|College Football Playoff|
|Preceded by||Bowl Championship Series (1998-2013)|
Bowl Alliance (1995-1997)
Bowl Coalition (1992-1994)
|Number of playoff games||3 (championship game, 2 semifinal games)|
|Championship trophy||College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy|
|Television partner(s)||ESPN (2014-present)|
|Most playoff appearances||Alabama, Clemson (6)|
|Most playoff wins||Alabama (8)|
|Most playoff championships||Alabama (3)|
|Conference with most appearances||SEC, ACC (8)|
|Conference with most game wins||SEC (11)|
|Conference with most championships||SEC (4)|
|Last championship game||2021 College Football Playoff National Championship|
|Executive director||Bill Hancock|
The College Football Playoff (CFP) is an annual postseason knockout invitational tournament to determine a national champion for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the highest level of college football competition in the United States. Four teams play in two semifinal games, and the winner of each semifinal advances to the College Football Playoff National Championship game.
The inaugural tournament was held at the end of the 2014 NCAA Division I FBS football season and was won by the Ohio State Buckeyes, who defeated the Oregon Ducks in the championship game. After the first season, the playoff was dominated for several years by two teams, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers; they faced each other in the championship game three times, and in one other year they met in the semifinals.
A 13-member committee selects and seeds the four teams to take part in the CFP. This system differs from the use of polls or computer rankings that had previously been used to select the participants for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the title system used in FBS from 1998 to 2013. The current 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.
The two semifinal games rotate among six major bowl games, referred to as the New Year's Six: the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl. In addition to the four teams selected for the playoff, the final CFP rankings are used to help determine the participants for the other four New Year's Six bowls that are not hosting the semifinals that year. The semifinal games, which take place on the same day, are usually scheduled on Friday, Saturday, or Monday close to or on New Years Day, with flexibility allowed to ensure that they are not in conflict with other bowl games traditionally held on New Year's Day. The National Championship game is then played on the first Monday that is six or more days after the semifinals.
The venue of the championship game is selected based on bids submitted by cities, similar to the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four. The winner of the game is awarded the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy. Playoff officials commissioned a new trophy that was unconnected with the previous championship systems, such as the AFCA "crystal football" trophy which had been regularly presented after the championship game since the 1990s (as the AFCA was contractually obligated to name the BCS champion as the Coaches Poll champion).
As the NCAA does not organize or award an official national championship for FBS football (instead merely recognizing the decisions made by any of a number of independent major championship selectors), the CFP's inception in 2014 marked the first time a major national championship selector in college football was able to determine their champion by using a bracket competition.
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 served terms both shorter and longer than three years "to achieve a rotation" of members.
|Member||Position||Conference affiliation[a]||Recusals[b]||Term expires|
|Gary Barta (chair)||Iowa athletic director||Big Ten||Iowa||February 2022|
|Paola Boivin||Former Arizona Republic reporter, current Arizona State faculty member||N/A||Arizona State||February 2021|
|Tom Burman||Wyoming athletic director||MW||Wyoming||February 2023|
|Joe Castiglione||Oklahoma athletic director||Big 12||Oklahoma||February 2021|
|Rick George||Colorado athletic director||Pac-12||Colorado||February 2023|
|Ken Hatfield||Former Rice, Air Force, Arkansas and Clemson head coach||N/A||None||February 2021|
|Ronnie Lott||Former USC defensive back||N/A||None||February 2021|
|Terry Mohajir||Arkansas State athletic director||Sun Belt||Arkansas State||February 2022|
|Ray Odierno||Former Army Chief of Staff||N/A||NC State||February 2022|
|R. C. Slocum||Former Texas A&M coach and interim athletic director||SEC||Arizona State, Texas A&M||February 2022|
|Todd Stansbury||Georgia Tech athletic director||ACC||Georgia Tech||February 2021|
|Scott Stricklin||Florida athletic director||SEC||Florida, Mississippi State||February 2021|
|John Urschel||Former Penn State offensive tackle||N/A||None||February 2023|
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. 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, excluding current conference commissioners, coaches, and media members. During the selection process, organizers said they wanted the committee to be geographically balanced. Conference commissioners submitted lists totaling more than 100 names from which to select the final committee members.
