The 11 university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff authorized a continued evaluation of a proposed 12-team playoff on Tuesday that, if eventually adopted, could still be another five years away.
While far from an approval of the proposal, the move by the CFP board of managers was a necessary step to determine the feasibility of tripling the size of the playoff field.
"The four-team playoff has been a great success and I'm confident it will remain a success," said Mark Keenum, the Mississippi State president and CFP board chairman. "Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to explore options to make it even better by increasing the number of schools that participate in it."
The 12-team proposal was presented to the presidents and chancellors after the 11-person panel that manages the postseason system -- 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick -- last week had its first meeting with everyone together in person.
Keenum said the next step is a summer review phase that will "engage other important voices," including athletes, campus leaders and coaches.
The proposal doesn't address when a new format or any expansion could be implemented. The earliest possibility is 2023 if everything falls into place. It could as be as late as the 2026 season after the current media rights contract with ESPN expires, along with some contractual considerations with bowl games, including those that are part of the New Year's Six.
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey issued a bit of a caution when asked about how soon a new playoff could be up and running.
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"I would temper my expectations, and never say never, but we've got an opportunity to dig deeper as a group," Sankey said. "Those answers are going to come. There were decisions made back in 2012, 2013, 2014 that guide us for 12 years. That's reality. Can that change? I don't know."
The detailed proposal for a 12-team playoff was developed over two years by four members of the CFP management committee: Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, Sankey and Swarbrick.
Keenum said the meeting Tuesday made him aware of numerous legal matters that have to be taken into consideration, along with the extensive feedback from others.
"We have bowl partnerships with our six playoff bowls, every conference has affiliations with its own set of bowls and there are contracts that are in place already," Keenum said. "We're just past halfway under our current 12-year contract. What are all the legal issues that have to be addressed from that standpoint? We have a media partner right now, ESPN, and so ... how does this impact that relationship with that particular provider, not only for the balance of the contract, but beyond."
Those are answers the presidents and chancellors don't have, and still might be trying to get when they are next scheduled to meet as a group Sept. 28.
"We're going to take some time and we're going to give them opportunities to bring more facts, bring more information to the table so we can be better informed on what to do, and when to do it, if we decide to make any changes under the current highly successful playoff format that we have," Keenum said.