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College Football Playoff

College Football Playoff
College Football Playoff logo
In operation 2014–present
Preceded by BCS (19982013)
Bowl Alliance (19951997)
Bowl Coalition (19921994)
Number of playoff games 3 (2 semifinal games, 1 championship game)
Championship trophy College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy
Television partner(s) ESPN (2014–25)
Most playoff appearances Alabama (1), Florida State (1), Ohio State (1), Oregon (1)
Most playoff wins Ohio State (2)
Most playoff championships Ohio State (1)
Conference with most appearances ACC (1), Big Ten (1), Pac-12 (1), SEC (1)
Conference with most game wins Big Ten (2)
Conference with most championships Big Ten (1)
Last championship game 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship
Current champion Ohio State
Executive director Bill Hancock
Website Official website

The College Football Playoff (CFP) is a postseason tournament in American college football for the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The playoff began in the 2014 NCAA Division I FBS football season.[1] Four teams play in two semifinal games, and the winners advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship.[2] Six bowl games — the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl[3] — rotate as hosts for the semifinal bowl games. The rotation is set on a three-year cycle with the following pairings: Rose/Sugar, Orange/Cotton, and Fiesta/Peach. The two semifinal bowls and the other four top-tier bowls are marketed as the "New Year's Six",[4] with three bowls played per day, typically on consecutive days that include New Year's Day.[2]

The championship game is played on the first Monday that is six or more days after the semifinals.[5] The game's venue is selected based on bids submitted by cities, similar to the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four, with AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas hosting the first title game in 2015.[6] The winner is awarded the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. Officials wanted a new trophy that was unconnected with the previous championship systems (like the AFCA "crystal football" trophy which had been regularly presented after the championship game since the 1990s).[7]

Unlike FBS college football's title system used from 1998 to 2013, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the new format does not use computer rankings or polls to select the participants. Rather, a 13-member committee selects and seeds the teams.[8] The playoff system is the first time the top-level NCAA football championship has had a bracket competition. The new format is a Plus-One system, an idea which became popular as an alternative to the BCS after the 2003 and 2004 seasons ended in controversy.[9][10]

The television broadcast rights to the playoff games are owned by ESPN through at least the 2025 season.[11] The network reportedly paid $7.3 billion overall for the 12-year TV rights.[12] Ohio State won the first college football playoff defeating Oregon 42-20.

The College Football Playoff is not an officially sanctioned championship event by the NCAA, the sport's governing body. Because of this, Division I FBS football is the only NCAA sport in which a yearly champion is not determined by an NCAA-sanctioned championship event and therefore an official NCAA National Championship is not given.[citation needed]

Selection committee

The first College Football Playoff selection committee was announced on October 16, 2013. The group consists of 13 members who generally serve three-year terms, although some initial selections will serve terms both shorter and longer than three years "to achieve a rotation" of members.[13][14]

The current members of the selection committee are:[13][15]

Member Position Conference affiliation[a] Term expires
Long, JeffJeff Long (chairman) Arkansas athletic director SEC February 2018
Alvarez, BarryBarry Alvarez Wisconsin athletic director Big Ten February 2017
Gould, Michael C.Michael C. Gould Former Air Force Academy superintendent N/A February 2016
Haden, PatPat Haden USC athletic director Pac-12 February 2016
Hocutt, KirbyKirby Hocutt Texas Tech athletic director Big 12 February 2017
Jernstedt, TomTom Jernstedt Former NCAA executive vice president N/A February 2018
Johnson, BobbyBobby Johnson Former Vanderbilt head coach N/A February 2017
Osborne, TomTom Osborne Former Nebraska coach and athletic director Big Ten/Big 12 February 2016
Radakovich, DanDan Radakovich Clemson athletic director ACC February 2018
Rice, CondoleezzaCondoleezza Rice Former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford provost N/A February 2017
Tranghese, MikeMike Tranghese Former Big East commissioner The American February 2016
Wieberg, SteveSteve Wieberg Former USA Today reporter N/A February 2018
Willingham, TyroneTyrone Willingham Former Stanford / Notre Dame / Washington head coach N/A February 2018
  1. ^ Current or former, athletic department administration only.

