Expansion of College Football Playoff Runs Into Roadblock Because of Automatic Bid Debate

Discussions of expanding the College Football Playoff have reportedly stalled as debate continues over the same core issues, including disagreements over how many conference champions should be given automatic bids, and what conferences those bids should come from.

The roadblock in the discussions likely means the current four-team format will remain in place until at least 2024, and possibly when the current CFP contract with ESPN expires in 2026.

Among the key issues still being debated are the automatic bid system, how bowls will or will not be used as sites for playoff games in a new system and discussions over how to ensure the health and safety of student athletes if they have to play more games, according to CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock.

The CFP management committee, made up of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame's athletic director, have had seven in-person meetings to discuss changes to the system since a proposal for a 12-team format was made public last summer.

That proposal suggests the six highest-ranked conference champions, no matter whether it's a Power Five conference or not, be given automatic bids and the other six teams would be the next six highest-ranked teams.

It has been estimated that expansion of the playoff field within the next four years could be worth up to $450 million that would be divided among the conferences.

College Football Playoff Expansion, Automatic Bid
Talks to expand the playoff have reportedly stalled once again, making it unlikely that the field will expand beyond four teams before 2024. The College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is seen at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

"We have entrenched issues that are no closer to being resolved, " Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Monday.

While Bowlsby said it looked increasingly unlikely that an expanded playoff would come before the end of the current CFP contract that expires in 2026, it was not ruled out altogether.

"We're going into overtime," Hancock said, hours before No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia played for the College Football Playoff national championship.

Everybody involved supports expansion, but they are hung up on the how and when.

Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, who heads the Board of Managers that has final say over the College Football Playoff, said he remains optimistic an agreement can be reached in time to add playoff spots by the 2024 season.

"I think we'll get there," Keenum said.

There was hope initially an agreement could be reached soon enough to have it implemented for the 2024 season, two years before the current CFP contract with ESPN expires.

"I think it was received favorably. Since then we've spent time on it, some don't like it now," said Bowlsby, who was part of a four-person committee that spent two years working on the 12-team plan.

Unanimous consensus among the management committee members is needed to alter the current deal. Bowlsby said a vote was taken this weekend among the management committee members, but declined to reveal how it broke down.

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren has said he supports a 12-team format that provides automatic access for only Power Five conference champions. American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has said he is adamantly opposed to any format that gives Power Five conferences special access.

The initial proposal was presented to the presidents Monday.

Hancock had previously tried to set a deadline of sorts, saying if the commissioners could not come to a consensus on a new format by these meetings, expansion could not happen until after the current deal is complete. The playoff field would remain at four teams until 2026.

But Keenum said the commissioners will get together again in the next few weeks to keep working on a plan that everyone can support.

Bowlsby compared the process to the movie Groundhog Day, where every day repeats for the main character and called it "frustrating."

"Everybody is more concerned about their own silo than everybody else's," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.