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College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams in 2024 season

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Over the past 25 years, college football’s postseason format for crowning a national champion has grown from two teams to four and now, starting in 2024, to 12.

For a sport that started in 1869 and spent most of the 20th century using bowls and polls to determine who was No. 1, evolution has hit warp speed, racing from Bowl Championship Series to College Football Playoff 2.0.

“The times change, things change,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said. “Things have moved pretty quickly relative to the last 153 years.”

The CFP announced Thursday it will expand to a 12-team event in two years, completing an 18-month process that was fraught with delays and disagreements. It is a momentous step that will bring in billions of dollars in television revenue and change the very fabric of the postseason.

The announcement came a day after the Rose Bowl agreed to amend its contract for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, the last hurdle CFP officials needed cleared to triple the size of what is now a four-team format.

“I never gave up,” Hancock said.

Expansion is expected to produce about $450 million in additional gross revenue for the conferences and schools that participate. The CFP’s current 12-year contract with ESPN runs through the 2025-26 season. CFP officials have said they would like to explore having multiple broadcast partners in the next cycle.

The idea of major college football holding a playoff dates back decades and the Championship Subdivision has had one since 1978. The late Penn State coach Joe Paterno pined for one in the 1970s. Former Big Eight Commissioner Chuck Nienas proposed one in the late 1980s.

The creation of the BCS in the late 1990s was the first step toward a real playoff, Hancock said.

“The BCS for the first time gave an opportunity to decide a national champion on the field every year, not just at the whims of the bowl pairings,” Hancock said.

The BCS used polls and computer rankings to ensure a 1 vs. 2 bowl game from 1998-2013, but at times produced questionable matchups that left fans unsatisfied.

“We had congressmen and senators getting involved in the selection process. There was a general unhappiness with the fact that somebody was always third on the outside looking in,” former Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

Former Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was a playoff opponent — or at least skeptic — for years, but even he grew weary of defending the BCS.

“Everybody threw confetti when (the BCS) happened, but within three years it was getting killed,” Delany said.

Delany and the late former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, a playoff advocate, were instrumental in creating the current four-team format. The CFP debuted in 2014 with a 12-year contract, but less than halfway through it became apparent that fear of missing out had grown exponentially from the BCS days.

Bowlsby recalled Delany lamenting about how much more difficult it was to stomach being fifth in the selection committee’s CFP rankings than it was being third in the BCS standings.

“It’s hard being the one left out and you’re drawing conclusions based on very thin evidence a lot of the time,” Bowlsby said.

Delany compared the latest expansion of the playoff to NCAA men’s basketball tournament expansion from 1975-85, when the field doubled from 32 to 64 teams. Much like the CFP now, that expansion wasn’t so much about making sure a potential champion wasn’t left out.

It was about increasing participation.

“It made it a truly national event,” Delany said.

The latest plan to expand the playoff was unveiled in June 2021, but conference commissioners could not come to the unanimous consensus needed to push it forward. Expansion for the 2024 season was pronounced dead back in February.

“Getting from four to 12 didn’t have to be this difficult,” said Bowlsby, who was part of the four-person working group that spent more than two years developing the 12-team plan.

University presidents and chancellors who oversee the CFP stepped in and revived the process over the summer. They approved the original plan for use by 2026, and directed the commissioners to try to expand by 2024.

No longer haggling over the format, the commissioners needed to work through when and where the games will be played and whether bowl partners and championship game host cities could accommodate a change in schedule for 2024 and 2025.

The Rose Bowl issue was the last to be settled, as organizers for the 120-year-old bowl game were hoping to get some assurances from the CFP that they would keep their valuable New Year’s Day time when new contracts go into effect in 2026.

CFP officials balked. Facing the possibility of being painted as an obstructionist and potentially being shut out of the expanded playoff in the long term, the Rose Bowl agreed to move forward in good faith.

“It’s our intent to keep the Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1,” said Laura Farber, chairwoman of the Rose Bowl Management Committee. “But we’ll remain flexible in scheduling as needed.”

That’s important with how quickly things are moving in college football.

Delany speculated it was unlikely the next CFP contract would be as long as the last. He also noted that when the playoff becomes it a four-week event, it would be fairly easy to add four more teams.

Asked when to expect expansion to 16 teams, Hancock laughed.

