Commentary

Playoff details to be debated

Originally Published: April 27, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Bowl Championship Series executive director Bill Hancock called it a "seismic change" for college football.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said it was a "significant change," and ACC commissioner John Swofford said the "concept is likely to find its way to fruition."

[+] EnlargeBill Hancock
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBill Hancock and the commissioners are on the verge of major change to college football's postseason.

The 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick didn't finalize much during three days of meetings here, but it's evident that college football will have a four-team playoff in place by the 2014 season.

There are plenty of details that must still be settled: how the four teams will be selected, where and when two semifinals and a championship game will be played, and how the current BCS bowl games (Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar) will fit into the sport's new playoff model, if at all.

Regardless of the details, college football will finally have a playoff to determine its national champion.

"It's great to get to a point where there seems to be a general consensus that a four-team, three-game playoff is the best route to go," Swofford said. "The next challenge, obviously, is figuring out a format that brings consensus where we can truly make that work. When you get to this point and you've got an agreement on [the four-team playoff], you would certainly hope that we would be able to seal the deal on the particulars."

When Slive was asked if the commissioners could turn back now, he said: "I hope not."

Each of the FBS conference commissioners and Swarbrick left South Florida armed with a few variations of a four-team playoff, which they'll take back to their respective university presidents, athletics directors and coaches to consider over the next several weeks. Hancock said the commissioners had about "two to seven" variations of a four-team playoff to consider.

The FBS conference commissioners are scheduled to meet in Chicago on June 20, with the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee meeting there shortly thereafter.

A four-team playoff format could be finalized by the end of the summer, if not sooner.

"Some people in the room like Model A, some prefer Model B and some like Model C," Hancock said. "There's a lot more work to do."

A person familiar with the BCS discussions told ESPN.com on Thursday that a plan incorporating the current BCS bowl games into the semifinals, while offering the national championship game to the highest bidder, seemed to be the most favored scenario among the conference commissioners. Current BCS bowl games could bid on hosting the national title game, although other cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Indianapolis -- which haven't hosted BCS bowl games in the past -- might be involved in hosting the championship game as well.

Under that plan, two semifinal games would be rotated among the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls each season. The Rose Bowl isn't yet completely on board in sacrificing its traditional affiliations with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences to host a national semifinal game every two years, but the source said the issue "would be resolved favorably."

The source said playing the semifinal games at the higher-seeded teams' home stadiums raised too many logistical issues, and that conference commissioners favored having the BCS bowl games involved in the playoffs. The other BCS bowl games not involved in the semifinals would still host traditional New Year's Day-type games, with participating teams being selected from a pool of teams determined by the BCS standings.

If the SEC champion isn't involved in the four-team playoff, it might still play in the Sugar Bowl, if New Orleans isn't hosting a semifinal game. The Big 12 champion might still end up playing in the Fiesta Bowl, and, of course, the Big Ten champion and Pac-12 champion might still meet in the Rose Bowl if everything lines up right.

At least college football will keep some of its tradition.

"I'm sure there will be some recognition for traditional bowl relationships and contracts," Hancock said.

The source said the current BCS bowl games want to be involved in the playoffs. "They see the handwriting on the wall; they can get on board or be on the same turf with the other bowls, bidding for bowl tie-ins," the source said.

For now, Slive said the commissioners would concentrate on where and when the games would be played, before deciding how participating teams would be selected.

"We talked about the selection process at length," Slive said. "Since the selection process can be used with any format, it's something we can discuss over time. The important issue now is that there are obviously three games and where are we going to play them?"

Once those issues are settled, the real debate can begin. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott still favors including only conference champions in the playoff -- a proposal that is all but dead, according to the source. Slive wants the four best teams playing for the national title, regardless of whether they won their leagues or not.

At the end of the day, commissioners also aren't expected to recommend using a selection committee to select the best four teams and instead favor tweaking the current BCS formula to place greater emphasis on factors such as strength of schedule, the source said.

"Every conference is going to look at this through its own prism," Slive said. "What might not be a big issue for one might be a big issue for someone else."

But the biggest issue has been settled. College football finally has a playoff.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball

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