NEW YORK -- Former Nebraska coach and former U.S. Representative Tom Osborne didn't sound all that excited about the pressure he and the other members of the first College Football Playoff selection committee will face. Speaking on a panel of playoff committee members at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, Osborne recounted the time an angry fan annihilated his mailbox following a loss to Oklahoma. "Yes," Osborne said. "Blown apart." Osborne expressed slight concern about future postal havoc, but he and one of the other mover/shaker types assembled at the conference offered some reasons to be quite excited about the playoff and its potential ancillary effects.
For starters, Osborne believes the playoff is going to bring us better non-conference games to watch. While not naming any conference names, Osborne noted that committee members will take note when teams from weak conferences play weak out-of-conference schedules. Judging by the rhetoric Wednesday, those teams would have a difficult time making the four-team playoff that starts next season. "A lot of teams," Osborne said, "are going to be at the mercy of the strength of your conference." And the only way to overcome that will be to schedule strong non-conference games. "You can determine your non-conference schedule," Osborne said. "I think you're going to see a lot more teams will be a lot more likely to schedule really heavy opponents out of their league."
Fellow committee member Dan Radakovich, the athletic director at Clemson, had to like the sound of that. Radakovich's team plays at Georgia early and against South Carolina late next year. But will Radakovich have a chance to discuss the Tigers -- or any other ACC team? The leaders of the CFP have yet to decide whether they're going to install rules similar to the ones used by the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee that would require vested parties to recuse themselves from discussions involving their teams/conferences. With less than a year remaining before the committee chooses the first four playoff teams, there are still many questions left unanswered. "The idea of having the basketball committee as the basis for a lot of these processes is really important," Radakovich said. "But then I think we have to refine them for football, because the scale is very different."
Scale is quite important, and that brings us to the most intriguing thing anyone said Wednesday. On a different panel, several athletic directors were asked what event might spur further realignment in the five most powerful conferences. West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, a member of the playoff committee, said that if one league -- be it the 14-team SEC, the 12-team Pac-12 or the 10-team Big 12 -- had more success placing teams in the playoff, other leagues might look to replicate the number. Of course, with Grant of Rights deals in place for the length of their current television deals, the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 aren't going to get smaller. The thought is the Big 12 might want to grow to 12 and add a championship game, but another Big 12 athletic director changed the conversation with a thought that should excite anyone who doesn't believe the four-team playoff goes far enough.
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, whose Horned Frogs aren't about to share any of their newfound Big 12 largesse with any other schools, said the more important question is when the playoff will expand.
"If the playoffs were to start today, you'd have two SEC teams, an ACC team and a Big Ten team," Del Conte said. "The Pac-12 and the Big 12 are outside looking in. If you have a steady diet of that over a period of time, there are going to definitely be some conversations. ... The better question is if it is going to be four or expand to eight. I think that's the question. Not expansion of conference."
We in the media have been speculating about this possibility since the summer of 2012, when the powers that be announced the 12-year contract that created the four-team playoff. But this is the first time anyone from inside the machine has brought up the possibility in public. And Del Conte makes a convincing argument. "If you have four and all of sudden the Big Ten is out for three years in a row, they'll be salty dogs up there. That's a big media market," Del Conte said. "They're not going to take it. [Big Ten commissioner Jim] Delany will not have it. So do they go from four to eight? That's the better question."
But that isn't the only interesting question. Here's another. Which will cause more angst for the members of the committee, slotting the four playoff teams or slotting the teams that will play in the other bowls in the CFP structure? Just as when the BCS bowls selected their at-large teams, the committee members will control how millions of dollars flow among the conferences. Radakovich said that may depend on the year. Depending on which conferences send teams to the playoff, committee members could have to slot between one and five at-large schools in bowls. In years with five at-large teams, the committee could face some interesting choices. "One of the biggest issues where there's going to be controversy is how you place those teams in the BCS bowls," Osborne said. "Those are $15 million, $20 million decision. For Conference USA or the Sun Belt, whether you get a team in the BCS is really big deal."
Osborne meant the CFP, but old habits die hard. For now, he should probably fortify his mailbox and prepare to handle the flurry of questions that still must be answered between now and Dec. 7, 2014 when the committee will reveal the first four playoff teams and the real arguing begins.