MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE Commissioner John Steinbrecher was on his way to the season opener in Western Michigan, Michigan, when he received an urgent text message from University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi.

“Call me.”

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Steinbrecher stopped so his wife could drive, took out his laptop and called Tripathi, one of 11 university presidents and chancellors whose historic unanimous vote on September 2 will expand the four-team college football playoffs to 12 teams in 2026. – If not earlier. Steinbrecher had already prepared schools in his conference for the possibility of a playoff expansion, but on that Friday afternoon, more than a year of speculation became a reality.

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In a Zoom meeting that day that lasted just under an hour, the CFP management board sped up a process that had stalled over the tumultuous years of conference reorganizations and leadership changes at the highest level. Tired of waiting for the committee members to lay aside their political positions and overcome the mistrust that had become prevalent with the reorganization of the conference, 11 presidents and chancellors representing all 10 FBS and Notre Dame conferences achieved what the committee members could not – unanimity in format of 12 teams. .

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After getting the details over the phone from Tripathi, Steinbrecher sent an email to his conference schools confirming the sport’s biggest postseason change since the end of BCS.

“I thought that by going to this meeting, they would most likely approve of it,” Steinbrecher said. “We really haven’t been that far apart. I think they sensed an opportunity.”

The chain of command spoke volumes, as the details of the CFP’s history were debated by commissioners and approved by presidents for almost a decade. But a lot has changed since the 8-3 vote in February, when the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 said no to playoff expansion, and the presidents and commissioners jointly said CFP would remain a four-team roster for another four years. . Led by Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, the group was keen to move quickly after learning Atlanta and Miami could still host an extended playoff as early as 2024 — an opportunity that reopened the door to roughly $450 million in potential gross revenue. . income.

While money can be a powerful motivator, peer pressure can also change. The presidents met several times this summer with the new university president, Christina Johnson of Ohio State, who now represents the Big Ten. With the addition of USC and UCLA pending, Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said the conference had “softened” its stance on automatic qualifications, which had been a sticking point in previous discussions. With each videoconference over the summer, the consensus began to grow.

“Instead of saying, ‘It’s inevitable that we’re going to do this,’ we’re going to do this,” said Keenum, chairman of the board. “We are the governing board and we make this decision – this is what the future of the college football playoffs will look like, and here is our desire to start it in 2024, if at all possible. We had to deliver this message. as clear as possible to the commissars.”

Ultimately, the presidents approved the same 12-team proposal that was unveiled in June 2021, but returned the hard work to the commissioners.

“It was jet fuel for us to get around the table,” Warren said of the presidential vote.

The CFP Steering Committee, made up of 11 FBS Commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, is meeting face-to-face this week at the Big Ten offices in Rosemont, Illinois, their second face-to-face meeting this month. They will meet again in Dallas at the end of October, hoping by then to see if the playoffs can expand sooner. Five focus groups were set up on campus to provide feedback to CFP officials on logistics.

The fact that the CFP is even revisiting 2024 and 2025 is another sharp turn in what has been publicly played out as a puzzling process. Now the rest of the drama – when will the playoffs really expand? – must overcome the same bureaucracy, conference politics and infighting between the commissioners that forced the presidents to seize the process.


CHRONOLOGY The presidents’ backstage conversations accelerated when the Big Ten rocked the sport in June by adding USC and UCLA for 2024. It became clear that the obstacles repeatedly outlined by the G10 commissioners, the ACC and the Pac-12—the automatic qualifiers, the calendar, the distribution of income—were either performative or frivolous.

“At some point,” the source said, “the bulls start to collapse.”