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College football bowl game schedule likely eyeing expansion as revenue-sharing model would curb opt-out trend

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Get ready for more bowl games, not less, as college administrators continue to push for more postseason access in all sports.

That’s what Bowl Season director Nick Carparelli believes is next after the College Football Playoff expands from four to 12 teams this fall — and potentially 14 in 2026. Why? Expansion is the hot trend in all corners of college athletics, and the NCAA transformation committee has made it clear more postseason opportunities are desired in all sports.

“When I speak with head football coaches and athletic directors and conference commissioners, it’s very encouraging. You know, I think it’s more likely we add bowl games than subtract bowl games,” Carparelli told 247Sports this week at the annual Fiesta Summit for leaders in college athletics.

The NCAA has no stake in the CFP or the 42 bowl games, which include the CFP, but leaders are attracted to the trend in other NCAA sports, such as the upcoming serious conversations to expand the men’s NCAA Tournament in basketball to as many as 80 teams. 

“Twelve postseason opportunities is not enough for all of college football,” Carparelli said. “There’s so many great stories every year about growing programs emerging that have an opportunity to play in a bowl game and celebrate a great victory. It serves as a launching point and building a platform for their program moving forward. College football needs bowl games and bowl games are going to be the solution to college football’s postseason, just like they have for the last 100 years.”

Six of the 42 bowl games scheduled for 2024 are playoff games.

Not enough bowl-eligible teams were available in each of the last three seasons, which led to three five-win teams accepting invitations: Rutgers in 2021, Rice in 2022 and Minnesota in 2023. 

The quality of play has also suffered with player opt-outs and the transfer portal. At least 78 players opted out of bowl games last season and 431 players entered the transfer portal before their postseason games, according to data compiled by The Action Network. Florida State was the poster child last season. Thirty-three players opted to not play in the Orange Bowl after the College Football Playoff Selection Committee did not select the Seminoles. Georgia demolished FSU, 63-3.

“If I go see the (Rolling) Stones and Mick Jagger is not playing, am I really seeing the Stones?” said Fiesta Bowl president Erik Moses. “People come to see the talent.”

Carparelli believes he has a solution for opt-outs: the impending move to a revenue-sharing model for players. The NCAA may soon settle an antitrust lawsuit seeking back pay and revenue-sharing for players, with a price tag of more than $2.7 billion, which would also pave the way for future revenue-sharing with players, according to ESPN

“It seems as if these outside collectives are going to be controlled by the university’s athletic department, moving forward,” Carparelli said. “That’s what everybody seems to want. What is sure to follow is some type of formal agreement between the student-athletes and the university: we’re going to pay you X amount of money, and for that you’re going to perform certain duties. For college football players, it’s going to include 12 regular-season games, a bowl game and/or the CFP. I think we’re gonna see one-, two- and three-year contracts between universities and student-athletes to do that. 

“And, you know, what? That’s the way the world works. If you have a job, you’re being paid to do it. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid. I don’t see how anybody can argue that. I think once we get under a standardized system like that, that makes sense, I think it’s gonna solve a lot of problems. You’re gonna see student-athletes wanting to participate in bowl games in order to avoid a reduction in payment.”

Meanwhile, the uncertainty in college athletics surrounding player pay, conference realignment and the Big Ten and SEC teaming up to demand larger paydays from the CFP (and further widen the financial gap between competitors) has motivated at least one private equity firm to pitch a playoff to Group of Five conferences. 

The pitchman is former Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley with financial backing from private equity, sources told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. A proposal has not been presented to commissioners in the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West or Sun Belt, sources added this week. One athletic director who spoke to Dooley recently said the conversation was thin on details. The group has not yet formalized a format, though sources told Dodd last week one iteration includes eight divisions for 62 teams with divisional champions playing at the end of the regular season for a spot in the CFP. That iteration is separate from a potential Group of Five breakaway from the CFP.

The highest-ranked Group of Five champion is assured a playoff berth in the newest CFP agreement approved by FBS conferences and Notre Dame. The Group of Five is expected to be paid an average of $2 million per team, which is drastically less than the lowest-paid power conference team ($12.3 million in the Big 12). The deal expires after the 2031 season.

“I haven’t yet seen a proposal that would entice the Mountain West to leave the CFP for something else,” Mountain West commish Gloria Nevarez said. “Not to say that there might not be something out there, but I’ve just haven’t seen it yet.”

Carparelli has spoken to several commissioners and believes Dooley’s pitch doesn’t have legs.

“I don’t sense any desire for that concept whatsoever,” he said.

For now, the bowl season will remain at 42 games, but the hunger for more, more and more is apparent.

“We’re at the right number but we will always keep an eye open and make sure we have enough opportunities to service the entire membership,” Carparelli said.

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