INDIANAPOLIS -- Just as it looked like College Football Playoff expansion was heading towards finality, conference realignment started by Texas and Oklahoma jumping to the SEC put the entire process on hold. Last month's meeting of the FBS commissioners in Park City, Utah, went so well that those who spent the last year battling over CFP expansion seem to be edging closer to settling on a format.
"We didn't solve anything, but we had a really good meeting," one of the participants at the gathering told CBS Sports. "I came out of that meeting pretty optimistic. Then, five days later, boom. I don't know what kind of effect we had on it. We had the best meeting we had in over a year."
That "boom" moment came June 30 when word leaked that USC and UCLA were joining the Big Ten. But even since then, commissioners have been optimistic about CFP expansion to the point that Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren recently expressed interest in a 16-team model.
"I do want to look at 16," Warren told CBS Sports at the Big Ten Media Days. "I want to look at all of them. I want to look at everything but four."
As proposed last year, a 12-team playoff would have included the six highest-ranked conference champions plus six at-large bids. Warren voted against that model because he wanted a guaranteed spot for the Big Ten champion.
(Spoiler alert: The Big Ten champion would have been a virtual lock to be among those top six conference champions every year.)
Warren was joined in that "no" vote by Pac-12 commissioner Georgia Kliavkoff and ACC commissioner Jim Phillips. At the time, passage required unanimous consent.
On Tuesday, Warren said he was "100%" in support of expansion. He then told The Athletic that he was "going to soften [his] stance" regarding the top six highest-ranked champions.
That may have something to do with the Big Ten and SEC being in the process of separating themselves from the rest of college football. It may also be the realization that, after the current CFP contract expires following the 2025 season, a unanimous vote will no longer be necessary to change the structure.
Mississippi State president Mark Keenum, chair of the CFP Board of Managers, said earlier this summer that he hoped the presidents would have expansion resolved by next summer. An expanded bracket would be in place for the 2026 season.
Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey indicated he would support a bracket including the best teams available regardless of whether they are conference champions. Sankey was part of a four-person subcommittee that took two years modeling everything from four- to 16-team playoffs before settling on the proposed 12-team format.
The sudden interest in 16 might best be explained by, "Why not?" Still, one high-profile industry called the idea "lunacy" saying Sankey's original subcommittee got it right at 12 teams.
A 12-team bracket is valued at approximately $1.2 billion annually, industry sources told CBS Sports.
Support for the 16-team bracket may have hatched while commissioners were in Park City for the annual Collegiate Commissioners Association meeting. Among those eligible to attend the meeting, only Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was absent because of a previous commitment.
"I don't have a problem with 16," said Barry Alvarez, Big Ten senior advisor for football. I think we need more access. College football needs more access to the playoffs. It used to be every game was important. Now, you see people lose interest when someone loses a game early. Well, they're out of the playoff."
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, one of those expansion architects along with Sankey, explained that up to 30 teams would be in contention up until November if a 12-team bracket needed to be filled out.
Warren and others have already projected that a 16-team bracket would require every program to begin their regular season in the last week of August. Currently, that space is labeled "Week Zero" -- openers for a handful of teams before the traditional Labor Day weekend openers.
The 12-game season would then be completed into time for the first round of playoff games to begin likely during the second week of December.