New playoff format will be designed by committee

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Notre Dame played Alabama for the national title Monday night at Sun Life Stadium. There really wasn’t any controversy about who should be in this year’s game. At least we don’t think.

Some seasons, of course, there have been. But the BCS system for determining such things, which came into being in the late 1990s because college football was having an almost impossible time getting the top two teams together after the regular season, has largely gotten this thing correct, especially more recently, regardless of the perception.

But it’s going to change in two years, because America wanted more. So that’s precisely what it’s going to get, for better or whatever.

Starting with the 2015 postseason, there will be seven so-called major bowls instead of the current five. And three of them — the semifinals and title game — will be part a four-team playoff. Those four teams will be chosen by a committee, much like the way it’s done for the NCAA basketball tournament. There are still a lot of details to finalize, but that’s basically where the evolution is taking us. And the contract will run for 12 years, so right or wrong we’re going to have to live with it.

Most folks, obviously, are ready for something else.

“There’s a whole generation that doesn’t remember what it was like before the BCS,” said Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, Monday morning at the annual Football Writers Association of America awards breakfast. “But only eight times in the previous 56 years did No. 1 play No. 2 in a bowl game. So that’s what it was designed to do. I think it’s helped improve the game. The general interest has gone up and up. I don’t think it’s coincidental. It’s turned a regional game into more of a national game. Until the BCS came along, I don’t think a lot of people paid attention to Boise-TCU. Now they do.

“I know we’ve been called a lot of things. First we were the evil cartel for keeping out the little guy. This year some were upset that Northern Illinois got in (to a BCS bowl). So which is it?”

Fair enough. But moving forward, there will be other issues to deal with.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Hancock admitted. “We’re at an historical juncture.”

Many of those questions figure to be answered in the next few months. There’s a meeting scheduled for April. Still to be determined are the makeup of the selection committee, although it will include a representative from each of the 11 conferences involved in this process and, of course, any independents. They also have to come up with the semifinal sites, as well as those for the title game. Bids are being accepted. And as you might have surmised, a host of venues are interested. Pasadena, New Orleans and Miami will comprise half of the six semis, which will rotate on a three-year basis. It would figure Phoenix might continue to be part of that, but who knows. It’s probably not hard to come up with the other likely suspects. Since the BCS headquarters are apparently going to be relocated to Dallas, there’s every chance that Jerry Jones Stadium might figure into all of this at some point.

“I’m sure the first year of the playoffs there will be some saying they wish they had the BCS back,” Hancock joked.

The first title game, in 2015, is scheduled for Jan. 12. The semis will be played on the same day, either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. So the time between the semis and final will fluctuate, depending upon when the year starts, since the final will continue to be on a Monday night. The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowls have also been told they’ll keep their traditional television windows, which are 4:30 and 8 on New Year’s Day. The feeling is that the first year, the title game will go to some place that’s hosted a major bowl. Other than that …

“We don’t know what the future’s going to be,” Hancock said. “We still have to come up with a (new) name. Any suggestions?”

He estimated the selection committee will contain anywhere from 15 to 18 members, including “at-large” participants.

“They will have extensive experience,” he promised. “It will be the most prestigious committee in college sports. And the most scrutinized.

“There will be no shortage of people who’ll want to be part of that.”

He said the committee will operate with the “highest level of transparency,” although he admitted he wasn’t sure yet exactly what that means. There won’t be any more weekly BCS standings to monitor, which we’re sure ESPN won’t like.

“We want them to have everything at their disposal,” Hancock insisted. “The polls, the computer rankings … (but) in the end it’ll come down to the eye test, common sense. Winning the conference is going to be a factor. Common opponents, head-to-head.”

There’s been talk of putting out some weekly update, such as listing the top 10 teams in alphabetical order, but Hancock said they don’t want to do anything to “box” the committee in.

“Maybe it’ll give the writer’s poll a lot more meaning (again),” he suggested. “Like I said, there’s a lot of balls in the air that we’re trying to juggle at the moment.”

There is no limit on the number of teams from a conference that can get in. So this year, it could have been two more from the SEC in Florida and Georgia. When they make the semifinal pairings, they’re going to try and not give a home-crowd disadvantage to a higher seed, although Hancock acknowledged there may be times when that simply isn’t feasible.

“If it can be done it will,” he said. “There are lots of permutations … It’s not your father’s BCS. It’s a whole new deal. So no one can say for sure.”

Some writer, naturally, wanted to know if the players who made it to the finals would get two bowl gifts. Or even if there would be two media gifts. They were joking, of course.

And you thought this brave new world was going to solve all the problems. Hey, give it time. Or at least wait until the system after that finally rears its ugly head.