The committee members include one current athletic director from each of the five "major" conferences—ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC—also known as the Power Five conferences.[16][17] Other members are former coaches, players, athletic directors, and administrators, plus a retired member of the media. The goal was for the panel to consist proportionally of current "Power Five" athletic directors, former coaches, and a third group of other voters,[16] excluding current conference commissioners, coaches, and media members.[18] During the selection process, organizers said they wanted the committee to be geographically balanced.[19] Conference commissioners submitted lists totaling more than 100 names from which to select the final committee members.[20][21]

The selection of Condoleezza Rice, a former U.S. Secretary of State and Stanford University provost, was met with some backlash within the sport and the media. Critics questioned her qualifications, citing lack of football experience and gender.[22][23]

Past members

Member Position Conference affiliation[a] Season(s) Replaced by
Luck, OliverOliver Luck[b] Former West Virginia athletic director Big 12 2014 Kirby Hocutt
Manning, ArchieArchie Manning[c] Former NFL and Ole Miss quarterback N/A 2014 Bobby Johnson
  1. ^ Current or former, athletic department administration only.


The committee picks four teams for the playoff and seeds them, and selects the pairings in the other four bowl games (subject to certain restrictions and tie-ins). The group releases its top 25 rankings weekly on Tuesdays.[27] During the 2014 season, it met and released rankings seven times, though it will likely meet only six times in 2015 due to the season calendar being a week shorter.[25] The group, which meets at the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine, Texas,[28] reportedly meets in person up to 10 total times a year.[21]

A team's strength of schedule is one of the most pertinent considerations for the committee in making its selections.[29] Other factors that the committee weighs are conference championships, team records, and head-to-head results,[5] plus other points such as injuries and weather.[30] Unlike the BCS system, the AP Poll, Coaches' Poll, Harris Poll, and computer rankings are not used to make the selections.[8][16] Advanced statistics and metrics from ESPN are expected to be submitted to the committee, though like other analytics, they have no formal role in the decision.[31] Committee members are not required to attend games.[28]

Long said the panel considered less frequent rankings, but ultimately decided on a weekly release. "That's what the fans have become accustomed to, and we felt it would leave a void in college football without a ranking for several weeks," he said. Long also noted: "Early on there was some talk that we would go into a room at the end of the season and come out with a top four, but that didn't last long."[32] In analyzing this change in thinking, Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated commented: "The whole point of the selection committee was to replace the simplistic horse-race nature of Top 25 polls — where teams only move up if someone above them loses — with a more deliberative evaluation method. Now the playoff folks are going to try to do both."[33] Addressing the "pecking order" nature of traditional polls, George Schrodeder of USA Today wrote that "if it actually works as intended, we could see volatile swings" from week to week, with lower-ranked teams moving ahead of higher-ranked teams without either team losing (a rarity in traditional polls). Both Long and Bill Hancock, the CFP executive director, say they expect that to happen.[34]

The committee's voting method uses multiple ballots, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament selection process. From a large initial pool of teams, the group takes numerous votes on successive tiers of teams, considering six at a time and coming to a consensus on how they should be ranked, then repeating the process with the next tier of teams. Discussion and debate happens at each voting step. All votes are by secret ballot, and committee members do not make their ballots public.[32] Each week's ranking process begins anew, with no weight given to the previous week's selections.[34]

Committee members who are currently employed or financially compensated by a school, or have family members who have a current financial relationship (which includes football players), are not allowed to vote for that school. During deliberations about a team's selection, members with such a conflict of interest cannot be present, but can answer factual questions about the institution.[32] All committee members have past ties to certain NCAA institutions,[28] but the committee decided to ignore those ties in the recusal requirements. "We just boiled it down to where we felt this group was fit to its high integrity and would differentiate from those past relationships," Long said.[32] Some football writers, like Dodd and Mark Schlabach, have said the recusal arrangement isn't transparent or objective, suggesting that members' alma maters and former coaching jobs should be considered disqualifying conflicts of interest.[35][36]

Impact on scheduling

"Strength of schedule will become such an important factor ... that if you want to be under consideration, you need to have a more meaningful schedule than perhaps you've had in previous years."

