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'Playoff' format making good progress

Image: Alabama Crimson Tide players celebrate BCS national championship in January (© Marvin Gentry/US Presswire)
In the future, how will college football crown a champion?
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Thayer Evans

Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans previously wrote for The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as contributed to The Economist, USA Today, The Washington Post and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla.

It’s finally coming after all these years.

But the new postseason for college football that seems likely to be implemented in the 2014 season — after the contracts of the controversial Bowl Championship Series have expired — isn’t currently being called the obvious.


Instead, the “plus-one” plan that Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford first proposed four years ago — four teams play two semifinals plus the title game — has hilariously morphed into what the BCS calls a “four-team event.”

“I’ve never called it a playoff,” Slive reiterated Wednesday after the second official day of BCS meetings here this week involving conference commissioners, television executives and handpicked bowl and university officials.

Yet, no matter how much Slive and the BCS believe they have to spin a playoff to not frighten politically correct university presidents, it is a playoff.

And since the BCS and its biggest powerbrokers such as Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany can’t even call a playoff, well, a playoff, just imagine how difficult it will continue to be in the coming months as they try to finalize the specifics of the new postseason format by July, the preferred timeline of BCS officials.

The issues include how teams would qualify for the playoff and which would be eligible (the biggest unknown), where the games will be played (probably neutral or bowl sites) and whether the existing BCS bowls, especially the tradition-rich Rose Bowl, would be part of the new format (likely).

And last, but not least, what about the money and how it is divvied up? ABC pays about $160 million for the BCS games, but that figure is expected at the very least to double for the new package that will feature the three playoff games and likely several BCS bowls that could feature newcomers such as the Cotton Bowl.

“I think we’re making good progress,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Wednesday. “I think we’re going to make it.”

Slive had previously compared the discussions about the future of college football’s postseason to a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. Wednesday, he said 20 miles had probably been completed.

“We’ve conquered Heartbreak Hill,” Hancock said. “We’re on the way down.”

And if you listened carefully to Delany on Wednesday, it sounded as if his heart had been broken some in his stare down with Slive about the new postseason.

Back when Slive and Swofford first proposed the don’t-call-it-a-playoff, Delany and the other conference commissioners shot down the idea. Slive smugly reminded reporters of that Wednesday.

"I've been talking about change since 2008," he said.

But this time, Slive is in control, mainly at the expense of Delany.


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Although Delany and the Big Ten seem all right with a playoff, they favor a format in which the top two seeds of a four-team playoff would host the semifinals games on campus (increases likelihood of warm-weather teams facing cold weather elements) and want to protect the Rose Bowl, college football’s oldest bowl. The Granddaddy of Them All wants to keep its traditional matchup of Big Ten and Pac-12 teams.

But now it looks as if the Big Ten’s home-field semifinals proposal is dead and the Rose Bowl, which Delany described as “one of the top 10 most important single day television properties in the world,” would begrudgingly become a semifinals game.

“You can have change and you can have loss,” Delany said. “You can have new things that are really positive. I just want to make sure whatever change we have, it’s manageable and a little bit predictable and hopefully we understand the consequences.”

To add insult to Delany and the Big Ten’s injury, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds issued a near ultimatum Wednesday when he told USA Today that the Big Ten and Pac-12 need to stop holding up a playoff by clinging to their associations with the Rose Bowl.

“The only way it's going to get fixed," Dodds said, "is for the rest of the country to have a playoff of some kind and let them do their (own) deal. And then after five years, their coaches would go berserk because they're not in the mix for a national championship. And they'd have to join it.”

Asked about that quote Wednesday, Delany said he disagreed with his friend Dodds but hinted that the Rose Bowl’s affiliation with the Big Ten and Pac-12 was in definite danger.

“He should be getting maybe more excited as the discussions become more mature,” Delany said of Dodds.

Delany isn't the type to admit he's been beaten by Slive, but he went as far Wednesday to correlate college football’s looming postseason changes with the struggles of Egypt after an uprising in the Middle Eastern country last year toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak.

“You want to control change,” Delany said. “You want evolution, not revolution, because you don’t know what the unintended consequences will be.”

Officially, Hancock and the conference commissioners said Wednesday the options for college football’s new postseason have not been narrowed yet. Delany, however, indicated the process has started, and asked if there will be a playoff in 2014, he declined comment.

But asked if there will be a “four-team event,” even Delany laughed.

“Oh, yeah, that’s very different,” Delany said sarcastically. “There could be.”

Indeed, a playoff for college football is coming — whether Delany likes the format or not.

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