“Next question,” he said.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://tinyurl.com/mrxhe6f2

Source: https://apnews.com/article/college-football-sports-c10f98f7c7595f3322586c16d3a64489

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49ers head into offseason with more questions at quarterback

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers head into another offseason with major questions at quarterback after a season filled with injuries to the most important position ended without any of them physically able to throw the the ball downfield.

Trey Lance, who began the season as starter, is getting close to being fully cleared following two operations on his broken right ankle.

Brock Purdy, who went from third-string rookie to the starter that helped lead the Niners into the NFC title game before getting hurt himself, is figuring out how to treat his injured throwing elbow.

Jimmy Garoppolo, the starter in between those two before breaking his foot, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in six weeks.

And rumors are sure to swirl about whether the best answer for coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will be adding a veteran like Tom Brady to help a franchise that has gone to the NFC title game or further in three of the last four seasons get over the hump and win its first Super Bowl in nearly three decades.

The first big question at the position will be about Purdy’s health after he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow on the first drive of a 31-7 loss in the NFC title game to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Purdy was forced back into the game in the second half when Josh Johnson left with a concussion but was unable to throw the ball more than a few yards because of the injury.

“The minute I started throwing literally like I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t throw,” he said. “So obviously the adrenaline and stuff I think helps in terms of allowing me to go back in the game and hand the ball off — even that was pretty painful. But just overall it sucked that I wasn’t able to throw.”

An MRI revealed the tear and Purdy said he will undergo more tests and speak to more doctors to figure out whether recovery, repair or full reconstruction is the best option.

The injury is much more common in baseball pitchers, who often undergo reconstructive “Tommy John surgery” that sidelines them up to a year. But Purdy is hoping to avoid that; a simpler repair would keep him out for six months but allow him to return to practice around the start of training camp in July.

“The way a quarterback throws compared to a pitcher, two different things. It’s similar but more violent as a baseball player,” Purdy said. “So they’re saying the recovery process could be a little bit faster as a quarterback. I’ve looked at guys who have gone through this kind of thing. I’m just trying to find what’s right. Everyone’s situation is different and I’m trying to find out which one is right for myself.”

Purdy showed a lot in his first season in the NFL, going from the last pick of the draft to starter in the conference title game. He won all seven of his starts before the loss on Sunday and threw for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the regular season.

That performance could make him the favorite to begin next season as starter if he’s healthy.

“For me to claim or say anything in terms of what’s going to happen moving forward, that’s out of my control,” he said. “I’m going to do what I can to get back healthy and be ready to compete come fall.”

Lance was supposed to be in that role after San Francisco traded three first-round picks to draft him third overall in 2021. But he started only two games as a rookie when Garoppolo got hurt and then went down with a season-ending injury early in Week 2 this season.

Lance needed a second operation in late December but said he expects to be fully cleared in a few weeks and to be 100% for the start of the offseason program.

But after he started only five games combined in the last three years in college and the NFL, there are questions about whether Lance can be the long-term answer for San Francisco.

“I’m excited to go out and show what I can do,” he said. “Same situation that it’s been for me the last two years and really my whole life. Nothing has really changed and I still have the same mindset. … I just worry about what these guys think in this locker room, what the coaches think, what people in this organization think. Anything outside of that is totally out of my control. So I don’t let that have any effect on me.”

NOTES: All-Pro DE Nick Bosa said he wants to sign a long-term contract to stay in San Francisco but will be patient and leave that up to his agent.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Banchero headlines field for All-Star Rising Stars event

Paolo Banchero’s rookie season will include a trip to NBA All-Star weekend.

The Orlando Magic forward and No. 1 pick in last year’s draft was announced Tuesday as a participant in this year’s Rising Stars Game, to be held in Salt Lake City on Feb. 17, two nights before the All-Star Game.

Banchero — who leads all rookies with a 20.7 points-per-game average — may still be selected as an All-Star reserve. Those players will be revealed Thursday.

“Anytime you can get a chance to be a part of All-Star weekend, you can’t say no,” Banchero said. “Especially me, being a rookie, first year, never experienced it before, it’s always been the dream to just be a part of that whether it was Rising Stars or as a reserve. I’m definitely excited to get there and just see what it’s like.”

Banchero is on pace to be the first rookie to average 20 points per game since Luka Doncic in 2018-19. He also is fourth among rookies in rebounds per game entering Tuesday and third among them in steals per game.

Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said the All-Star experience — whether just for Rising Stars or not — will have an impact on Banchero.