Tom Jernstedt, selection committee member[37]

Due to the increased emphasis on strength of schedule under the new playoff system, teams have considered playing more challenging opponents during the non-conference portion of their schedules. Some teams have traditionally played three or four "weak" non-conference opponents, but wins against such low-level competition are unlikely to impress the committee. For teams on the cusp of making the playoff four, "I think one of the first things the committee will look at is strength of schedule," said selector Oliver Luck.[38]

Teams in the Big 12 and Pac-12 play nine conference games on their 12-game schedules, and so only have flexibility in choosing their opponents in the three non-league games. (Conference opponents cannot be replaced with tougher competition.) Some programs are opting to increase their national media exposure by scheduling high-profile matchups at neutral sites and on weeknights, garnering primetime TV exclusivity.[39][40] The Big Ten plays eight league games in 2014 and 2015 but will move to a nine-game league schedule in 2016.[41]

In response to the new playoff system, the Southeastern Conference considered increasing its conference schedule from eight to nine games, with Alabama coach Nick Saban a vocal proponent.[42] According to Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News, "The prevailing opinion among SEC athletics directors: The SEC is difficult enough that there's no need for a ninth game."[43] Some in the conference, like Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin, opined that a nine-game SEC schedule would result in more teams with two losses, which would be less attractive to selectors comparing SEC teams to others with better records nationwide. Commissioner Mike Slive and Vanderbilt AD David Williams, among others, supported a stronger out-of-league schedule, which would likely impress the committee.[43][44] In April 2014, the league voted to mandate that all SEC teams must play a Power Five foe (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, or independent Notre Dame) in its non-conference slate beginning in 2016. Slive noted this rule "gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking".[42] In 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, one team played two opponents from the Power Five, nine of the 14 teams played one Power Five conference opponent and three lower-level opponents (including one FCS school), and four teams did not face a Power Five foe.[39]

The ACC, whose teams also play eight conference games (plus Notre Dame at least once every three years), also considered moving to a nine-game conference schedule. However, the league opted to stay with the eight-plus-Notre Dame model, stipulating instead that teams would have to play one Power Five school in their non-league slates beginning in 2017, which could include other ACC schools being considered "non-conference" for this purpose; the Notre Dame game would also fill the requirement,[45] as will games against another FBS independent, BYU.[46] Despite the push to increase schedule strength, some ACC coaches preferred the scheduling flexibility available with fewer permanent fixtures on a team's slate.[47] Opinion was split among league athletic directors on moving to a nine-game schedule prior to the vote.[48] An SEC expansion to a nine-game schedule would limit the ACC's opportunities to play Power Five non-conference opponents.[49]

Bowl selections

The College Football Playoff uses a four-team bracket to determine the national champion. Six bowl games rotate as hosts for the semifinal games. The two-bowl rotation is set on a three-year cycle with the following pairings: Rose/Sugar, Orange/Cotton, and Fiesta/Peach. The selection committee seeds and pair the top four teams, plus assigns teams to the at-large bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach) in years when they do not host semifinals.[50]

The four-team format pits the No. 1-ranked team against No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3. The selection committee seeds the two semifinal games, placing the top-seeded team at the closest site to prevent it from playing in a "road" environment. There are no limits on the number of teams per conference, a change from previous BCS rules.[2] However, some non-semifinal bowl selections are based on conference tie-ins, similarly to the BCS's automatic qualifier berths.[51] A team from the mid-major "Group of Five" conferences is guaranteed a spot in one of the six bowls.[52]

In years when the bowls are not part of the playoff bracket, the highest-ranked non-playoff teams from the following conferences or groups are selected as follows:[53]

Additional selection criteria
  • The remaining five at-large bids are determined by committee rankings.[53]
  • If the Big Ten or SEC champion is available for a non-playoff bowl in a year when the Rose and Sugar Bowls are hosting semifinals, that team appears in either the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, or Peach Bowl, but not the Orange Bowl.[53]
  • In the Orange Bowl, the SEC and Big Ten are guaranteed at least three appearances during the eight non-playoff years, while Notre Dame can only appear a maximum of twice.[54]
  • In non-playoff years, if the Orange Bowl matchup creates a regular-season rematch for the ACC representative, the bowl may choose to "skip over" the prescribed opponent from the SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame group and select the next highest-ranked team from the group. The team that was rejected would be placed in one of the three at-large bowls, if it meets ranking standards.[55]
  • In years when the Orange Bowl is a national semifinal, the ACC champion plays in the Fiesta or Peach bowls if it is not selected for the playoff.[56]
  • In choosing the pairings for the four non-playoff bowls, the committee tries to create "the most compelling matchups possible", while taking into account geography and team rematches from both the regular season and recent bowls.[57]