|Member||Position||Conference affiliation[a]||Season(s)||Replaced by|
|Barry Alvarez||Wisconsin athletic director and former head coach||Big Ten||2014-16||Gene Smith|
|Frank Beamer||Former Virginia Tech head coach||ACC[b]||2017-20||John Urschel|
|Jeff Bower||Former Southern Miss head coach||N/A||2016-19||Terry Mohajir|
|Lloyd Carr||Former Michigan coach||Big Ten||--[c]||Chris Howard|
|Herb Deromedi||Former Central Michigan head coach||N/A||2016-19||Ray Odierno|
|Michael C. Gould||Former Air Force Academy superintendent||N/A||2014-15||Jeff Bower|
|Pat Haden||Former USC athletic director; former USC quarterback||Pac-12||2014[d]||Rob Mullens|
|Kirby Hocutt||Texas Tech athletic director; former Kansas State linebacker||Big 12||2015-18||Joe Castiglione|
|Christopher B. Howard||Robert Morris University President; former Air Force running back||N/A||2017-20||Tom Burman|
|Tom Jernstedt||Former NCAA executive vice president; former Oregon quarterback||N/A||2014-18||Ronnie Lott|
|Bobby Johnson||Former Vanderbilt head coach; former Clemson player||N/A||2015-19||R. C. Slocum|
|Oliver Luck||Former West Virginia athletic director||Big 12||2014[e]||Kirby Hocutt|
|Jeff Long||Former Arkansas athletic director||SEC||2014-18||Scott Stricklin|
|Archie Manning||Former NFL and Ole Miss quarterback||N/A||--[f]||Bobby Johnson|
|Rob Mullens||Oregon athletic director||Pac-12||2017-20||Rick George|
|Tom Osborne||Former Nebraska coach and athletic director||Big Ten/Big 12||2014-15||Lloyd Carr|
|Dan Radakovich||Clemson athletic director||ACC||2014-18||Todd Stansbury|
|Condoleezza Rice||Former United States Secretary of State||N/A||2014-16||Frank Beamer|
|Gene Smith||Ohio State athletic director||Big Ten||2017-19||Gary Barta|
|Mike Tranghese||Former Big East commissioner||The American||2014-15||Herb Deromedi|
|Steve Wieberg||Former USA Today reporter||N/A||2014-18||Paola Boivin|
|Tyrone Willingham||Former Stanford, Notre Dame and Washington head coach||N/A||2014-18||Ken Hatfield|
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 gender and lack of football experience.
The committee releases its top 25 rankings weekly on Tuesdays in the second half of the regular season. The top four teams are seeded in that order for the playoff. During the season, the committee meets and releases rankings six or seven times, depending on the length of the season (the number of games is consistent, but the number of weeks those games are played over can vary from year to year). The group, which meets at the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine, Texas, reportedly meets in person up to 10 total times a year.
A team's strength of schedule is one of the most pertinent considerations for the committee in making its selections. Other factors that the committee weighs are conference championships, team records, and head-to-head results, plus other points such as injuries and weather. Unlike the BCS system, the AP Poll, Coaches' Poll, and the Harris Poll, computer rankings are not used to make the selections. Advanced statistics and metrics are expected to be submitted to the committee, though like other analytics, they have no formal role in the decision. Committee members are not required to attend games.
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." 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." 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.
The committee's voting method uses multiple ballots, similar to the NCAA basketball tournament selection process and the entire process is facilitated through custom software developed by Code Authority in Frisco, Texas. 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. Each week's ranking process begins anew, with no weight given to the previous week's selections. In this fashion, the committee selects the four teams to compete for the national championship.
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. All committee members have past ties to certain NCAA institutions, 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. Some football writers, like Dennis 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.
To date, 24 of the 28 teams selected for the College Football Playoff have been undefeated or 1-loss conference champions from Power Five conferences. Two 1-loss Power Five teams have been selected without playing in their conference championship game, while one other has been selected after losing its conference championship game. One undefeated independent team has been selected. No teams from the "Group of Five" conferences or with two or more losses have been selected.
