The College Football Playoff (CFP) will be expanded from four to 12 teams starting in the 2026 season at the latest, though it could take effect as early as 2024, after a vote by the College Football Playoff Board of Managers.
Teams seeded five through 12 will play for a chance to play one of the top four seeds in the quarterfinals, with the quarters and semis as bowl games. The expansion is poorly formatted and will lead to boring, lopsided games while being profitable for the CFP and NCAA.
One can only wonder how many blowouts will be seen in the new playoff format. At least one three-loss school finished in the AP top 12 at the end of every regular season since 2016, according to collegepollarchive.com. When the best schools consider two losses to be an off year, fans will be frustrated when playoff games are decided before halftime.
Even the current version of the playoff has blowouts, even though it has four teams. Since the playoff format started in 2014, 11 games have been decided by 21 points or more, according to Sports Illustrated. Considering that each year’s playoff contained three games (two semifinals, one championship) and there have been eight playoffs under the current format, that means almost half of the games under the current playoff are wins by three touchdowns or more. Letting worse teams into the playoff will only lead to even more boring games.
Supporters of the expansion say it will lead to more upsets, much like how March Madness has tons of upsets because of its 64-team bracket. Expanding the playoff for the chance of an upset is a bad bet; there are only 11 games in the new playoff bracket (for reference, there are 67 in March Madness), and almost all of them will be won by favorites. By expanding the playoff, the CFP is betting that fans will remember one or two upsets over the six or seven blowouts.
In addition to the lack of competition the new change brings, the bracket itself is confusing. 12 is uneven for a bracket and forces a play-in round, where the bottom eight seeds play while the top four get byes to the next round. The CFP said in its announcement that play-in games would not have sponsors. The play-in round will feature less notable teams, and without sponsors, it could have worse production, and with that, fewer viewers.
Alternatively, an eight-team playoff would eliminate nearly all three-loss schools, therefore raising the level of competition. It would also let schools who felt they had good enough teams to win the championship but slipped up twice, usually ranked fifth to eighth, into the playoffs. It’s also an even bracket: no school has to play an extra game, and no one gets a bye. Not only does a 12-team playoff reduce competitiveness, it requires a bracket that’s complicated for no reason.
While the new playoff games may be boring, an expanded format would help the CFP and NCAA a lot financially. Expanding the tournament adds more games, more teams, more markets and therefore more eyes on the T.V. for schools that aren’t big names like the University of Alabama, Clemson University, University of Georgia or The Ohio State University. Neutral or casual viewers may not be interested in watching schools they’ve never heard of, though, so nationwide viewership could be less than expected, especially if these games are blowouts.
Maybe in the long run, expanding the playoff to 12 teams is a good move. But for now, fans are stuck with a confusing bracket, teams that don’t deserve to be in the playoff, and even more blowouts. Until the playoff money kicks in, prepare to watch Alabama beat Utah State 60-3 at the 2026 Rose Bowl.