In 2012, ESPN reportedly paid about $7.3 billion over 12 years for broadcasting rights to all seven games, an average of about $608 million per year. That includes $215 million per year which was already committed to the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls, plus $470–475 million annually for the rest of the playoff package. By comparison, the most recent contract with the BCS had paid almost $2 billion over four years — $495 million per year for five games.
The average revenue to the new playoff system over 12 years will be about $500 million per year. After $125-150 million in expenses, the five "major" conferences will split about 75 percent of the remaining money, for an approximate average payout of $250 million a year ($50 million per league) over the life of the contract. The mid-major "Group of Five" conferences will get around 25 percent, about $90 million a year ($18 million per league). Notre Dame will receive around one percent, about $3.5-4 million, and other FBS independents get about 0.5 percent of the deal.
Extra revenue will go to conferences in contracts with the Rose, Sugar, and Orange bowls, which split revenue 50/50 between their participating leagues. In non-semifinal years, the Rose Bowl's TV revenue would be divided between the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences; likewise, the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl revenue to its participant conferences. When those bowls are semifinal games, the money will be distributed by the playoff system to all FBS conferences. ESPN has paid about $80 million a year each for the Rose and Sugar bowls over 12 years. The Orange Bowl deal is worth $55 million per year. For example, in a non-semifinal year, the Big Ten could receive about $90 million (half of its $80 million Rose Bowl deal plus about $50 million from the playoff system).
Conferences will receive an additional $6 million each year for each team it places in the semifinals and $4 million for a team in one of the three at-large bowls; Notre Dame receives the same amount in either scenario. No additional money will be awarded for reaching the championship game.
The five "major" conferences and the "Group of Five" have not decided on their respective revenue-sharing formulas, though the SEC will initially receive more revenue than the other four "major" conferences due to its BCS success. Reports say the money will be divided based on several criteria such as "on-field success, teams' expenses, marketplace factors and academic performance of student-athletes." The playoff system will award academic performance bonuses of $300,000 per school for meeting the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate standard of 930. In a hypothetical 14-team conference, $4.2 million ($300,000 x 14) would be allocated to that league, and if only 12 of the 14 members meet the APR standard, then each of the 12 schools would receive $350,000 ($4.2 million / 12), penalizing schools that fall below the threshold.
As part of their playoff contracts, the six bowl sites cannot hold any other postseason college football games at their stadiums.
Previous BCS commissioner Bill Hancock is the executive director of the playoff organization, with former ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Michael Kelly as COO. Like the BCS, the playoff system's management committee consists of the conference commissioners from the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame's athletic director. The playoff system's headquarters is in Irving, Texas.
- College football playoff debate
- College football national championships in NCAA Division I FBS
- List of college bowl games
- Mythical National Championship
- Plus-One system
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