|P5 - Champion||P5 - Other 0/1-loss teams||G5 - Ranked Champion||P5 - Champion||P5 - Other 0/1-loss teams||G5 - Ranked Champion|
|2014-15||1 Alabama (12-1)
2 Oregon (12-1)
3 Florida State (13-0)
4 Ohio State (12-1)
|5 Baylor (11-1)
6 TCU (11-1)
|20 Boise State (11-2)|
|2015-16||1 Clemson (13-0)
2 Alabama (12-1)
3 Michigan State (12-1)
4 Oklahoma (11-1)
|6 Stanford (11-2)||5 Iowa (12-1)
7 Ohio State (11-1)
|18 Houston (12-1)|
|2016-17||1 Alabama (13-0)
2 Clemson (12-1)
4 Washington (12-1)
|3 Ohio State (11-1)||5 Penn State (11-2)
7 Oklahoma (10-2)
|15 Western Michigan (13-0) |
24 Temple (10-3)
|2017-18||1 Clemson (12-1)
2 Oklahoma (12-1)
3 Georgia (12-1)
|4 Alabama (11-1)||5 Ohio State (11-2)
8 USC (11-2)
|6 Wisconsin (12-1)||12 UCF (12-0)|
|2018-19||1 Alabama (13-0)
2 Clemson (13-0)
4 Oklahoma (12-1)
|3 Notre Dame (12-0)||6 Ohio State (12-1)
9 Washington (10-3)
|8 UCF (12-0) |
21 Fresno State (10-2)
|2019-20||1 LSU (13-0)
2 Ohio State (13-0)
3 Clemson (13-0)
4 Oklahoma (12-1)
|6 Oregon (11-2)||17 Memphis (12-1) |
19 Boise State (12-1)
20 Appalachian State (12-1)
|2020-21||1 Alabama (11-0)
2 Clemson (10-1)
3 Ohio State (6-0)
|4 Notre Dame (10-1)||6 Oklahoma (8-2)
25 Oregon (4-2)
|5 Texas A&M (8-1)
11 Indiana (6-1)
17 USC (5-1)
|8 Cincinnati (9-0) |
12 Coastal Carolina (11-0)
19 Louisiana (9-1)
22 San Jose State (7-0)
Due to the increased emphasis on strength of schedule, 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.
Teams in the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 play nine conference games on their twelve-game schedules and thus only have flexibility in choosing their opponents for the three non-league games. Some programs are opting to increase their schedule strength by scheduling high-profile matchups at neutral sites and on weeknights, garnering primetime TV exclusivity.
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. 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." 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. Commissioner Michael Slive and Vanderbilt AD David Williams, among others, supported a stronger out-of-league schedule, which would likely impress the committee. 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". In 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, one team (Georgia) 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. In the spring of 2015, the SEC decided to count games played against Independents BYU and Army toward its Power Five requirement.
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 would include the Notre Dame game or other ACC schools, as will games against another FBS independent, BYU. Despite the push to increase schedule strength, some ACC coaches preferred the scheduling flexibility available with fewer permanent fixtures on a team's slate. Opinion was split among league athletic directors on moving to a nine-game schedule prior to the vote. An SEC expansion to a nine-game schedule would limit the ACC's opportunities to play Power Five non-conference opponents.
The College Football Playoff uses a four-team knockout bracket to determine the national champion. Six bowl games--the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl- rotate as hosts for the semifinals. 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. Per contract, the Rose & Sugar Bowls are always on New Year's Day. Originally 3 games were held on New Year's Eve with the other 3 on New Year's Day, however disappointing TV ratings in the first rotation led to games originally planned for New Year's Eve be moved to as early as December 27 in some years. The selection committee seeds the top four teams, and also assigns teams to the at-large bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach) in years when they do not host semifinals.
The four-team format pits the No. 1-ranked team against No. 4 and No. 2 against No. 3. The seeding determines the semifinal bowl game assigned to each matchup; the No. 1 seed chooses its bowl game 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. However, some non-semifinal bowl selections still maintain their conference tie-ins, similarly to the BCS's automatic qualifier berths. A team from one of the "Group of Five" conferences is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year's Six bowls.
