Wednesday December 6, 2023

Up Next For College Football Playoffs: More Change, Money, And … Streaming?

  • The College Football Playoff remains in limbo as the final stages of realignment play out.
  • Streaming companies could buy future CFP media rights worth more than $2 billion.
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Two NCAA college football players reach for a pass.
Front Office Sports Today

NCAA Opens Door to Athlete Compensation

NCAA president Charlie Baker wrote to Division I schools with proposals that would loosen rules on athlete compensation.
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December 6, 2023 | Podcast
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When college football leaders met in August to discuss next year’s potential changes to the College Football Playoff’s format, the conference picture was simply too murky to make any decisions.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock said they needed to “wait until the dust settles.”

Since then, the ACC has added Cal, Stanford, and SMU, leaving just two Pac-12 remnants in Oregon State and Washington State — and an overwhelming sense that the Power 5 layout was shrinking to a Power 4.

But those moves weren’t enough for the CFP management committee to restart conversations about how teams will qualify for the playoff, according to Hancock. “We are still very much in the wait-and-see mode, and frankly, we don’t have to be in a big hurry,” he told Front Office Sports.

Hancock acknowledged a notion from some conference commissioners that the new 12-team CFP could move from its planned structure of six conference champions and six at-large bids to five and seven, respectively, but reiterated there is still no timeline for a decision.

This week, FOS detailed a proposed plan to create an unprecedented system of promotion and relegation involving Mountain West schools, among others.

Hancock wouldn’t speculate on whether OSU’s and WSU’s 2024 fates would be enough for CFP leaders to pick discussions back up.

CFP’s Media Demand

One thing that’s certain: The expanded CFP is going to bring in a lot more cash.

Currently, ESPN is reportedly paying an average of $470 million a year, and will carry the quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship games in 2024 and 2025. ESPN or another network could acquire the rights to the four first-round games on home campuses for the initial two years.

But the real windfall will come in 2026, when a new media rights deal will kick in, although Hancock said talks have only just begun. Early projections have the overall price tag for the 12-team playoff surpassing $2 billion, as FOS previously reported — though a source recently told FOS that number could be inflated in the current media landscape.

Sports media rights expert Lee Berke expects an expanded three-week playoff to make for a March Madness-like impact on college football. “The conferences are trying to anticipate what the networks will be looking for,” Berke, president and CEO of consulting company LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media, told FOS.

Streamers will absolutely be in play for at least some CFP rights. Hancock said he hasn’t sensed any opposition to selling rights to companies like Amazon or YouTube, although it would likely be a small number of the 11 games available.

“They’ll choose whatever can maximize their revenues,” said Berke, who agreed that CFP games could end up being exclusively streamed.

Pac-12 Thriving After Upending CFP

The main driver of the need to rework the expanded CFP’s structure has been the dissolution of the Pac-12, a conference that just so happens to have eight teams — all undefeated — currently ranked in the AP Top 25. 

That’s more than the SEC’s six ranked teams or any other league in the country heading into Week 4’s slate of games. In a 12-team playoff, that could easily result in multiple lucrative postseason bids — which begs the question: Do the Pac-12 schools regret breaking up?

“If they had played their cards right, they could have had all these teams to offer up to the networks,” said Berke.

Off the field, there’s the Coach Prime phenomenon at No. 19 Colorado — from TV ratings to ticket sales and even sunglasses — but the Buffaloes aren’t the only outgoing Pac-12 member to find financial success this season.

No. 8 Washington has surpassed 5,000 new season-ticket holders this fall, interim athletic director Erin O’Connell told FOS. 

Meanwhile, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 21 Washington State clash on Saturday, and the two remaining Pac-12 schools are putting on a brave face amid the uncertainty. “I was worried,” Oregon State senior associate athletic director for external operations Sara Elcano admitted. 

But the Beavers have seen season ticket sales rise 20% year-over-year to more than 16,000, which directly correlates with an uptick in athletic donations. During the recent exodus of Pac-12 schools, Elcano told FOS that OSU would see a boost in ticket sales for home games against a conference opponent after they announced they were leaving the Pac-12.

Even players are feeling the positive impacts of the Pac-12’s hot start. 

“If you’re playing well, then there’s more eyes on your games, more eyes on your school, and more people on your (social media) account, which drives up engagement,” UCLA’s Chase Griffin said to FOS. The quarterback has been a key leader in NIL with over 40 deals — despite serving in a reserve role since starting several games in 2020.

But for now, in its last year in its current form, the Pac-12 will attempt to send a team to the CFP for the first time since the 2016 season. Next year, there will be eight more coveted playoff slots available as the conference’s teams scatter across the country — and perhaps meet fiercer competition.

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