As College Football Considers Playoff Expansion, Fans Say 8 Teams Is Ideal Field Size

The College Football Playoff Board of Managers meets today to consider a proposal to expand the tournament field from four teams to a dozen
Alex Leatherwood, left, of the Alabama Crimson Tide holds the trophy alongside head coach Nick Saban following the College Football Playoff National Championship game win over the Ohio State Buckeyes on Jan. 11. Seventy percent of college football fans support proposed plans to expand the CFP field from four teams to 12, according to new Morning Consult data. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
June 22, 2021 at 12:01 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 70% of college football fans and 80% of avid fans support the plan to expand the CFP field from four teams to 12 teams.

  • 33% of college football fans say eight teams is the ideal number, followed by 18% who favor a 12-team format.

The majority of college football fans support expanding the College Football Playoff beyond its four-team field, but opinions differ about the ideal number of teams that should compete for the national championship each year. In fact, new polling indicates that fans are nearly twice as likely to prefer a field of eight teams over the 12-team format under consideration by the sport’s leadership.

In a Morning Consult poll conducted June 15-19, 70 percent of college football fans said they would support the proposal currently being discussed by the sport’s leadership, which would increase the number of teams in the CFP field from four to 12. Support was even stronger among those who identified as “avid” fans of the sport, 80 percent of whom said they were in favor of the potential move to a 12-team format.

Still, while most said they would welcome the expansion to 12 teams, the most popular option among fans was actually an eight-team format. Asked to identify the ideal number of teams allowed to qualify for the CFP, 33 percent of fans said they’d prefer an eight-team format, while a 12-team field was the second-most popular option (18 percent). The current four-team format was the third-most popular selection (14 percent), followed by 16 teams (11 percent) and 20 or more teams (5 percent).

The 11 university presidents and chancellors who make up the College Football Playoff’s top decision-making body will meet today in Dallas to consider the 12-team expansion proposal to the postseason tournament. The board’s backing would signal support for the competition’s Management Committee, which includes the commissioners of the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, to seek out feedback on the plan from various stakeholders and to assess its feasibility before reportedly reconvening to determine next steps in September.

The 12-team plan being considered by CFP leadership would include the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the six highest-ranked other teams, all as determined by the selection committee. The plan would not grant automatic qualification to any particular conference’s champion. Outgoing Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott lobbied for the Power Five conference champions to receive automatic bids, an idea that American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco denounced.

If approved, the earliest the new 12-team format would take effect is the 2023 season, according to Bill Hancock, the competition’s executive director. The current four-team CFP format has been in place since the competition’s inception in 2014, when it replaced the Bowl Championship Series system, which relied on a combination of polls and computer selection methods to determine which two teams would play for the national title.

While college football fans largely support expanding the CFP field, 61 percent said they have a favorable opinion of the current format. Fans of teams that have qualified for the CFP at least once were more likely to view the current format favorably (72 percent) than fans of teams who have never qualified for the postseason tournament (53 percent).

The poll of 1,179 U.S. adults who identified as college football fans carries a margin of error of 3 percentage points. 

Of those fans surveyed, 25 percent indicated that they root for a team that competes in the Big Ten, 21 percent said they root for an SEC team, 12 percent said they root for an ACC team, 10 percent said they root for a Pac-12 team, 10 percent said they root for a Big 12 team and 5 percent said they root for a team that plays outside the Power Five conferences. Eighteen percent of fans surveyed said they don’t root for any particular team.

A headshot photograph of Alex Silverman
Alex Silverman
Senior Reporter

Alex Silverman previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering the business of sports.

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