|2014-15||Rose Bowl||2 Oregon (12-1)||3 Florida State (13-0)||59-20||91,322||Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California|
|Sugar Bowl||4 Ohio State (12-1)||1 Alabama (12-1)||42-35||74,682||Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana|
|2015-16||Orange Bowl||1 Clemson (13-0)||4 Oklahoma (11-1)||37-17||67,615||Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida|
|Cotton Bowl||2 Alabama (12-1)||3 Michigan State (12-1)||38-0||82,812||AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas|
|2016-17||Peach Bowl||1 Alabama (13-0)||4 Washington (12-1)||24-7||75,996||Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia|
|Fiesta Bowl||2 Clemson (12-1)||3 Ohio State (11-1)||31-0||71,279||University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona|
|2017-18||Rose Bowl||3 Georgia (12-1)||2 Oklahoma (12-1)||54-48 2OT||92,844||Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California|
|Sugar Bowl||4 Alabama (11-1)||1 Clemson (12-1)||24-6||72,360||Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana|
|2018-19||Orange Bowl||1 Alabama (13-0)||4 Oklahoma (12-1)||45-34||66,203||Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida|
|Cotton Bowl||2 Clemson (13-0)||3 Notre Dame (12-0)||30-3||72,183||AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas|
|2019-20||Peach Bowl||1 LSU (13-0)||4 Oklahoma (12-1)||63-28||78,387||Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia|
|Fiesta Bowl||3 Clemson (13-0)||2 Ohio State (13-0)||29-23||71,330||State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona|
|2020-21||Rose Bowl||1 Alabama (11-0)||4 Notre Dame (10-1)||31-14||18,373||AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas (Moved from Pasadena)|
|Sugar Bowl||3 Ohio State (7-0)||2 Clemson (10-2)||49-28||3,000||Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana|
Cities around the country bid to host each year's championship game. 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. Under the system, cities cannot host both a semifinal game and the title game in the same year.
|2014-15||4 Ohio State (13-1)||2 Oregon (13-1)||42-20||85,689||AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas|
|2015-16||2 Alabama (13-1)||1 Clemson (14-0)||45-40||75,765||University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona|
|2016-17||2 Clemson (13-1)||1 Alabama (14-0)||35-31||74,512||Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida|
|2017-18||4 Alabama (12-1)||3 Georgia (13-1)||26-23 OT||77,430||Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia|
|2018-19||2 Clemson (14-0)||1 Alabama (14-0)||44-16||74,814||Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California|
|2019-20||1 LSU (14-0)||3 Clemson (14-0)||42-25||76,885||Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana|
|2020-21||1 Alabama (12-0)||3 Ohio State (7-0)||52-24||14,900||Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida|
|2021-22||Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|2022-23||SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California|
|2023-24||NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas|
|2015||W Cotton |
W Championship Game
|2016||W Peach |
L Championship Game
|2017||W Sugar |
W Championship Game
|2018||W Orange |
L Championship Game
|2020||W Rose |
W Championship Game
|6||Clemson||2||6||4||.600||2015||W Orange |
L Championship Game
|2016||W Fiesta |
W Championship Game
|2018||W Cotton |
W Championship Game
|2019||W Fiesta |
L Championship Game
|4||Ohio State||1||3||3||.500||2014||W Sugar |
W Championship Game
|2020||W Sugar |
L Championship Game
|2||Notre Dame||0||0||2||.000||2018||L Cotton|
|1||LSU||1||2||0||1.000||2019||W Peach |
W Championship Game
|1||Oregon||0||1||1||.500||2014||W Rose |
L Championship Game
|1||Georgia||0||1||1||.500||2017||W Rose |
L Championship Game
|1||Florida State||0||0||1||.000||2014||L Rose|
|1||Michigan State||0||0||1||.000||2015||L Cotton|
|Conference||Appearances||W||L||Pct||Championships||# of teams||Team(s)|
Florida State (1)
Notre Dame (1)[d]
|Big Ten||5||3||4||.429||1||2||Ohio State (4)|
Michigan State (1)
|Big 12||4||0||4||.000||0||1||Oklahoma (4)|
|FBS independents||1||0||1||.000||0||1||Notre Dame (1)|
The television broadcast rights to all six CFP bowls and the National Championship are owned by ESPN through at least the 2025 season. ESPN then reached 12-year agreements to retain rights to the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl following the dissolution of the Bowl Championship Series. In November, ESPN reached a 12-year deal to broadcast the remaining three bowls, the championship game, as well as shoulder programming such as ranking shows; as a whole, the contract is valued at around $470 million per year, or nearly $5.7 billion for the life of the contract.
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 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). The semifinal games, the 2015 Rose Bowl and 2015 Sugar Bowl, saw 28.16 million and 28.27 million viewers, respectively. According to ESPN, these games also set (and briefly held) all-time records for cable TV viewership.
