DALLAS — The ball is rolling toward expansion of the College Football Playoff, but administrators are asking for patience before the group makes a final decision.

The CFP’s Board of Mangers voted Tuesday to move forward with a feasibility study for a 12-team playoff, but administrators caution the playoff is not yet committed to breaking a 12-year contract agreement with its broadcast partner, ESPN, before the 2026 season. CFP executive director Bill Hancock previously said the earliest a 12-team format could replace the four-team field is 2023.

“I want to caution observers … to not rush to conclusions as to what our Board may decide,” said Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, chairman of the CFP Board of Managers. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who was part of a four-person group that developed the 12-team proposal, added Tuesday: “I would temper my expectations. You never say never, but we’ve got an opportunity to dig deeper as a group and those answers are going to come.”

The most powerful administrators in college athletics met Tuesday morning inside a hotel adjacent to the DFW International Airport to hear the 12-team proposal developed by a four-person working group. The decision to move forward with the plan and seek feedback from constituents was “unanimous” among the 11-person Board of Managers, said West Virginia University president Gordon Gee.

A decision on whether to formally approve the 12-team proposal will likely be made Sept. 28, when the Board is scheduled to meet again and review the findings of the feasibility study.

What could hold up expansion of the playoff within the next three years? “Legal matters,” Keenum said. Those legal issues are primarily tied to ESPN’s television deal for a four-team playoff that does not expire until the end of the 2025-26 postseason. Also up for discussion are agreements with bowl games, particularly the premier bowls in the playoff rotation through 2026 and sites of the national championship games, which are set through 2024.

The CFP’s Management Committee, which is comprised of the 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, has been tasked with leading the feasibility study this summer. They will also seek feedback from coaches and players across the country.

“I want them to do a thorough review and look at all the issues we’ve got to consider,” Keenum said. “Today was a very positive day. … I don’t think anyone in the room had a serious problem with the concept of a 12-team proposal, but the devil is in the details. We’ve got to get into the details before we can make an informed decision.”

The web of legal details could be hammered out over the next several months, but complex TV and bowl contracts might delay implementation of the new format until 2026 or later. Still, it’s clear the College Football Playoff’s decision-makers — from athletic directors to conference commissioners and school presidents and chancellors — are ready to approve the creation of a 12-team playoff whenever those issues are settled. A four-person working group presented the expansion proposal to the CFP’s management committee last week before providing a similar presentation, with open discussion, Tuesday to the Board of Managers, which is comprised of 11 school presidents and chancellors.

“The biggest question is timing and conversations with our media partners and bowl partners — all of that,” said Gee, a member of the Board of Managers. “There are so many different contractual arrangements that you have to work through. But, if you work through that, I think everyone is going to win. I’m a big believer in what the (working group) has done.”

The revelation that the CFP was considering expansion was dropped in late April, and a flurry of activity and decisions have been made since. The next few months, however, should be quiet as the CFP conducts its feasibility study on the 12-team format and the logistics of an expanded postseason schedule. It’s possible formal approval of the 12-team playoff – and other minute details such as ticket allocation for visiting teams for on-campus games — will come Sept. 28.

The current deal for a four-team playoff does not expire until after the 2025 season, but the prevailing assumption among those in the sport is ESPN is ready to rework the deal to pave the way for a 12-team playoff starting as soon as the 2023 season. The playoff’s administrators, however, are exercising caution. Many possibilities will be on the table through the summer, including waiting until the end of the current contract to implement expansion. Reworking agreements with bowls is also paramount.

How the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls fit into the playoff picture figure to dominate the system’s future as the powerful bowls could have the largest influence on game site rotations and where they fit in the quarterfinal and semifinal games. That assumption is based on the proposal that on-campus games will only be played in the first round, which would provide seven neutral-site opportunities, including the national championship. Sites for national championship games are set through 2024. One must also consider the New Year’s Six games and where they land in the playoff rotation. They also have separate deals with Power 5 conferences, and those premier bowls have more weight in the game. Remember, the Rose Bowl prefers its game to be played New Year’s Day, with traditional matchups between the Pac-12 and Big Ten, and its Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day.

The CFP’s four-person working group was formed two years ago to evaluate the future of the playoff. The group consists of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Sankey, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.

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