The 15 men stood together across a stage in a downtown hotel Wednesday evening.
After five meetings in six months about the future of college football’s postseason, the public gathering of the sport’s biggest power brokers was itself a significant achievement, considering the tense standoff in recent weeks between the SEC/Big 12 and Big Ten/Pac-12 factions.
What they said was groundbreaking: They had reached consensus for a four-team, seeded playoff that would start in the 2014 season. The plan needs only final approval from the university presidents who serve on the Bowl Championship Series oversight committee that next meets on Tuesday in Washington.
What Wednesday’s announcement also signified was that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had officially waved the white flag in arguably the biggest war in the history of their sport — a war won by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, former acting Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas and current Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.
“We’re very unified,” Delany said. “There are issues that have yet to be finalized. There’s always devil in the detail, from the model to the selection process, but clearly we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Although the playoff’s full details were not announced Wednesday, many of them seem to have been ironed out. Scott indicated the favored model would have the two semifinal games played within the existing BCS games on a rotating basis, with the national championship game bid out nationally.
And while no one said it outright Wednesday, it seems likely the playoff’s participants would be chosen by a selection committee tasked with picking the best four teams, though strong consideration would be given to conference champions.
Of course, it’s all subject to the 12 university chief executive officers who comprise the BCS presidential oversight committee, but with Delany and Scott having surrendered, the group is expected to eventually reach the same consensus.
“I think this is very significant that everyone’s up here,” Scott said. “I think all of us up here feel very good about what we’re moving forward with.”
But if you are a college football fan, Wednesday’s announcement doesn’t seem like real progress. After all, nearly two months ago, the BCS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced at the annual BCS meetings that they were focused on developing a four-team playoff model.
“Nothing really changed,” Scott acknowledged Wednesday.
Except that, until Wednesday’s truce was announced in the Intercontinental Hotel’s aptly named “Camelot Room,” the SEC/Big 12 and Big Ten/Pac-12 were sworn enemies. From the opening salvo, the SEC and Big 12 were steadfast about having a four-team playoff with the top four teams playing semifinal games at neutral sites.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 together or individually tried to get the semifinal games played at campus sites, only wanted conference champions to be eligible for the playoff and, in a last-ditch effort to save face, even revived the plus-one format.
Based on the expected final details of the playoff, the SEC/Big 12 massacred the Big Ten/Pac-12. Delany and Scott’s only moral victory was that Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman still will be allowed to make a presentation on the plus-one to the BCS presidential oversight committee, which should be about as successful as a North Korean missile.
Although Delany and Scott said all the right things as part of Wednesday’s announcement, their body language didn’t seem to match their words. Delany stood with his arms folded across his chest during most of it, while Scott was stoic, with his hands folded near his waist.
Nearby, Slive, the SEC commissioner, smiled almost giddily. He is always quick to remind everyone who will listen that he first proposed a playoff four years ago.
“I am delighted,” Slive said. “I am very pleased with where we are. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made. I am pleased that we are at the end of the discussions at this level.”
Slive should be, because of his and the Big 12’s victory. But this just wasn’t one of the many off-the-field battles in which Slive has been triumphant, such as the Cam Newton saga or Slive’s conference winning the BCS title each of the past six years.
This was the war, the one that will forever change college football.