CFP leaders set to approve new ESPN extension, revenue split; expansion not yet finalized

The 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame are expected on Friday to sign off on key details that move the sport one step closer to the next iteration of the College Football Playoff, several sources briefed on the approval process told The Athletic. The agreement is a precursor to approving ESPN’s six-year, $7.8 billion extension that runs through the 2031-32 season.

After months of discussions, the leagues this week finally agreed to a new revenue model in which the Big Ten and SEC will receive nearly double the share of CFP revenue as the ACC and Big 12, beginning with the start of the next contract in 2026.

However, other key details — most notably whether the field will expand from 12 teams to 14 and whether the “Power 2” will receive more automatic berths than the other leagues — are not expected to be finalized on Friday. Expansion decisions can be made separate from the ESPN deal because the network is unwilling to pay more money for additional first-round games, according to executives briefed on the negotiations.

The parties are instead expected to sign a framework that includes certain protections for everyone if the field expands beyond 12. There had been momentum for a 14-team field in recent weeks, but in a television interview Thursday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey suggested there’s not agreement among the group yet to expand.

“People have talked about 12 and 14,” Sankey said on SEC Network. “Let’s set those maybe as bookends to the conversation, put them on the shelf, where bookends belong, for a moment, get this 12 thing right, get it locked in, and then we’ll go forward.”

Multiple sources briefed on the revenue model confirmed the new breakdown to be roughly 29 percent annually for both the Big Ten and SEC (more than $21 million per school), 17 percent for the ACC (around $13 million each), 15 percent for the Big 12 ($12 million each) and 9 percent for the Group of 5 conferences collectively (around $1.8 million per school). The remainder goes to independents, including more than $12 million for Notre Dame, and the Football Championship Subdivision. There is an additional performance bonus available only to independents for making the CFP field.

The new deal is also expected to include a look-in clause in 2028, allowing the parties to potentially reshape the agreement based on performance or further conference realignment.

While every conference and team will receive more money in 2026 than they do under the current contract, this new revenue split represents a dramatic change. Since the creation of the CFP, the power conferences have roughly equally split 80 percent of the pot.

The new agreement further establishes the Big Ten and SEC’s financial advantage over the rest of the FBS, including the other Power 4 conferences in the ACC and Big 12. The Big Ten and SEC already earn tens of millions more annually than the other two through their new conference TV contracts. This CFP deal adds tens of millions more to the difference, and the Big Ten and SEC secured it by using their leverage as the leagues home to most of the CFP participants to date.

The Group of 5 conferences have privately expressed some frustration with this agreement, seeing only a slight increase in their payout and the removal of a performance bonus for qualifying. G5 commissioners held a call with each other earlier this week about the situation. But they also understand they don’t have much leverage and it’s better to be in the fold than outside of it. They’ve got a spot in the field.

The terms of the ESPN deal have been set for some time, according to executives, but the conferences had delayed approving it due to a lack of clarity over the structure of the event once the current contract expires in two years. The clock was ticking because ESPN’s deal includes the rights to the four on-campus first-round games that will be played this December and next as part of the new 12-team bracket. The CFP met with numerous potential media partners during recent negotiations, but no other network made a bid for any games.

Further discussions are needed for expansion and what it could look like. Multiple 14-team models have been discussed. In one model, the so-called “3-3-2-2-1” format, the Big Ten and SEC would receive three automatic berths, compared to two for the ACC and Big 12 and one for the Group of 5, along with three at-large spots. However, other options and a more straightforward “5+9” model (five automatic qualifiers, nine at-larges) remain a possibility as well. Among the protections in the framework expected to be signed Friday include a threshold Notre Dame would need to meet to make a 14-team field, depending on how many at-large spots are available.

The idea of the Big Ten and SEC automatically receiving both byes in a 14-team model was met with backlash and is not likely to be included in a 14-team field.

College football has yet to experience a 12-team playoff, but the sport is now one step closer to agreeing on an even larger field, as revenue continues to consolidate around two conferences.

— The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand, Scott Dochterman and Seth Emerson contributed reporting.

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)

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