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College football playoff scenarios

Jack Swarbrick & Jim Delany
Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame AD), Jim Delany (Big Ten commish) and others will be busy.
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Pete Fiutak

Pete Fiutak writes previews, predictions and prognostications for CollegeFootballNews.com.

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The playoffs are coming! The playoffs are coming!

At least that will be the big topic on the docket during the meeting of college football minds this week in Florida. The 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick are getting together to discuss a variety of issues, with the possibility of a playoff plan the biggest item on the table.


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Oh, yes, there will be a college football playoff someday. Good luck, though, figuring out what it will be. Remember, these are the same people who came up with the BCS.

That the big-wigs are all willing to admit that the BCS is hopelessly broken and needs to be fixed has been a gigantic first step no matter what happens this week. Scratch that. The first step was Alabama beating LSU for the national championship.

The lack of national interest and the horrific ratings for college football’s biggest stage forced the commissioners outside of the SEC to finally realize that something needed to be done to try to change the landscape. The BCS has been massaged and tweaked so many ways that it has finally become easier just to come up with a playoff scenario -- forgetting that the easiest stop-gap solution would be to make a rule that a team can’t play in the BCS championship if it didn’t win its conference title.

Playoff ideas have been tossed around from the commissioners for the last few years, but they’ve mostly been lip-service. A commissioner would propose an idea that makes sense, some university president somewhere would give the thumbs down, and the commissioner would go back to the fans and say, “Well, we tried.”

This time, though, the groundswell of support is too great, and the money being left on the table is too ridiculous, that it really and truly does seem like something of substance will come out of the meetings that everyone, including the presidents, will agree to. Several ideas will be tossed around, but these will be dismissed immediately.

The plus-one without a true playoff. One extra game after the bowls wouldn’t quiet the screaming and shouting. The idea would be for the bowl season to run as it does now, but without the top two teams (according to the final BCS rankings) playing in a national championship game. After the bowls, the two best-looking teams would play for the national title.

Who would decide which two teams belong in the big game? Would it be fair if one team looked great against some sad ACC champion, while another team struggled against a Pac-12 powerhouse? The idea of the meetings this week will be to take away the headache, but a pure Plus-One would make it even more painful. Don’t expect any of the commissioners to want this, even if it’s what the bowls would like.

Four-team playoff, conference champions only. Don’t dismiss just how much Alabama getting a second shot at LSU turned people off. It was the worst possible theoretical scenario for the BCS: A team that couldn’t win its own division and didn’t win a conference title, won the championship. Worse yet, no one outside of the SEC really seemed to care after the two teams battled in the regular season.

On the table will be an idea of a four-team playoff in some way, but with only teams that won their conference titles. If the No. 2 and No. 4 teams in the BCS rankings aren’t conference champions, as was the case in 2011 with Alabama and Stanford, respectively, then too bad.

This would preserve the integrity of the regular season while putting even more weight and focus on the conference championship games -- meaning plenty of extra TV money down the road. The SEC, though, will never go for this with a 14-team conference possibly putting at least two teams into the top four on a regular basis.

The CFN idea. The little guys will want to be represented, too, and this idea is the only reasonable shot that someone from one of the non-BCS conferences will ever be relevant.

It would be an eight-team playoff with the six BCS conference champions, the top-ranked non-BCS conference champion, and one catch-all wild-card. However, the logistics would be too tough to fight through and the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 want the possibility of putting in as many teams as possible. This week, the limit of two teams from the same conference getting into the BCS title game will likely be lifted, and there’s no way the big leagues will go for any proposal that changes that.

Also, it’s crawl-before-walk time when it comes to a playoff, and the commissioners are going to start small before thinking about going to an eight-team or 16-team format.

The FCS format. It works -- it wouldn’t mean any missed class time -- and it’s the logical answer to everyone’s problems since the system is already in place.

So, of course, no one will go for it.

Twenty teams are in with the lowest eight teams playing around Thanksgiving. The winners advance to join the other 12 teams, with the higher seed playing host, with a few weeks of rest between the semifinals and the national championship. Again, though, there are way too many teams involved for the FBS conference commissioners to be interested.

Out of all the proposals going around over the last several weeks and months, the final plan, if there is one, will have no more than four teams in the mix and it’ll have to include the current BCS ranking system. That’s why the plan will probably come from one of these three proposals.

A true four-team playoff using the current bowl structure. The BCS system would stay as is, with No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 according to the final rankings squaring off within the current bowl structure. The games will probably shift around by year -- like the BCS championship currently does -- with two BCS bowls being used as playoff games before one final BCS championship.

Four-team playoff, but with a home-field advantage. Brought up by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, this would be a tough sell to the SEC types. It would be No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3 according to the BCS rankings, but the No. 1 and No. 2 teams would host the playoff in their respective houses with the national championship then going to a neutral site. This would solve a whole slew of logistical issues, and would be a worthy reward for the supposed two best teams in the regular season, but good luck getting warm weather schools interested in playing in the December cold. Big Ten fans have always complained that southern schools never have to play in the elements, and this might even the playing field -- meaning the SEC will never go for it.


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"Four teams plus." This one, as outlined by the BCS types in a memo a few weeks ago, is being blown off as kooky by everyone outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12, but it might have more legs than it appears on the surface.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 love the Rose Bowl, so much that they might use it as leverage to come up with a playoff plan that doesn’t guarantee the SEC everything it wants.

The bowl system and BCS would stay as is with a guarantee that the Rose Bowl would be part of the playoff if the Big Ten or Pac-12 champion is in the top four. In a dream world, the two conference champions would be ranked in the top four and the Rose Bowl would be a part of the playoff no matter where the two teams are seeded. The other option would be for the Rose Bowl to be played as is before the four-team playoff kicks in, and then the Rose Bowl champion, if it’s in the top four, would get to join in the fun.

Even if a real, unified playoff proposal comes from the meetings this week in Florida, does that mean it’s a done deal? There will be sticking points, with the main one being the college presidents, but for fans desperate for a proper way to close out the season, this is as close as the game has ever been to a playoff.

Let’s just hope the interested parties get it right.

Tagged: Alabama

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