Sources: College Football Playoff leaders close to finalizing agreement for future

The College Football Playoff is inching closer to finalizing its agreement for the future.

Presidents in the ACC and Big 12 voted to authorize their commissioners to adopt the future framework related to a new CFP, including a new revenue model and concepts around a playoff format — all of which will be part of a new contract with ESPN. Those with knowledge of the discussions spoke to Yahoo Sports under condition of anonymity.

The two leagues were thought to be the most resistant to a deal. Their presidential vote is viewed as a significant hurdle crossed to reaching an agreement. The Big 12 and ACC votes were unanimous, sources told Yahoo Sports.

The CFP Management Committee, the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is expected to meet over the next few days in a gathering that should produce some finality on what’s been a long, dramatic march to the playoff’s future beginning in 2026. Each conference and Notre Dame will be asked to either commit, or not, to the new CFP framework.

The expectation, pending the approval from each conference presidential board, is that all 10 conferences will commit to, most notably, a new revenue-distribution model, parameters around a playoff format and new governance structure. Notre Dame is supportive of the framework, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.

As detailed in a Yahoo Sports story last Friday, a proposal for a new revenue-distribution model is heavily weighted toward the Big Ten and SEC, according to those briefed on the matter.

In the past structure, the five major conferences mostly split evenly 80% of the CFP’s $460 million in revenue. The new contract with ESPN is expected to be worth $1.3 billion annually starting in 2026.

In a proposal socialized with administrators over the last 10 days, the Big Ten and SEC would combine to earn about 58% of the CFP’s base distribution. The figure would greatly exceed the ACC and Big 12’s combined distribution number, which is expected to be around 32%. The remaining amount (roughly 10%) will be distributed to Notre Dame and the 64 Group of Five teams.

What will the College Football Playoff look like in the future? (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
What will the College Football Playoff look like in the future? (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The difference in distribution between the two sets of conferences — SEC/Big Ten and ACC/Big 12 — could exceed $300 million. The Power Two stand to earn a combined figure that should eclipse $700 million, far more than the ACC and Big 12’s number of around $400 million. Roughly $115 million is slotted for the Group of Five.

No school’s revenue will decrease as the CFP is expected to earn three times the amount it did in the four-team version. Major conference schools currently receive about $6 million in distribution from the CFP. The SEC and Big Ten schools will see their annual distribution triple if not quadruple into the low $20 million range. The Big 12 and ACC are set to see a doubling of their previous amounts. Notre Dame is expected to receive its own annual distribution that is expected to increase significantly from its current distribution.

According to the latest proposal, there is not expected to be a participation-distribution concept as part of the new revenue model — a change that leaders made to the original proposal circulated last week. The current model calls for participating teams to earn revenue by qualifying and then advancing through the field.

The CFP base revenue distribution model is largely based on historic success in the playoff over the previous decade. Considering future realignment moves, the SEC and Big Ten account for 72.5% of CFP participants. The SEC leads all conferences with 17 appearances in the four-team field when factoring in Oklahoma and Texas. The Big Ten is next at 12 when factoring in its four new schools. The ACC (7 teams) and Big 12 (2) follow.

The contract is expected to include a definitive “look-in” provision in 2028, where revenue distribution and format can be re-evaluated. The look-in provision can be triggered earlier by any conference realignment.

A playoff format is further from being settled, but the contract is expected to include several guaranteed protections related to a format. The champions of the four major conferences and the highest-ranked Group of Five champion will earn an automatic qualifying spot into any playoff. Notre Dame is expected to have its own protections related to a format.

Other details of the formula are expected to be finalized after the leagues reach an agreement with ESPN on the television deal, which will run through the 2031 playoff, according to the network’s own reporting. For 2024 and 2025, the format is set as a 5+7 12-team model, which grants automatic qualifying spots to the five highest-ranked champions and seven at-large spots to the next highest ranked teams.

Just like their heavy revenue share, the SEC and Big Ten are expected to hold significant weight in determining a future format. A variety of 14-team formats continue to circulate across the industry.

One in particular — a 5+9 14-team model — is gaining traction. That format mirrors the current 5+7 12-team format but features an additional two at-large spots. Presumably, that model would grant automatic berths to the five highest-ranked conference champions.

There still exists the possibility of multiple automatic qualifiers for individual leagues, including a format that grants three automatic qualifiers each to the SEC and Big Ten, two each to the ACC and Big 12 and one to the highest ranked Group of Five program, with three at-large spots — a 3-3-2-2-1+3 model.

There is a 2-2-1-1-1+7 model under consideration, too. It grants two auto berths each to the SEC and Big Ten, one each to the ACC and Big 12, one to the highest-ranked Group of Five, with seven at-large spots.

The concept of the Big Ten and SEC holding exclusive rights over the two first-round byes has received enough pushback that it has been tabled, as Yahoo Sports reported Friday.

The money is a more important matter than any format.

Revenue is more significant than ever. The major conferences and their members are gearing up for a future athlete compensation model. The concept — whether employment, revenue sharing or collective bargaining — necessitates extra cash flow to be put aside for players.

The leagues are also in jeopardy of owing billions of dollars in retroactive NIL pay and television distribution as result of several ongoing antitrust lawsuits.