College Football Pick’em
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Talking the business of sports
If the newly expanded College Football Playoff starts before of the end of its current contract, it is most likely to be put in place ahead of the 2025 season, CBS Sports has learned after speaking to several sources involved in the process. That would be one year before the CFP’s 12-year deal with ESPN expires.
That issue will be among the many that FBS commissioners have to consider when they take a deep dive into the structure of the 12-team playoff beginning Thursday in Dallas.
As of now, the expanded playoff will debut following the 2026 season at the latest. However, the desire is to start as soon as possible, the earliest date being after the 2024 season. That would allow access to an annual payday that could reach $1.6 billion for the 12-team field, industry sources tell CBS Sports.
“If everyone wants to get there [by 2024], they will,” said a person who will be in the room.
The logistics of an early start are massive. They range from navigating around NFL dates to necessitating approval of university presidents to extend a season that could end as late as the bye weekend before the Super Bowl in February.
It is undetermined how long the process will take. The commissioners will next assemble in a previously scheduled CFP meeting on Sept. 28. But time is running out. There are complications with stadium and hotel availability. The commissioners will also have to address the athlete welfare angle as two teams could potentially play up to 17 games, the equivalent of an NFL regular season.
In February the CFP announced the end of early expansion talks, in part because the logistics were too much to overcome. That all changed when the CFP Board of Managers (presidents) got involved and last Friday.
Thursday marks only the beginning of incredibly intricate decision-making process. Among the items that need to be decided upon:
Friday’s release stated first-round games on campus will be played at least 12 days after conference championship games. That would make the start mid-December with playoff games running alongside bowl season. The quarterfinals would be held around the turn of the year. The rub comes with the semifinals beginning 8-10 days into the NFL playoffs. One source ventured a guess: the semifinals could be played across consecutive days in the middle of a week away from NFL games. The CFP National Championship could then be played 10 days to a couple weeks later.
That’s where scheduling gets hairy as the NFL begins playing on Saturdays the week following the Army-Navy Game and utilizes the additional day through its playoffs. It’s projected that the NFL playoff schedule in 2025-26 would be played from Jan. 17 to Feb. 1 with Super Bowl LX on Feb. 15. The CFP could complete its first three rounds before the NFL playoffs begin; however, doing so may necessitate playing its games on weekdays in order to maximize ratings.
The earliest the CFP can begin play in 2025 is Thursday, Dec. 18, which would be 12 days after the projected conference championship game dates. However, the NFL also plays on Thursday through Week 17. That leaves Friday, Dec. 19 as the lone day to play first-round games without potential NFL conflict. The quarterfinals could then be held on Wednesday, Dec. 31 and Thursday, Jan. 1 with the semifinals on either Friday, Jan. 9 or Monday, Jan. 12.
Next would be determining when to play the CFP National Championship once the NFL playoffs are underway. Open dates would include Wednesday, Jan. 21 to Friday, Jan. 23 or Monday, Jan. 26 given there is a desire among some to play the game on its now-traditional Monday night. Another option is the Saturday night before NFL conference championship Sunday; however, playing on Jan. 31 would leave a break of nearly three weeks between the semifinal and title game in this projected 2025-26 schedule.
There is a feeling the CFP could position itself better in the nation’s consciousness — and garner better ratings — by delaying the national championship until the week before the Super Bowl. The idea, if it catches on during discussions in Dallas, would be to make the experience as close to the Super Bowl as possible by playing the game at 6 p.m. ET on the Sunday before the biggest sporting event of the year.
“There’s a reason the NFL plays the Super Bowl on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.,” an industry source told CBS Sports, referring to there being more eyeballs available during the early evening on a weekend.
Not only does expansion guarantee the longest college football seasons in history, CFP presidents would have to sign off further if they want the season to extend into February.
In an expanded playoff, all of the New Year’s Six bowls would be included. The dates of the semifinals would have to be moved in 2024 and 2025. Another layer of dates would have to be carved out for first-round games and the national championship.
That requires not only available stadiums but hotel rooms, too. Given dates and locations are now set through the end of the current playoff contract — Cotton and Orange Bowl semifinals, Atlanta national championship in 2024; Fiesta and Peach Bowl semifinals, South Florida national championship in 2025 — moving all of those games necessitates checking with venues to ensure they are open and available without conflict on different dates.
That’s without getting into the head-splitting prospect of finding lodging in the tiny burg such as Auburn, Alabama, for a first-round game a week so after a conference championship game.
Though there was a story this week estimating the worth of a 12-team playoff field at $2 billion, industry sources who spoke with CBS Sports estimated that sum to be a bit high with one indicating it would likely be more in the $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion range. That averages out to $145 million per game.
That figure would probably involve getting a bidder (or a couple bidders) to overpay. The easiest way to make that happen is to get a streamer (Amazon, Apple, etc.) involved in the process. Despite the Big Ten giving eight games to NBC’s Peacock as part of its $1.2 annual deal alongside CBS and Fox, there still hasn’t been the big breakthrough for tech giants becoming involved in college football. Amazon recently picked up the Thursday Night Football package from the NFL, beginning this season.
There is a strong desire to take the expanded playoff to the open market beginning in 2026 when the current contract expires. That could create a “halo effect” for the game where a combination of networks and cable channels are all promoting the postseason simultaneously, keeping it in the conscious mind of the consumer.
College football remains the only major sport whose postseason rights are not owned by multiple media outlets. That’s about to change if the commissioners have their way.
Among conferences, a plan needs to be formulated by the commissioners and approved by the presidents. But what about the players? They’re going to have to get something out of this. If each player was to receive, let’s say, a flat sum of $32,000 as a member of a participating team, that would work out to $38.4 million (based on paying 100 players per team). However, that does not take into account some athletes playing in one first-round game and others potentially playing a total of four.
Using $1.5 billion as the total payout, that $38.4 million figure would represent only 2.5% of the total annual media rights revenue from an expanded playoff. That would be perfectly doable but perhaps not enough. If the CFP eventually takes over the FBS or assumes the responsibilities of managing a smaller group of teams, it is going to have to account for the health and welfare of players. That probably includes paying for post-eligibility insurance.
None of it is going to keep players from skipping the CFP to concentrate on NFL Draft preparation. A five-figure appearance fee is not going to keep a star player in the college game if he has the potential to earn $60 million as a first-round pick. It would only be a meaningful gesture.
Considering that we’re headed toward a pro model eventually where these same commissioners might be in negotiations with
players, it would be a smart labor move to get on their good side as early as possible. Paying them directly with money from the expanded playoff would be a start.
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