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NCAA: You May Hate the Twelve Team CFP

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

Most people are telling folks that the 12-team playoff is going to fix most of the controversies associated with the College Football Playoff.

Here is a warning. You may hate the twelve team CFP more than you do the current format.

The CFP for the next two years has been reported to be now a "5+7" model. This means that there will be five automatic bids to the top ranked conference champions. There may be some qualifiers that the "Power 4" get four of those automatic qualifiers, but I have not seen that specifically defined in my research. The remaining seven teams will be added as at-large teams based on the CFP committee's rankings.

Why do I say this?

If your team is not in the SEC and B1G

The 12-team CFP is likely to be loaded with SEC and B1G teams. Over time the revenue gap between the B1G/ SEC and your conference, will likely make this even worse. Eventually, your conference is more than likely to have ONLY one team and maybe two if your highest ranked team loses the conference championship game. Your conference is likely to feel like the one team conferences in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

If your team is in the SEC and B1G

The fans of the most powerful conferences are going to hate that "lesser" teams are getting byes. They may also think even more of their teams should be in the CFP.

Please, don't hate me for being the first one to tell you this. Everyone is showing how the 12-team playoff would work if we had it in 2023. Few are showing you how it would work if we had the 2024 conference structure we will have with the 12-team format.

As a reminder this is what that structure is with the teams 2023 records and conference affiliations.

Here are the new Power FOUR conferences in 2024 with Pac-12 going away.

Here are the new Group of Five conferences. Also below are the independents and the Pac-2. I THINK the Pac-2 will be evaluated with the Group of Five conference champions for fifth conference champion auto qualifier spot. The independents only get in if they qualify for an at-large bid.

For these examples, I am going to use the final CFP rankings for the 2021, 2022, and 2023 seasons. This is not exactly how it would work. In preparation for this article, I went back to the pre-CCG CFP poll and then projected how the CCGs would play out (in the new conference structure) and then the CFP setup. In reality, I feel like there is too much projection in this, so I am showing simply the 12-team field for each year based on the final CFP rankings in the new conference structure.

There is one feature the original "6+6" plan had that I cannot find true verification that it will still be used. Originally, the top four SEEDS in the CFP were reserved for the top 4 conference champions. That worked better when there were six conference champions to fill those seeds. As you work through these examples you will see what I mean. I am going to present two options for each year:

  1. By seeds- the field is seeded purely by the rankings with no regard to if a team is a conference champion or not. The SEC and B1G are likely to demand it be that way eventually. You will see why.

  2. By conference champions- this will follow the original structure and the one I THINK the Big 12, ACC, and all Group of five conference members are expecting.

Perhaps a compromise of the top three ranked conference champions having the bye will be reached. The fact that this issue is not clearly defined already is a sign that it is a known issue that they are still discussing.

2021 12-team CFP Field

You can see the difference in the two fields. The Big 12 (assuming Cincinnati was in the conference) would have had a very good year with the 12-team CFP. The SEC would want the extra bye and giving the bye to #12 Pitt does not seem to make a lot of sense. Louisiana would get the Group of Five conference slot.

2022 12-team CFP Field

You can again see the difference in the two fields. The Big 12 would have had a very good year with the 12-team CFP in 2022 and you can actually see the effect of a CCG upset on the conference champ field. The B1G would want the extra bye and giving the bye to #7 Clemson and #9 Kansas St. will likely frustrate them. The B1G would have had FOUR teams in a 12-team CFP. I assumed Oregon State would get the Group of Five conference slot.

2023 12-team CFP Field

Here is the real warning for the other conferences. You can again see the difference in the two fields. With Texas and Oklahoma atop the current Big 12 in 2023 the rest of the new conference members lagged. In this view with those two gone, the Big 12 ONLY gets their one auto bid. The SEC and B1G would be VERY unhappy with the conference champions bye model.

SEC or B1G fan, what do you think of the Big 12's #14 Arizona having the #4 seed in the 12-team CFP? I think it is an issue.

In 2023, the B1G and SEC would be projected to have had a combined NINE teams in the CFP. NINE TEAMS!! All at-large bids would have been claimed by the two conferences. The other conferences would HATE that.

Again, I assumed Oregon State would get the Group of Five conference slot.

Totals and Conclusions

Let me be clear because some that have read this think I agree with how some fans will respond. I don't. I do think that fans will be happy that there are 12-teams until they realize that things did not change much for them.

In general, I think the 12-team CFP is being presented as a solution to all of our problems. It won't be. I do think it is fundamentally better.

You can see how the conferences would have done over the three-year period.

The ACC is livid and likely even headed further to implosion if this actually played out like this.

The Big 12 is less upset if the rest of the conference is able to repeat this three-year period consistently. They will demand their champion get the bye. Also, is 2023 a warning that 2021 and 2022 were the exception and not the rule? Possibly.

The SEC and B1G will demand an end to the bye for what they will say are inferior conference champions.

If the Pac-2 joins with the Mountain West, that conference is likely to be the happiest of a very disgruntled group. The change to 12-teams will only incrementally improve the Group of 5 schools odds of access to the CFP. Odds of getting two G5 schools in any year seem like a severe longshot.

While the 12-team CFP will likely mute the sort of rabid response of Florida St. fans this year, it will NOT be the ultra-inclusive great opportunity it is often being presented as right now. Some fans may hate the twelve team CFP more than they do the current format.

The gaps between the big two conferences and the rest of college football are going to be very evident in the CFP. How will interest hold out?

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