A college football playoff is at hand! Yippee!
Well, it will be at hand in 2014. And, well, it's a final four, not really a full-on playoff. Think of it as a BCS times two, only with a selection committee that will choose the ... wait for it ... wait for it ... "FOUR BEST TEAMS."
You know: Just like the SEC wanted.
So what does it mean for the Pac-12? The correct answer is we have no idea. Little is certain in college football these days -- at least, other than the SEC winning BCS "national titles." We don't yet know all of the details of our shiny new playoff, and we also have two more seasons to play before it takes effect, during which new variables are certain to be introduced.
The suggested takeaway we have for you is cautious optimism. More teams will be invited to the big postseason party -- that's a good thing. There will be more opportunities for Pac-12 teams to win national titles. There also will be more -- and more transparent -- interpretation of who gets there and why. With this new system, Washington and Oregon wouldn't have been left out as they were in 2000 and 2001, respectively. USC wouldn't have been passed over by an indefensible process as it was in 2003. And it's likely that if we had a selection committee in 2008, someone would have piped in: "Hey, does it matter that we all know USC is the best team? I mean, we can't really leave USC out of a final four, can we?"
The Pac-12 and Big Ten still will maintain their relationship with the Rose Bowl. That's a good thing. The selection committee will consider win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. Strength of schedule and winning a conference championship are two criteria the Pac-12 valued.
So while everyone is acting as if the SEC got everything it wanted, the Pac-12 got everything it needed. Our feeling is that much of what you heard out of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott the past few weeks -- the plus-one! the demand for only conference champions! -- was gamesmanship. I'm not sure he's unhappy with any of the compromises he had to make.
So, again, cautious optimism.
But questions lie ahead, without a doubt.
A first issue: The nine-game vs. eight-game conference schedule. The major conferences need to adopt a standard here. If the Pac-12 and Big 12 are playing nine conference games and the SEC and Big Ten are playing eight, then those conferences aren't playing the same game. It's not just about playing another tough opponent, either. It's about the mathematical fact that playing an extra conference game creates more losses in your conference and chips away at strength of schedule as much -- or more -- as it might add to it.
Further, strength of schedule in general needs to be explained. If the selection committee is going to truly emphasize it, then that means you might see a 10-2 team that played a brutal schedule get an advantage over an unbeaten team that didn't. For example, let's say there's an 11-2 team that wins its conference, beats five top-25 teams and loses close games early in the season to a pair of teams that finished unbeaten and are already in the Final Four. Would it get enough of a bounce with the committee to slip past a 12-0 team that had just one or two top-25 victories? And, oh, by the way, would that be fair?
If that is the case -- that strength of schedule receives major consideration -- that would encourage better scheduling and fewer patsy, buy-a-victory games. That would be a huge win for fans. Who can get enough of Oregon-LSU or USC-Ohio State?
How revenue distribution works out also will be interesting to see. How much will a conference get for putting two teams in a final four? And what does a conference get when it places no teams in the final four? A few consecutive seasons with one conference reaping monetary rewards from the former and another suffering through the latter could end up creating a sizable revenue disparity.
And, perhaps, a new breed of haves and have-nots.
Speaking of that: Are we certain that conference alignments will be as they are today in 2014? Probably not, right? Every time we feel like stability has arrived after an expansion frenzy, we only find out about more reckless eyeballing.
At the very least, we are living through interesting times in college football. Just five or so years ago, these sort of cataclysmic changes didn't seem possible.
So, for a third time: Cautious optimism.
What's the cheer for that?