Flawed BCS replaced with better, if imperfect College Football Playoff
PASADENA, Calif. -- At a news conference here Tuesday at the Langham Huntington Pasadena, executive director Bill Hancock and the 10 FBS conference commissioners stood on a riser in front of the room watching the screen as a video presentation touted their new creation. Amidst a montage of memorable BCS moments -- Ian Johnson's Statue of Liberty, Ohio State fending off Miami, etc. -- a male voiceover declared: "The College Football Playoff -- you can't get more straightforward than that."
No you can't. And that's probably a good thing.
While the jokes are easy -- especially given the fact a marketing firm actually collected money to devise it -- a simplistic approach to a new name was the right direction for a sport trying to rebrand its postseason while still retaining many elements of the oft-derided BCS (Three of the four potential logos, on the other hand, look like they were lifted from the late-'90s comedy BASEketball).
The four-team playoff that begins next year is radical in the sense there's never been even a mini-tournament to decide the sport's national champion (FCS and below notwithstanding), but it's still the same people (Jim Delany, Mike Slive et. al.) calling the shots and mostly the same bowl games hosting the playoff semifinal games. It's essentially BCS 2.0, with those in charge openly admitting they're still largely wed to a more traditional postseason.
"I'm not great with names, obviously," joked Delany, the man who gave us Legends and Leaders.
But publicly, Tuesday marked the first step in what will be a long-term branding campaign to ensure that college football fans don't confuse the sport's new world order with the old, heavily criticized one.
The Bowl Championship Series was an ill-conceived moniker dreamt up in the primordial age of the late '90s when then-television partner ABC was just thrilled to have the Big Ten and Pac-10 willing to let its champions play someone else's. There was no 'Series' to speak of, and regrettably, no one stopped to consider what cute little two-letter slang term could be abstracted from the acronym BCS.
"There are two letters that are not associated with this name," Hancock said.
Theoretically, as some on Twitter noted, this new product more closely fits the description of a Bowl Championship "Series" than the old one, but still, the name had to go.
"I don't think there was any doubt about that," Delany said. "The BCS did a lot of good for college football ... but it also became a huge branding burden."
"I don't think you can just endlessly criticize something and expect it to perform well."
So College Football Playoff it is, and lest there was any doubt before, the name should tell you that beginning next season, every team's preseason goal will change. The end game is no longer to reach a BCS bowl, as every team in the country strives for (presuming you play in a conference that makes said goal attainable).
It's all about the College Football Playoff.
Whereas there's basically one team right now, Alabama, for which anything less than the BCS Championship Game is considered a disappointment, going forward, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Ohio State and a whole host of others will begin every season expecting to reach the College Football Playoff.
(Note: Organizers made a point of emphasizing there is no "s" at the end of "Playoff." Parties that suggest otherwise will be disciplined accordingly.)
Of course, there will still be bowl games, two of which will host the College Football Playoff's semifinal games. But as Hancock described it, there are no plans to collectively brand the other major games the way they currently do the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls. If your team makes the Orange Bowl, then congratulations, you've made the Orange Bowl. But that may mean something different to Florida State than it will, say, Virginia. Big Ten and Pac-12 fans will presumably still hold the Rose Bowl with some reverence, though that reverence will be far greater in years when the Rose Bowl hosts a playoff semifinal.
Technically, yes, the commissioners have preserved the bowl system. On Wednesday, they'll announce which three lucky bowls (widely expected to be the Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A) will join the semifinal rotation, as well as the site of the first-ever College Football National Championship Game on Jan. 12, 2015. (It will be Cowboys Stadium.) In reality, this is the beginning of a new era in which college football, like all other sports, sets its calendar to a playoff.
Which is just as the majority of fans have clamored for these many years.
"It's the College Football Playoff, it's something the public wanted," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive. "So why get fancy, why not call it what it is?"
As they increasingly distance themselves from the 15-year-old BCS, it will be interesting to see whether college football's power brokers enjoy an accompanying drop-off in backlash. Over time, those three letters swirled together to comprise a variety of perceived ills -- deserving teams deprived their chance at a title; confusing computer rankings; the excess of a certain bowl directors; unrealistic ticket guarantees -- any or all of which left the vast majority of the public wanting something better.
No playoff system will ever be universally satisfying. Some teams will still feel excluded. Some fans will still want a larger field. But if all goes as they hope, ire will be directed more specifically at the selection committee, much like in basketball, and less so at the system itself. The College Football Playoff would become a national celebration, not a punching bag.
"This is an event that is going to have tremendous meaning," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "... Because it's such a powerful event, it does not need some avant-garde name. You just want to call it what it is, because it is so distinctive and differentiated."
He may be right. Perhaps one day College Football Playoff will roll off the tongue like The Masters or Wimbledon. It certainly stands to redefine New Year's Eve (when the semifinals will be played in eight of the 12 years) and re-energize New Year's Day (when the Rose and Sugar will host their semifinals).
The only red flag: As of Monday night, the logo with the eight spikes inexplicably jutting out of a football was wining the online fan voting contest -- and the commissioners aren't kidding that one of the four really will be the official logo.
"The one that gets the most votes is the one that will be the logo for the College Football Playoff for next 12 years," Hancock said.
Apparently the BCS just couldn't leave the building without one last spectacular clunker.