History and schedule

Championship game

Cities around the country bid to host each year's championship game and the playoff group's leaders make a selection from those proposals, in a similar fashion to other large sporting events, such as the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four. Officials say the championship game will be held in a different city each year, and that bids must propose host stadiums with a capacity of at least 65,000 spectators.[58] Under the system, cities cannot host both a semifinal game and the title game in the same year.[59] AT&T Stadium, an NFL stadium in Arlington, Texas, was chosen to host the first game in January 2015.[6]

Four cities submitted bids for the 2016 game: Glendale (University of Phoenix Stadium), Jacksonville (EverBank Field), New Orleans (Mercedes-Benz Superdome), and Tampa (Raymond James Stadium); and six metropolitan areas vied for the 2017 game: the San Francisco Bay Area (Levi's Stadium), Minneapolis (New Minnesota Stadium), San Antonio (Alamodome), Miami Gardens (Sun Life Stadium), Jacksonville, and Tampa.[58][60] Host selections were announced in December 2013 with Glendale (University of Phoenix Stadium) being awarded the 2016 title game and Tampa (Raymond James Stadium) winning the bid for 2017.

Future sites

On May 27, 2015, CFP announced the bidding cities to host the Monday championship games in 2018, 2019 and 2020:

  • January 8, 2018 – Atlanta, Bay Area (Santa Clara), Houston, South Florida,
  • January 7, 2019 – Bay Area (Santa Clara), Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans, San Antonio
  • January 13, 2020 – Bay Area (Santa Clara), Charlotte, Houston, Minnesota, New Orleans, San Antonio

The three host communities will be chosen in the fall of 2015.

CFP Champions

Year Champions Runner-up Score
2015 Ohio State Oregon 42–20


Two of six bowl games rotate as hosts for the semifinal games.

Year Game one Game two Bowls
2015 Oregon 59 – Florida State 20 Ohio State 42 – Alabama 35 Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl
2016 Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl
2017 Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl

Television ratings

The inaugural College Football Playoff games in January 2015 generated larger ratings than previous BCS games. The 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship had an 18.9 Nielsen rating[61] and was watched by approximately 33.4 million people, the largest broadcast audience of all time on American cable television (non-broadcast), according to AdWeek. That was a 31 percent audience increase over the previous year's championship game and a 22 percent increase over the BCS title game's best rating on cable (a 16.1 rating in 2011).[62] The semifinal games, the 2015 Rose Bowl and 2015 Sugar Bowl, saw 28.16 million and 28.27 million viewers, respectively.[63] According to ESPN, these games also set (and briefly held) all-time records for cable TV viewership.[64]

The semifinal games for the 2015 and 2016 seasons are scheduled for New Year's Eve and are expected to have lower ratings because the date isn't a federal holiday and has heavier competition for TV viewers.[65] Under the TV contracts with ESPN that predate the College Football Playoff, both the Rose and Sugar bowls are guaranteed exclusive TV time slots on January 1 (or January 2 if New Year's Day falls on a Sunday), regardless of whether they are hosting a semifinal game.[66] CFP commissioner Bill Hancock suggested this scheduling issue will "change the paradigm of what New Year's Eve is all about," opining that "if you're hosting a New Year's Eve party, you better have a bunch of televisions around."[67]


Playoff appearances by team

Appearances School W L Pct Games
1 Ohio State 2 0 1.000 Won 2015 Sugar Bowl
Won 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship
1 Oregon 1 1 .500 Won 2015 Rose Bowl
Lost 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship
1 Alabama 0 1 .000 Lost 2015 Sugar Bowl
1 Florida State 0 1 .000 Lost 2015 Rose Bowl

Playoff appearances by conference

Conference Appearances W L Pct # Schools School(s)
ACC 1 0 1 .000 1 Florida State (0–1)
Big Ten 1 2 0 1.000 1 Ohio State (2–0)
Pac-12 1 1 1 .500 1 Oregon (1–1)
SEC 1 0 1 .000 1 Alabama (0–1)

Non-playoff New Year's Six Bowl appearances by team

Appearances School W L Pct Games
1 Boise State 1 0 1.000 Won 2014 Fiesta Bowl
1 Georgia Tech 1 0 1.000 Won 2014 Orange Bowl
1 Michigan State 1 0 1.000 Won 2015 Cotton Bowl
1 TCU 1 0 1.000 Won 2014 Peach Bowl
1 Arizona 0 1 .000 Lost 2014 Fiesta Bowl
1 Baylor 0 1 .000 Lost 2015 Cotton Bowl
1 Mississippi State 0 1 .000 Lost 2014 Orange Bowl
1 Ole Miss 0 1 .000 Lost 2014 Peach Bowl