“Just being around other young players that have found themselves in that position, it does so much because it’s your peers,” Mosley said. “You’re around a group of young men who are the elite of the league in that class. I think it says something to the work that you’ve put in, the work that he’s put in. It’s going to do wonders for how he continues to believe in himself, what we’re doing as a team and his continued growth.”

Also picked for the game from this year’s rookie class: Detroit’s Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey, Atlanta’s A.J. Griffin, Utah’s Walker Kessler, Indiana’s Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, Sacramento’s Keegan Murray, Houston’s Jabari Smith Jr., San Antonio’s Jeremy Sochan and Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams.

The second-year players selected were New Orleans’ Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III, Toronto’s Scottie Barnes, Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey, Houston’s Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun, New York’s Quentin Grimes, Denver’s Bones Hyland, Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Orlando’s Franz Wagner.

There also will be a team of G League players in the Rising Stars event, composed of Sidy Cissoko, Mojave King, Scoot Henderson, Kenneth Lofton Jr., Mac McClung, Leonard Miller and Scotty Pippen Jr.

The 21 NBA players will be drafted into three seven-player teams. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will serve as coaches for those teams, while Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

All four teams will play a semifinal game with a target score of 40, and the two winners will then play the championship game with a target score of 25.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Griner’s return, free agency raises charter flight concerns

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December with Russia has collided with free agency, creating potential travel complications for the league out of safety concerns for her.

If Griner, who is a free agent but has said she’ll return to Phoenix, needs special travel accommodations — such as chartered flights — the league will have to come up with a plan for the 6-foot-9 star. Griner’s safety when traveling will be a top priority for the team and the league.

“We are very cognizant of BG’s unique situation,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press. “We’ve been planning and we’ve been thinking it through with security experts. BG’s side, our side. We’ll find the right time to comment on it when she signs with a team.”

That could come Wednesday, when free agents can officially sign.

While the Griner situation is unique, other marquee players raised the issue of charter flights, which teams have deemed too costly.

The current collective bargaining agreement requires that all teams fly commercial and doesn’t allow teams to charter flights. Any change in that would have to be approved by both the union and the league.

“No one wants to make this work more than me,” Engelbert said. “That’s why we’re working so hard to transform the economic business model. We’ve had positive changes over the last couple years, but we’re not going to jeopardize the financial viability of the league. We are on the cusp of something big here.”

HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST THE WNBA TO CHARTER FLIGHTS?

Engelbert says it would cost the league about $25 million each season for each of its 12 teams to charter flights to every game. That number has increased about $5 million from previous estimates by the commissioner due the new 40-game WNBA schedule this season, fuel costs and other factors.

The estimated cost per franchise to charter flights would be approximately $2 million. Air travel expenses currently for each team is about $150,000, according to two people familiar with the costs. The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly address the issue.

“We did it last year for the Finals and we have experience on how much it costs for routes we need to fly,” Engelbert said. “We are monitoring and updating our analysis. We are going to try and get an economic model to fund this as soon as we can.”

WHAT HAPPENS IF A TEAM CHARTERS FLIGHTS?

If teams violate the current CBA they could be fined.

The New York Liberty were fined a WNBA record $500,000 in 2021 for chartering flights to away games during the second half of that season.

HAS THE WNBA CONSIDERED SUBSIDIZING FLIGHTS?

Coveted free agent Breanna Stewart, who has narrowed her choices to a few teams including New York, started a social media campaign to try to help get chartered flights for the league. She tweeted, “I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA. I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hrs to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, which ultimately results in a better product. Who’s with me?”

Many current and former WNBA and NBA players offered their support. Though any change to travel restrictions would have to be voted on by the union and the league.

“We would need a commitment to it in perpetuity,” Engelbert said. “That’s 250-300 million dollars. Look at the gate and media deal and sponsorship dollars. We’re not close to being able to afford $250 million over the next decade.”

DO WOMEN’S COLLEGE TEAMS CHARTER FLIGHTS?

WNBA players are used to flying charter flights. That’s how they traveled in college.

Title IX legislation requires universities to have equal opportunities for their men’s and women’s athletic programs. The NCAA flies both the men’s and women’s teams on charter flights for the tournament if they are more than 400 miles from the site of their game.

That legislation doesn’t apply to the pros so NBA teams chartering between cities has no effect on what WNBA teams do.

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