College football fans rejoiced in 2014 when the Bowl Championship Series was replaced by a four-team playoff to determine the sport’s national champion, and things are going to get even wilder in coming years, as the field is set to dramatically expand.
The College Football Playoff’s Board of Managers voted unanimously on Friday to expand the field from four teams to 12 beginning in 2026, opening up the process to eight new teams and ensuring a total of four rounds of competition for the national championship.
So how will the new process work? Where will games be played?
Here is what we know about the expanded College Football Playoff.
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When Did the Current System Start?
The Bowl Championship Series was implemented prior to the start of the 1998 football season, but after several years of advocacy, it was replaced by a four-team playoff to determine the sport’s national champion beginning with the 2014 campaign.
In that first year, the Ohio State Buckeyes scored a semifinal victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide, and went on to beat the Oregon Ducks in the national championship game.
How Will the 12 Teams Be Determined?
Instead of four teams picked by the committee based solely on their merits, the committee has instead opted to expand the field to 12 teams.
Those 12 teams will be comprised of the six highest-ranked conference champions in the final CFP poll, and the remaining six spots will go to wild card teams from across the college football world.
Those teams will be selected by a committee that will be similar in makeup to the current format.
How Will Seeding be Dictated?
According to CFP officials, the four highest ranked conference champions will receive a first-round bye in the tournament, getting the four top seeds.
The remaining eight teams will be seeded 5-through-12 based on their final ranking in the CFP poll.
Where Will Games be Played?
The first round of four games will be contested either at the home stadium of the higher-seeded team, or at a neutral site of that team’s choosing.
Beginning with the quarterfinals, games will be contested in existing bowl games, similar to the way the semifinals are set up currently. According to officials, the teams will be slotted into those bowls based on their seeding, with higher-seeded teams getting put into games that line up with current contractual obligations.
For example, a high-seeded Big Ten team would likely be placed into the Rose Bowl, or an SEC team would be put into the Sugar Bowl.
The semifinals will also be bowl games, with the six games being rotated among a group of to-be-determined bowls.
The national championship game will still be put up for bids, similar to the way the NFL allocates the Super Bowl.
When Could the New Expanded Playoff Start?
According to the committee, the latest that the new playoff format would be implemented would be during the 2026 football season, but efforts are underway to determine whether it can be put in place prior to the 2024 or 2025 season.