Non-playoff New Year's Six Bowl appearances by conference

Conference Appearances W L Pct # Schools School(s)
ACC 1 1 0 1.000 1 Georgia Tech (1–0)
Big Ten 1 1 0 1.000 1 Michigan State (1–0)
Big 12 2 1 1 .500 2 Baylor (0–1)
TCU (1–0)
MW 1 1 0 1.000 1 Boise State (1–0)
Pac-12 1 0 1 .000 1 Arizona (0–1)
SEC 2 0 2 .000 2 Mississippi State (0–1)
Ole Miss (0–1)


In 2012, ESPN reportedly paid about $7.3 billion over 12 years for broadcasting rights to all seven games, an average of about $608 million per year. That includes $215 million per year which was already committed to the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls,[12] plus $470–475 million annually for the rest of the playoff package.[68] By comparison, the most recent contract with the BCS had paid almost $2 billion over four years — $495 million per year for five games.[12]

The average revenue to the new playoff system over 12 years is to be about $500 million per year. After $125–150 million in expenses, the Power Five conferences split about 75 percent of the remaining money, for an approximate average payout of $250 million a year ($50 million per league) over the life of the contract. The "Group of Five" conferences gets around 25 percent, about $90 million a year ($18 million per league). Notre Dame receives around one percent, about $3.5-4 million, and other FBS independents get about 0.5 percent of the deal.[69][70]

Extra revenue goes to conferences in contracts with the Rose, Sugar, and Orange bowls, which split revenue 50/50 between their participating leagues.[69] In non-semifinal years, the Rose Bowl's TV revenue would be divided between the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences; likewise, the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl revenue to its participant conferences. When those bowls are semifinal games, the money is distributed by the playoff system to all FBS conferences.[12] ESPN has paid about $80 million a year each for the Rose and Sugar bowls over 12 years. The Orange Bowl deal is worth $55 million per year.[71] For example, in a non-semifinal year, the Big Ten could receive about $90 million (half of its $80 million Rose Bowl deal plus about $50 million from the playoff system).[69]

Conferences receive an additional $6 million each year for each team it places in the semifinals and $4 million for a team in one of the three at-large bowls; Notre Dame receives the same amount in either scenario. No additional money is awarded for reaching the championship game.[69]

The Power Five conferences and the "Group of Five" have not decided on their respective revenue-sharing formulas, though the SEC initially receives more revenue than the other four Power Five conferences due to its BCS success.[69][70] Reports say the money is to be divided based on several criteria such as "on-field success, teams' expenses, marketplace factors and academic performance of student-athletes."[72] The playoff system awards academic performance bonuses of $300,000 per school for meeting the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate standard of 930.[69] In a hypothetical 14-team conference, $4.2 million ($300,000 x 14) would be allocated to that league, and if only 12 of the 14 members meet the APR standard, then each of the 12 schools would receive $350,000 ($4.2 million / 12),[70] penalizing schools that fall below the threshold.[73]


Previous BCS commissioner Bill Hancock is the executive director of the playoff organization,[74] with former ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Michael Kelly as COO.[75] Like the BCS, the playoff system's management committee[76] consists of the conference commissioners from the 10 FBS conferences[77] and Notre Dame's athletic director.[20] The playoff system's headquarters is in Irving, Texas.[74]

The Board of Managers

The operations of CFP are controlled by the Board of Managers, who are presidents and chancellors of member universities of the playoff system. The eleven members have the authority to develop, review and approve annual budgets, policies and operating guidelines.

  • Rodney Bennett - President, University of Southern Mississippi (C-USA)
  • Anthony Frank - President, Colorado State University (Mountain West)
  • Burns Hargis – President, Oklahoma State University (Big 12)
  • Jack Hawkins – Chancellor, Troy University (Sun Belt)
  • Rev. John I. Jenkins – President, University of Notre Dame (Independent)
  • Mark Keenum - President, Mississippi State University (SEC)
  • Roderick McDavis - President, Ohio University (MAC)
  • Max Nikias - President, University of Southern California (Pac-12)
  • Harvey Perlman (chair) – Chancellor, University of Nebraska (Big Ten)
  • Donna E. Shalala – President, University of Miami (ACC)
  • Steadman Upham - President, University of Tulsa (American Athletic)

See also


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External links

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