Playoff approved, questions remain
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Bowl Championship Series was given its death sentence Tuesday, and the jury that sent it to its grave deliberated for less than three hours.
That's how bad college football's current system for determining its national champion really is.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Alex BrandonThe BCS Presidential Oversight Committee approved a playoff -- but didn't hammer out all of the details.
If only the presidents and conference commissioners could bury the BCS before 2014.
Even the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, which includes 12 university presidents and chancellors and was expected to deliberate long into the night, realized college sports' most important postseason needed to be overhauled. Until now, the presidents have liked the idea of a playoff about as much as budget cuts.
After receiving a unanimous recommendation for a seeded, four-team playoff from the sport's conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, the presidents didn't need very long to give it their stamp of approval.
Starting with the 2014 season, college football's national championship will be decided by two semifinals and a national championship game. The existing system, which pits the top two teams in the final BCS standings in a national title game, will remain in place for the next two seasons.
"I don't think there was a single moment [to spark change]," ACC commissioner John Swofford said. "I think it just evolved. I think some of it was just battle fatigue because the general sporting public never really embraced the current system, even though that system did a lot of good things for college football. I think the longer that went on, the more people realized we had to do something that was different and better."
Swofford and other conference commissioners admit the four-team playoff won't be perfect and won't solve all of the postseason's controversies. But it's different and bigger than the current BCS model, which is at least a start in getting it right.
"Today is such a significant day, even with the work we need to do," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said.
The presidents and chancellors approved the recommended plan, even though commissioners still have to hammer out many of its details. Here's a closer look at what we know and what still has to be finalized:
1. How will the four teams be selected?
The presidents approved the commissioners' plan to have a committee choose and seed the teams in the playoff. The committee will be charged with giving all teams an equal opportunity to participate in the playoffs and will also consider factors such as strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. New Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the committee will probably include 15 members. Slive wouldn't say who will serve on the committee, but it might be a mixture of current conference commissioners, athletics directors and former coaches.
"We've had some pretty good discussions," Slive said. "We've got several details to finalize over time. The sense is we're pretty comfortable with where we are on it. It will not be difficult."
2. Where will the games be played?
The semifinal games will be played in a rotation among six bowl sites and the championship game will be offered to the highest bidding city, like the NFL does with the Super Bowl. At this point, only two games are guaranteed a spot in the semifinals rotation: the Champions Bowl (which will pit the Big 12 against the SEC) and the Rose Bowl (which pits the Big Ten versus the Pac-12). The ACC is close to finalizing an agreement with the Orange Bowl, which would also become one of the three contract games included in the rotation.
The commissioners will take bids to host the other three bowl games that will be part of the semifinals mix. The Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl will probably be considered, but a source told ESPN.com that commissioners probably favored having the additional games in the Southeast, Texas and the West Coast.
Under the 12-year agreement approved by the presidents on Tuesday, each of the six bowl games would host a semifinal game four times. But a source told ESPN.com that there might be one or two more opportunities for hosting semifinals because the Rose Bowl might prefer to host its traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup, instead of being included in the semifinals rotation four times.
3. When will the games be played?
Swofford said the commissioners' plan is for the six major bowl games, including the two semifinals, to be played on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day each season. Commissioners said the first semifinals games will be played on either Dec. 31, 2014 or Jan. 1, 2015. The first national championship game is scheduled for Jan. 12, 2015, and commissioners plan to play the championship game on the second Monday night of January in each of the first five seasons.
"One of the mistakes we made was getting away from New Year's Day," Swofford said. "That was not a good decision. We made a mistake on that one."
4. How will the money be divided?
The revenue-sharing plan remains under discussion, according to the commissioners and presidents. ESPN reportedly pays about $165 million for five BCS games. Industry experts have predicted that a four-team playoff and four other major bowls could command as much as $400 million to $500 million annually.
Commissioners did reveal Tuesday some of the criteria for how the money will be divided: on-field success, teams' expenses, marketplace factors and academic performance of student-athletes.
"It will be significant revenue, but we have not run the numbers," Texas president Bill Powers said. "It will depend on what the market will bear."
5. How long before the approved playoff expands?
One of the reasons the Presidential Oversight Committee approved the recommended four-team plan so quickly is because it won't extend college football's season. The presidents want to keep football a one-semester sport as much as possible. The approved playoff agreement extends into the 2025 season, so the playoff won't be expanding to eight teams or 16 teams anytime soon.
"The factor I really like a lot is it does not diminish the existing bowl structure and doesn't disrupt the academic calendar," Powers said. "An eight-team playoff doesn't do that. I think there would be a lot of serious opposition on a lot of campuses to go to eight teams or 16 teams."
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, who favored the current BCS plan or nothing more than a plus-one model, said future expansion was one of his concerns with the four-team playoff.
"I think it's everyone's concern," Pearlman said. "There was a conversation about which one of these models -- the plus-one or the four-team -- would alleviate the pressure of broadening the playoffs as we moved forward. There are one of two things you can do -- add games or take games away from the regular season, and neither one of them is good."
6. How much access will teams from smaller conferences have to get into the playoffs?
There are basically five power conferences left in college football: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. The champions of those leagues will be guaranteed a spot in one of the six major bowls (and in one of the semifinals if they're selected by the committee). The teams in college football's other leagues have to hope they're good enough to be selected by the committee.
By adding two more major bowl games, the commissioners feel like they've increased the chances of a team like Boise State or Hawaii playing in one of the sport's marquee postseason games.
"I think what this does is produces access and it's going to produce a significant opportunity for high-ranking teams that might not be ranked one through four," Slive said.
Commissioners will begin to hammer out the remaining details over the next couple of months, before they begin negotiations with TV networks about broadcasting the future playoffs this fall.
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PLAYOFF PLAN APPROVED
After months of debate, college football finally has a playoff. The BCS Presidential Oversight Committee approved a four-team model on Tuesday, which will begin in 2014. Story
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