College Football Playoff expansion is on the horizon with a 12-team format expected by 2026 at the very latest. It should come as no surprise that a financially-motivated decision to expand the CFB Playoff will likely be worth millions of dollars to the NCAA, Power 5 conferences and college football programs across the country.
Football fans have clamored since the creation of the CFB Playoff for it to be expanded beyond four teams. While there remains debate about exactly when it will happen, with 2024 the earliest possible season, it will be happening. It comes after FBS commissioners debated the issue for years with a resolution only happening last week after the board of managers unanimously voted to implement expansion by 2026.
Related: College Football Playoff projections
Plenty of hurdles must be figured out before the 12-team format replaces the current four-team system. Logistics, namely scheduling and splitting the revenue, are key matters that FBS commissioners must decide on before the new system is implemented. It’s not a surprise considering how much is at stake for conferences and universities.
According to Front Office Sports, an expanded CFB Playoff could generate between $2-2.2 billion annually under new media rights contracts. ESPN is already paying $470 million per year for the rights to the four-team playoff, per USA Today, but that cost is expected to explode thanks to playoff expansion.
It’s a staggering sum, especially when compared to other college sports. CBS and Turner reportedly paid $870 million for the rights to broadcast the March Madness tournaments in 2022. In the final year of the TV rights contract for March Madness, the NCAA will receive $1.02 billion in 2026 (Front Office Sports).
The projections do follow with the rising costs of broadcasting rights for football games. The NFL is receiving more than $100 billion through 2030 from its broadcasting partners for the rights to every NFL game. Meanwhile, the Big Ten is going to receive more than $1 billion annually from its three TV partners under the new contracts set to go into effect in 2023 and ’24.
Another step in the process will likely be determining whether or not college football players receive a share of the TV revenue from the expanded CFB Playoff. Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh recently expressed public support for players receiving a split of the profits and there will likely be other prominent coaches backing the idea.