In 2015, the ratings for the two semifinal games were down from the prior season's equivalents, with the Orange Bowl reaching a 9.7 rating (in comparison to 15.5 for the 2015 Rose Bowl) and the Cotton Bowl reaching a 9.9 rating (in comparison to a 15.3 rating for the 2015 Sugar Bowl). On the online WatchESPN streaming service, excluding 2014 FIFA World Cup games, the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl drew the second and third-largest streaming audiences in the service's history, behind the 2015 national championship. The ratings drops were attributed to the New Year's Eve time slot, as fewer people were at home to watch the game. The decline in ratings was a factor in changes for the scheduling of future CFP semi-final games.
In 2012, ESPN reportedly agreed to pay 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, plus $470-475 million annually for the rest of the package. By comparison, the most recent contract with the BCS and the Rose Bowl had paid approximately $155 million per year for five games.
The average revenue to the new system over 12 years is to be about $500 million per year. After $125-150 million in expenses, the Power Five conferences split about 71.5 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 split 27 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.
Extra revenue goes to conferences in contracts with the Rose, Sugar, and Orange bowls, which split revenue 50/50 between their participating leagues. 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. 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. 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).
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.
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. 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". The playoff system awards academic performance bonuses of $300,000 per school for meeting the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate standard of 930. 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), penalizing schools that fall below the threshold.
BCS Properties, LLC holds all properties related to the College Football Playoff. Previous BCS commissioner Bill Hancock is the executive director of the playoff organization, with former ACC Senior Associate Commissioner Michael Kelly as COO. Like the BCS, the playoff system's management committee consists of the conference commissioners from the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame's athletic director. The playoff system's headquarters is in Irving, Texas.
According to the CFP website, the system's operations are controlled by the Board of Managers, which consists of presidents and chancellors of the playoff group's member universities. The eleven members have sole authority to develop, review and approve annual budgets, policies and operating guidelines. The group also selects the company's officers.
According to the CFP website, the Athletics Directors Advisory Group is appointed by the management committee to "offer counsel" on the operations of the system. As an advisory board, it has no authority in the management of the CFP.
Because the tournament has four teams, at least one Power Five champion misses the playoffs every season. However, not all teams selected have been conference winners. In the 2016-17 season, one of the teams selected was Ohio State, who did not qualify to the Big Ten Championship Game. As a result, both the Big Ten and Big 12 champions were not selected for the playoffs (although both teams had two losses, while Ohio State only had one). In the 2017-18 season, two of the four selected teams were from the SEC: conference champions Georgia, and Alabama, who lost to SEC runner-up Auburn. Analysts have discussed whether the committee should select conference champions only.
Another critique centered around a perceived bias against smaller conferences such as the Big 12 which used to not stage a conference championship game, but was reintroduced for the 2017 season. The American Athletic Conference addressed this issue by adding Navy to its ranks for 2015, bringing its membership to 12 teams, which allowed it to stage a conference championship game under then-current NCAA rules. Since the 2016 season, FBS conferences have been allowed to stage football championship games even if they do not have 12 members.
There are opinions labeling the CFP system "just as" or "even more polarizing" than the BCS or the old wire-service poll system. However, most in sports media believe the College Football Playoff Committee got the right foursome for the 2017-18 playoff inasmuch as it included Alabama, a one-loss team excluded from its conference championship on a tiebreaker, instead of Ohio State, a two-loss conference champion. None of the commentators who agreed with the selection made any reference to the exclusion of undefeated UCF, a Group of Five team with a perfect season and a record that was thus better than all four CFP teams, which each had lost once.
In 2019 Urban Meyer, head coach of the national champion 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes football team, said that he intentionally ran up the score against Wisconsin in the Big Ten conference championship to help his team be chosen for the playoff. Criticizing the subjectivity of the selection process, Meyer said that he left the starting lineup in the game despite Ohio State being ahead 45-0 in the third quarter--not resting the starters and risking their health, and poor sportsmanship--because "I don't think the 'eye test' and 'people think' is going to get enough to bump TCU and Baylor". He continued, "I had a job to do, and that was to get Ohio State in the playoff. Do I think that's right? That's wrong", proposing a selection system based on defined criteria.
