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College Football Playoff leaders are inching closer to a 14-team playoff for the 2026 season, but sources have indicated that the proposed idea of the SEC and Big Ten champions receiving guaranteed byes is starting to lose some steam among conference commissioners following public backlash.

It’s likely the details of the 14-team format aren’t determined in advance of the TV contract, which sources said remains on target to be done in the coming weeks. CFP leaders want to ensure they are aligned on revenue distribution and CFP governance before signing the TV deal, and they have had multiple meetings and calls recently to make progress in both areas.

While there continues to be support for a 14-team field starting in 2026, discussions about how teams should qualify for the CFP remain a sticking point. Commissioners are still debating whether conferences should have automatic qualifiers and, if so, how many for each. ESPN recently reported that the Big Ten and SEC had asked that their respective conference champions receive the only two byes in a 14-team field — an unpopular proposal that was met with significant pushback.

“Automatic first-round byes for the Big Ten and SEC is like the NFL saying the Cowboys get a first-round bye since they have more fans than the Bengals,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes told ESPN last week. “How preposterous is that?”

Sources cautioned that as long as the format is up for debate, all options will be considered but that “some things will be punted” until after the TV deal is done. It’s possible that CFP leaders will wait to see how the 12-team format unfolds this season, but sources have indicated they would like a resolution sooner than later.

The CFP will use a 12-team format for the first time in the 2024 season. The five highest-ranked conference champions will earn a guaranteed spot, followed by the next seven highest-ranked teams. The four highest-ranked conference champions will receive a first-round bye. The 12-team playoff will continue for the 2025 season.

Revenue will continue to tilt toward the Big Ten and SEC in the next TV contract, but negotiations are ongoing as they relate to other allocations. The ACC is expected to receive slightly more than the Big 12 because of its past playoff participants, but that minor difference is a win for the Big 12 because of the disparity in past playoff participants. The ACC has had six CFP semifinalists, while TCU is the only current Big 12 team to reach a CFP semifinal as a member of the league. Big 12 member Cincinnati earned a CFP berth in the 2020 season when it was a member of the American Athletic Conference.

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