College Football Playoff will expand to 12 by 2026

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After 14 1/2 months of haggling over details and questioning motivations, a plan to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams was finally approved Friday, setting the stage for a multibillion-dollar tournament as soon as the 2024 season.

What still needs to be determined is just how quickly the current four-team model can be converted and implemented, but it will happen no later than 2026. When it does, major college football’s championship bracket will triple in size.

“This was a very historic day for college football,” said Mississippi State President Mark Keenum, chairman of the CFP’s Board of Managers that pressed ahead after a process that started in June 2021 with an ambitious plan was derailed for months by provincialism and mistrust.

In a unanimous vote that was necessary to pursue early expansion, the 11 university leaders who make up the board approved the original 12-team proposal. It calls for the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large picks – as determined by a selection committee – to make the playoff.

The top four seeds would be conference champions and receive byes into the second round. First-round games would be played on campuses and the rest at bowl sites.

A 12-team, 11-game postseason system to crown a champion could be worth as much as $2 billion in media rights to the conferences that play major college football, starting in 2026.

“So our plans are to begin the 12-team format for sure beginning in the 2026 football season,” Keenum said. “However, we have asked our (conference) commissioners on the management committee to explore the possibility of us beginning the 12-team playoff format before the 2026 seasons, in either 2024 or 2025. We as members of the board recognize there’s some pretty substantial issues that have to be resolved.”

If the new format can be implemented before the current 12-year contract with ESPN expires, the conferences could make an additional $450 million over the final two years. The current deal pays about $470 million per year.

CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said ESPN under its contract would get the first bid on any new playoff inventory added in 2024 and ’25.

Beyond 2025, there is no TV contract for a playoff. The plan is to take the new format to the open market and possibly involve multiple TV partners instead of just ESPN.

The conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director who comprise the CFP management committee are scheduled to meet Thursday in Dallas. Among the logistical hurdles that they need to clear are dates of games, host sites, available television windows and the impact on the regular-season schedule.

The committee also needs to determine how all that new revenue will be shared and then have that approved by the presidents.

Hancock announced in February that expanding for the 2024 and ’25 seasons was off the table and attention would be turned to what the playoff would look like for 2026 and beyond. Last month, the CFP locked in sites and dates for the championship games to be played after the 2024 and 2025 seasons. In a 12-team playoff, those dates would have to be pushed back.

But the presidents ultimately decide what happens with the playoff, and they took matters into their own hands to move expansion forward.

“It was time for us to make a decision,” Keenum said.

Even after the February announcement, there were signs early expansion was not dead. A June meeting of the commissioners in Utah renewed optimism differences could be settled.

“It actually wouldn’t surprise me once we agree on the format, if it happens before the end of the current term,” Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said in July.

Kliavkoff was one of three relatively new Power Five commissioners, along with Kevin Warren (Big Ten) and Jim Phillips (ACC), whose various objections to the 12-team proposal last year stalled negotiations.

That 12-team plan had been worked on for more than two years by a subgroup of the management committee that included Greg Sankey of the Southeastern Conference. Skepticism rose between the new commissioners, who had not been part of a process that started in 2019, and the rest after it was revealed the SEC would be adding Texas and Oklahoma to the powerhouse conference by no later than 2025.

Now everybody is on board with the plan.

“The Pac-12 is strongly in favor of CFP expansion and welcomes the decision of the CFP Board,” Kliavkoff said in a statement. “CFP expansion will provide increased access and excitement and is the right thing for our student-athletes and fans. We look forward to working with our fellow conferences to finalize the important elements of an expanded CFP in order to launch as soon as practicable.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.