Questions -- and some answers -- about the new playoff system
Despite a mountain of evidence that suggested they would find a way to screw it up, conference commissioners came to a consensus Wednesday on a four-team playoff plan to replace the existing BCS. While the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee still must
rubber stamp vigorously discuss and approve the plan, it seems that, for all intents and purposes, major college football has finally figured out how to finish its season with a tournament.
So now what?
Commissioners were intentionally vague Wednesday about the particulars, but they have agreed upon a 1-4 seeded tournament with semifinals played in bowls and the title game played at a neutral site. How will that tournament actually look? Here are a few guesses and suggestions.
It won't be called the BCS. That acronym evokes only unpleasant thoughts, including the image of ousted Fiesta Bowl chief John Junker waving his Amex at a stripper. Since BCS has reached Yugo/Enron levels of toxicity as a brand name, it's time to slap a new moniker on this puppy. I'm partial to BCS executive director Bill Hancock's suggestion of "The Four-Team Deal," but I understand that could result in a clunky logo. The NCAA owns the phrase "Final Four," and since the NCAA won't be involved in the administration of this event, don't expect any sharing. Other possibilities include:
• The Gridiron Quad
• Three SEC Teams and a Baby
• The Playoffs (includes accompanying big-voiced announcer and John Tesh score)
Indeed, the plus-one -- a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game played after the traditional bowls -- will be presented to the presidents as an option. Fortunately, SB Nation's Jason Kirk has already
Moving on ...
The Big Ten and Pac-12 have been criticized a lot during this process for their slavish devotion to the Rose Bowl, but they also should be lauded for pushing hard for a better method of choosing the teams than the one used to select the two that play in the existing BCS Championship Game. Much of the through-the-media negotiation concerned the concepts of a top-four system or a system that gave preference to conference champions, but Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany clarified his position on that subject again Wednesday. "I was never a champions-only advocate," Delany told reporters in Chicago on Wednesday. "It's been reported that I was. I was never that."
Delany supported the top four teams making the playoff -- just not necessarily the top four as determined by the current BCS rankings. He and many of the other commissioners prefer a selection committee, and the formation of such a committee seems inevitable. Hopefully, that committee will not use any of the current elements of the BCS formula or any other existing polls to inform its decisions. Here's a series of one-sentence explanations for why every poll option stinks:
• Coaches' Poll: Coaches have a financial stake in the results, can't watch that many games, and they'll always, always, always vote along conference lines.
• Harris Interactive poll: Judging by their final ballots, some of the voters might not even watch college football.
• Computer rankings: Five of the six formulas used by the BCS are kept secret.
• Associated Press poll: Do you really want me involved in selecting the teams for the playoff?
Committee members should evaluate as much as possible throughout the season, but they shouldn't convene to discuss the top four until after all the games have been played. The opinions of writers or coaches in August shouldn't impact who plays for the national title. You'll never get rid of preseason polls. People want to read them, so companies such as mine will always produce them. But you can keep them from infecting the final decision by making the committee wait until December to discuss the best four. That way, the resume is all that matters. The committee needs to be transparent. Ideally, deliberations would be televised for maximum transparency and revenue generation. Since that probably won't happen, committee members should candidly explain why the teams that were selected made the playoff and why the teams that weren't selected didn't. Feelings might get hurt, but, as SI.com's own Holly Anderson always reminds us, it's not called Feelingsball. Also, if that committee is instructed to reward teams that challenged themselves in their out-of-conference schedules, even better. That will result in better games, and we all win.
Expect Jerry Jones to promise each conference its own oil well to get the title game at his palace in Arlington, Texas. Essentially, a look at recent Super Bowl sites should provide a good idea as to where the title games will be played. The semifinals appear headed for existing bowl sites, meaning fans of the teams in the title game will have to travel twice. The idea of "anchor bowls" that respect traditional conference tie-ins can't work because of logistical concerns. Basically, everyone involved likes the idea of being able to plan for games a year or more in advance. So in 2014, we'll know where the two semifinals will be played in the 2015 season. If the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl get semis one season, then the Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl -- assuming the big four remain the same -- would get semis the next season.
This will last until a few programs make the playoffs multiple years in succession and their fans decide against traveling to the semifinals. If there are more than a few semifinals with empty seats, the next iteration of these playoffs will feature semis played at campus sites. That probably would have happened this time, but the Big Ten and Pac-12 elected to go all in to protect the relevance of the Rose Bowl instead of backing a concept that would have actually benefitted their football programs.
Judging by the commissioners' repeated vows to make Jan. 1 special again, the most likely date for the first semis seems to be Jan. 1, 2015.
That day can't come soon enough.