Big questions remain for playoff

Originally Published: June 21, 2012
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- After 143 seasons, major college football will finally have a playoff to determine its national champion.

The FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick on Wednesday endorsed a seeded four-team playoff model for college football that would begin for the 2014 season. The current BCS system, which pits the top two teams in the final BCS standings in the national championship game, will remain in place during the next two seasons.

The commissioners' recommendation must be approved by the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, which meets Tuesday in Washington, D.C. If approved, the four-team playoff would replace the BCS system, which has been in place since 1998.

Here's a closer look at what's left on the table:

1. How will the four teams be selected?

Sources told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the commissioners are leaning heavily toward using a committee to select the four teams. The commissioners must still decide who will serve on the committee -- former college football coaches or current athletic directors and commissioners from the FBS conferences. Sources said the commissioners will charge the committee with using set criteria, such as preference for conference champions and teams that played difficult schedules, in choosing the four teams. While there might be some data used to rank the teams (like the RPI ratings the men's basketball tournament committee uses in selecting at-large teams and seeding the 68-team field), it appears the coaches' poll, Harris Poll and computer rankings that are a part of the BCS formula won't carry as much weight, if any, in the future. The commissioners want the selection process to be as transparent and objective as possible.

2. Where will the semifinals and championship game be played?

[+] EnlargeCowboys Stadium
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCities like Dallas, which doesn't host a BCS game, will likely get a chance to bid on a national title game.

Sources told ESPN.com that the semifinal games will probably be played within the current BCS bowl games (Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar) on a rotating basis. The commissioners currently favor having sites that would be designated before a particular season begins.

The commissioners considered using an anchor system, which would have placed the top two seeded teams at the BCS bowl games with traditional associations with their respective conferences (i.e. an SEC team at the Sugar Bowl or Big Ten or Pac-12 teams at the Rose Bowl). But the commissioners felt there were too many logistical problems associated with the plan, like fans having to wait to book travel and buy tickets for a semifinal game only a few weeks in advance.

"When you know where the game is going to be played, it allows certainty for fans and for ticket distribution and for television sponsorship, all those things," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "The more you know that in advance, the more stable the system is."

The committee will still have the authority to send a Pac-12 team to the Rose Bowl or an ACC team to the Orange Bowl for semifinal games if they're ranked in the top two. Traditional matchups and geography will still be considered while seeding the teams and placing them in semifinal games.

The commissioners have agreed to offer the national championship game to the highest bidding city on an annual basis, like the NFL does with the Super Bowl. The host cities of the current BCS bowl games -- Miami, New Orleans, Pasadena, Calif., and Glendale, Ariz. -- would be eligible to bid on the championship game. It isn't immediately clear whether those bowls would be allowed to double-host semifinal and championship games. Cities that have been left out of the BCS system until this point, such as Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis and St. Louis, also would be allowed to bid on the championship game.

3. How will the money be divided?

The commissioners are still in the early stages of determining revenue sharing, but Delany and ACC commissioner John Swofford said they've agreed on the principals of how the money will be divided. Industry sources have predicted the four-team playoff could be worth as much as $400 million to $500 million annually. (ESPN currently pays about $160 million to broadcast five BCS games -- Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar and title game.)

The top five conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- will undoubtedly receive the largest share of the purse. The Big East, which lost TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12 this year and will lose Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC in 2014, will probably receive a much smaller share than what it earns in the current BCS system. The commissioners are considering a revenue sharing model that would reward revenue based on a league's past performance in the BCS standings since 1998. Delany said this week he would like academic performance to be a consideration in how the money is divided.

"It's a sensitive area, and it's an area where you have to listen closely," Delany said. "People want fair access, people want fair revenue sharing. Access, revenue sharing, contributions to the marketplace, some respect for the fact that these programs are sponsored by collegiate institutions. ... In principle, we probably are agreed. But you never know until you know the model exactly what you're going to deal with. We worked it out last time. I'm sure we'll work it out this time."

4. Who serves on the Presidential Oversight Committee?

The presidents' committee will ultimately decide whether the sport moves forward with a four-team playoff. The committee is chaired by Virginia Tech president Charles W. Steger and includes representatives from each of the 11 FBS conferences and Notre Dame. Here are the chancellors and presidents who serve on the committee (in addition to Steger): Scott Cowen (Tulane), Rev. John Jenkins (Notre Dame), Bernie Machen (Florida), Max Nikias (Southern California), Duane Nellis (Idaho), Harvey Perlman (Nebraska), John G. Peters (Northern Illinois), Bill Powers (Texas), James Ramsey (Louisville), Gary Ransdell (Western Kentucky) and John Welty (Fresno State).

5. Will the presidents consider any other plans?

Perlman and other presidents from the Big Ten and Pac-12 seemed to favor the status quo, or at least nothing more than a plus-one system, which would pit the top two teams in a championship game after existing BCS bowl games are played. While the commissioners and Swarbrick have recommended a four-team playoff, the presidents will be presented with at least the plus-one model as another option. But since the commissioners have unanimously endorsed the seeded, four-team plan, it's expected to be adopted. The presidents could ask the commissioners to finalize the remaining details before approving a four-team playoff, but there's a sense of urgency to get it done with TV contract negotiations scheduled to begin this fall.

6. Where does Notre Dame fit into the playoff?

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/US PresswireBrian Kelly and his Notre Dame still have an equal shot at reaching the playoffs.

Swarbrick said he was comfortable with the four-team playoff because it ensured Notre Dame would at least have access to playing in it. If the Fighting Irish are one of the country's best teams, they'll get as much consideration as teams from the Big Ten and SEC. The proposed playoff would allow Notre Dame to remain an independent and still be eligible to compete in a national playoff.

"Our interest was ensuring we had an opportunity to play ourselves into any championship model, and we do," Swarbrick said. "There's no obstacle to that for us. If we earn it, we can play in it."

7. What about teams from outside the big conferences?

The commissioners were very diligent in making sure each of the 11 FBS conferences would have access to playing in the semifinals and other BCS games. They eliminated "AQ" and "non-AQ" status at a meeting in April, so teams from any of the 11 conferences would be eligible to be selected for the playoffs by the committee. The commissioners are also considering adding at least one more BCS bowl (and possibly two) to create more at-large berths for teams from outside the bigger conferences. It's believed the new Champions Bowl, which would pit a Big 12 team against an SEC team, might be part of the BCS rotation.

8. Who were the winners and losers?

There was a lot of give and take from all sides. SEC commissioner Mike Slive got most of what he wanted, although he did prefer taking the four best teams, regardless of whether they won their conference championships. If a committee is used to select the teams, at least some preferential treatment will be given to teams that won their leagues. Delany initially favored a champions-only model, as well as playing semifinal games at the higher-seeded teams' stadiums, but neither of those plans was adopted. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott wasn't an early proponent of a selection committee, but he eventually warmed up to the idea.

Mark Schlabach | email

College Football and Basketball