I've certainly aired my thoughts on this subject a lot lately, and because of that, as well as the timeliness of striking while the iron's still hot and stoked with relevancy, I would be remiss not to jump into the conversation yet once again as the voice of caution.
We're speaking, of course, about the endorsement provided by a presidential oversight committee on Tuesday to a proposed four-team playoff system in college football that, once and for all, will bring an end to the current, supposedly highly flawed and definitely controversial, Bowl Championship Series format of determining college football's top team for a given year.
That blessing ostensibly was the lone decision necessary to bring to a formal close, or at least an official finish line marking the end thereof, the much maligned BCS era in college football. What has been speculated for months now will finally come to be. But hold the applause, we still have some time yet with the current BCS system, which I'm sure will be filled to the brim with further cursing and criticism before all is said and done.
"I don't think any of us is naïve to assume it ends the controversy," USA Today quoted Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Pearlman as saying after Tuesday's development in Washington, D.C.
O.K., so college football finally has its playoff system, and the commissioners of all of the major conferences appear to be fully on board with the newest solution to what has been an age-old problem in the top level of college football. Isn't that interesting in light of the fact that just 18 months ago this jolly group of decision makers couldn't agree on anything that involved the notion of compromise or embracing change for the better good of the college game.
Just a couple of years ago we were hearing arguments against a football playoff format because it would extend the season, create an additional stress on academics because of more time away from the classroom for the student athletes, and because the college presidents were hesitant to favor a program that would add more cost to their already strained athletic budgets. Interesting how a little conference realignment - or some would say a major eruption in the landscape - can alter behavior and make what once seemed like significant stumbling blocks considerable less so over time.
The devil is in the details, they say, and I suggest to you that it is the many details that remain to be resolved where controversy and similarity of the past will continue to persist. I'm speaking specifically of the selection system that will be implemented to separate the so-called top four college teams from the short list of other viable contenders.
The new college playoff plan for NCAA Division I schools, which will be put in place starting in 2014, calls for a selection committee, the composition of which must still be worked out, similar to what is in place for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The football selection committee will be responsible for identifying and seeding the four playoff teams.
The new playoff format is designed to prevent what happened last season when Alabama was chosen to face LSU in the BCS National Championship, despite having lost to LSU in the regular season, instead of No. 3-ranked and Big 12 Conference champion Oklahoma State. Or when Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship and still beat out undefeated SEC-champion Auburn for the chance to go up against USC in the 2005 national championship (2004 season).
Three of the major conference commissioners who have been involved in the formulation of the new playoff plan - Mike Silva of the Southeastern Conference, Jim Delany of the Big Ten and new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby - have served on the basketball tournament selection committee.
There will be a process now to more methodically sort out the four most deserving teams to engage in a two-round playoff to determine the college football champion. But all that has really accomplished is push the controversy between the teams seeded second and third down two spots to the determination for the final playoff spot and fifth or sixth and perhaps even further down the list of viable contenders.
Case in point. Stanford was ranked fourth in the final BCS standings last season despite having been blown out by fifth-ranked Oregon during the season. Based on the four-team playoff model, should Stanford or Pac-12 champion Oregon be chosen for the final playoff spot?
The BCS commissioners say the playoff teams will be ranked and seeded based on the obvious variables - won-loss record, strength of schedule - as well as some other determining factors yet to be decided. I don't know about you, but that sounds awfully similar to what is in place right now. So where is the improvement in making sure the right teams get into the playoff?
I don't believe this process will end at a four-team playoff. I think that's how it will start out, and the conference commissioners will give the new format a chance for several years to take hold. But I think it is somewhat inevitable that the playoff will eventually expand to at least eight teams and perhaps as many as 16. Anything less will simply be a case of shifting the problem.
The good news, I guess, is that we have two years for allegedly wiser people than you and I to figure all this out. I'm just not sure that different necessarily qualifies as better.
Here is what we know about the new college football championship format as of now:
- The playoff will involve the four highest-seeded teams, as decided by a special football selection committee.
- The first playoff will be held at the end of the 2014 regular season
- Two semifinal games will be played on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. The winners of those games will meet for the national championship on the first Monday night in January, or six or more days after Jan. 1, depending on what day of the week New Year's falls.
- Six bowl sites will participate in the playoff rotation. Likely participants will be the traditional prime bowls - Rose, Orange, the new Champions Bowl (SEC/Big 12 partnership beginning in 2014), and the Cotton Bowl - and three others.
- The championship game will be played at a neutral site and probably selected via a bidding process.
- In terms of the four participating bowl sites that are not selected for a given year's semifinals, the conferences that have bowl ties with any of the non-playoff venues will send their teams there. If no tie exists, the respective bowl committee will extend a bid.
- The lesser bowls will continue to operate as they always have.
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