WASHINGTON, D.C. — The best way to determine a major college football champion seemed so obvious to so many for so long. Just have a playoff.
Now the people in charge of making that decision are on board, too.
Come 2014, the BCS is out. Playoffs are in.
A committee of university presidents approved a plan Tuesday for a four-team playoff put forward by commissioners of the top football conferences.
For years, the decision-makers had balked at any type of playoff because they said it would diminish the importance of the regular season. If only two teams had a chance to win a championship in the postseason, even one loss could be too many. That made for some high stakes regular-season matchups. As recently as 2008, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive proposed the type of plan adopted Tuesday, and it was quickly shot down.
Four years later, minds changed.
“It’s a great day for college football,” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said. “As soon as the commissioners realized they could do this and protect the regular season, the light went on for everybody.”
The move completes a six-month process for the commissioners, who have been working on a new way to determine a major college football champ after years of griping from fans. The latest configuration is certain to make even more money for the schools than the old system — and it still won’t satisfy everyone. Some will think it’s too small and, yes, there are some who liked things just the way they are.
“There were differences of views,” Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said. “I think it would be a serious mistake to assume it was a rubber stamp.”
Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman was the most notable holdout. He had said that he preferred the status quo or a tweak of the Bowl Championship Series. Perlman said the playoff still wouldn’t be his first choice, but he was not going to stand in the way of progress. After the commissioners presented their proposal to the presidents, it took the CEOs about an hour and a half to come to a decision.
“This is the package that was put forth and we will strongly support it,” Perlman said.
Instead of simply matching the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a title game after the regular season, the way the BCS has done since 1998, the new format will create a pair of national semifinals.
The BCS has been a constant target for criticism. Lawmakers have railed against it. A political action committee was formed dedicated to its destruction. The Justice Department looked into whether it broke antitrust laws. Even President Obama said he wanted a playoff.
Now it’s a reality.
No. 1 will play No. 4, and No. 2 will play No. 3 on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The sites of those games will rotate among six bowls. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., is guaranteed a spot, and the to-be-determined site of the newly formed bowl created by the SEC and Big 12 is likely to be another, Slive said.
The other current BCS bowls — the Orange, Sugar and Fiesta — are not yet guaranteed spots in the rotation, but will get first crack at bidding for them. The Cotton Bowl, played at the $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has long wanted to be part of the BCS and will no doubt push to be a part of the rotation, possibly as host to the Big 12-SEC game.
The winners of the semis will advance to the championship on the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the last semifinal. The first “Championship Monday” is set for Jan. 12, 2015.
The site of the title game will move around the way the Super Bowl does, with cities bidding for the right to host.
The teams will be selected by a committee, similar to the way the NCAA basketball tournament field is set. The men’s tournament has 68 teams, and 37 at-large bids.
The football committee will have a much tougher task, trying to whittle the field down to four. This season, 125 schools will play at the highest level of college football.
Among the factors the committee will consider is won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. The selection committee will also play a part in creating matchups for games at the four sites that do not hold a semifinal in a given year.
“I think it’s tremendous progress,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach, a playoff proponent. “Five years ago there wasn’t even dialogue about a playoff. Instead of diving in the water, they dipped their toes in. I think it’s’ going to be ridiculously exciting and it’s going to generate a bunch of money. I wish they dived in.”
Leach predicted that the playoff field would eventually grow. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, on the other hand, was happy to keep it small, and wants it to stay that way.
“I may be in the minority. I think we had a pretty good thing going,” he said. “If it stays at four I think it will be fine. Think it will be pretty exciting.”
No one has put a hard number on it yet, but this new format figures to more than double the TV revenue of the current BCS and Rose Bowl contracts. Those pay out about $155 million annually.
The commissioners want to lock in this format for 12 years with a television partner. The current BCS deal with ESPN runs through the 2013 season. The new format will be presented to potential TV partners in the fall, starting with ESPN.
There are still some details to work out, such as who will be on the committee and how exactly the money will be distributed among the conferences. But everybody in charge is on board.
While lower divisions of college football already have a playoff, the highest level has for decades used bowls and polls to determine its champion. Those days are coming to an end.
“A milestone that’s good for college football,” Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford called it.
And a long time coming.