Late in the 2020 season, which was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sports Illustrated writer Pat Forde was strongly critical of the CFP committee for what he considered unfair treatment of teams outside the Power Five. Forde noted that the CFP rankings released on December 8 saw Iowa State, then 8-2 (though having clinched a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game), ranked No. 7, one spot ahead of the top Group of Five team, then-unbeaten Cincinnati. Forde was especially rankled by Iowa State being ranked 12 spots ahead of Louisiana--a team whose only loss to that point had been to Coastal Carolina, also unbeaten as of December 8, on a last-second field goal, and had also beaten Iowa State by more than two touchdowns. Louisiana's win was one of three by Sun Belt Conference teams against Big 12 teams in as many games in 2020, with Coastal Carolina also having such a win. Forde was even more critical of the committee the following week, saying "They doubled down on the favoritism [toward Power Five teams] this week." Iowa State moved up one place to #6 despite not playing the previous weekend, and Florida dropped only one place despite losing at home to an LSU team that entered the game at 3-5. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, which like Iowa State did not play, dropped one spot, placing it behind three two-loss teams. Coastal Carolina, still unbeaten, was also ranked well behind Iowa State (at No. 12). CFP committee chair Gary Barta, in a media teleconference, cited a last-second Coastal Carolina win over Troy that weekend as one reason for their arguably low ranking; Forde pointed out that a month earlier, Iowa State had a similarly close win against a Baylor team that finished the season at 2-7.Michael Aresco, commissioner of Cincinnati's American Athletic Conference, had equally pointed criticism, accusing the committee of "undermining its credibility with rankings that defy logic and common sense and fairness," and added, "I never thought I'd say it, but if this continues, bring back the BCS and the computers because it would be a fairer system than what I'm seeing now. This is the seventh year [of the CFP], and it does appear the deck is stacked against us and against other [Group of 5 teams]."
The qualifications of selection committee members has also been scrutinized. As an outsider to the sports world, Condoleezza Rice was the focus of some criticism. Former Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden opined that the committee's members should be "people who played the game and preferably coached the game". Former Auburn head coach Pat Dye said that "All she knows about football is what somebody told her ... or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football, you've got to play with your hand in the dirt". Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese also gained membership on the selection committee despite having never played football in college. Former sportswriter Steve Weiberg and retired U.S. Air Force General Michael Gould are other committee members without significant football playing, coaching, or administrative experience.
The semifinal games for the 2015 season were scheduled for December 31; they were expected to have lower television viewership because the date is not a federal holiday, and because the second game faced heavy competition for television viewers in primetime from New Year's Eve specials (such as New Year's Rockin' Eve, which is aired by ESPN's sister broadcast network ABC). Under television contracts with ESPN that predate the College Football Playoff, both the Rose and Sugar Bowl games 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. In an interview with CBS Sports, CFP commissioner Bill Hancock suggested this scheduling issue would "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". Although ESPN proposed moving the Thursday, December 31, 2015 semifinal games to Saturday, January 2, 2016, the idea was rejected. The semifinal games' ratings were ultimately down significantly from those of the previous season.
In an effort to reduce the impact of their New Year's Eve scheduling, the 2016 semifinal games, which fell on a Saturday, had earlier kickoff times, at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. ET respectively. The 2016 Orange Bowl was played in primetime on December 30, 2016, rather than in an early afternoon window on New Year's Eve. Hancock considered the earlier start times to be a compromise to reduce the games' intrusion into New Year's Eve festivities, but reiterated that there were no plans to move the semi-final games from New Year's Eve outside of years where they are hosted by the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
On July 28, 2016, however, Hancock reversed this stance and announced revisions to the scheduling for future College Football Playoff semi-final games. The games were rescheduled so that they will not necessarily be played on New Year's Eve yearly: outside of years when they are hosted by the Rose and Sugar Bowls (where they retain their traditional New Year's Day scheduling), they will now be scheduled primarily on the last Saturday or federally observed holiday of the year. In some years, this date will land on New Year's Eve. In 2021, the games will be played on Friday, December 31, because the day will be observed as a holiday. Viewership of the 2018 semi-finals were down by 25% over the previous semi-finals, which were played on New Year's Day.
A common suggestion is for the playoff to expand to an eight-team format, guaranteeing all five major conference champions a spot along with the highest ranked "Group of Five" champion. The remaining two spots would be at-large selections awarded to the next two highest ranking teams. The seed pairings would be ordered to fit the playoff format, with 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc.
NCAA coaches were polled in 2014 and asked if they were in favor of a larger playoff system. More than half of the coaches (53 percent) from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) who voted chose an eight-team playoff, compared with 33 percent for the four-team model. CFP executive director Bill Hancock said at the time, that his group is committed to only four teams for the length of the 12-year contract through 2026, and "there has been no discussion of expanding".