Two months ago, college football could finally exhale. The drama regarding College Football Playoff expansion was over, at least for the moment. Not everyone was happy — far from it, in fact — but with a defined four years to go until the earliest expansion, there was plenty of time for the issues to sort themselves out.
The increasing reality: Four years might as well be the blink of an eye. The CFP’s next deadline looms in 30 months given an upcoming negotiation window with ESPN. Way in advance of that date, the network needs to know what exactly it will be bidding on.
By the time an expanded playoff potentially begins, the entire sport could be shaken up given ongoing court cases, the growing player empowerment movement and the shaky status of the NCAA itself in overseeing big-time college football.
All of it means the process toward expansion is about to get more — not less — complicated. A timeline that once looked broad now appears crunched.
Sources interviewed by CBS Sports may not agree on all the machinations for future expansion, but they almost unanimously came to the same conclusion: It’s becoming more difficult with each passing day.
“I think any image of smooth water ahead is simply a mirage,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
“If we can’t make decisions because of uncertainty,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey added, “we will never make decisions.”
When the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame formally voted 8-3 in favor of expansion on Jan. 10, the final count mattered little. The concept demanded unanimity. In voting against, the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 had unique concerns — mostly because a series of legal, financial and NCAA decisions before 2026 that could directly impact expansion.
By that year, when the current CFP contract expires, there is a growing likelihood players will either be directly compensated for their labor or at least have the power to collectively bargain. That alone could reshape the collegiate model. If players are professionalized, it’s easy to envision them sitting across the table with commissioners who oversee the CFP and having a say in expansion.