Playoff system battle far from over

College football’s brain trust finally said it Thursday.

The always-inevitable word that for years has been so taboo to the ever-controversial Bowl Championship Series that it might as well have been spelled with four letters.


After the last of four days of BCS meetings Thursday, college football’s conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced anticlimactically that they are closer to a four-team playoff that would go into effect for the 2014 season.

“We have agreed to use the P-word,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said.

While BCS executive director Bill Hancock described Thursday’s announcement as “a seismic change for college football,” the truth of the matter is that it has been coming for months. Fans have wanted it exponentially longer.

Now, the commissioners will talk to the members of their respective conferences about the playoff and then gather again in June likely to finalize the where and when of it.

During those coming weeks, there will be talk about the Big Ten’s proposal of the playoff’s top two seeds hosting the semifinals games on campus, but it’s purely to humor demoralized Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. After all, almighty SEC commissioner Mike Slive wants the games to be played at neutral sites.

Slive will win that battle, just like he has with the pending playoff he has essentially wanted since he and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford first proposed a so-called “plus one” system four years ago, a concept Delany opposed at the time.

In the end, look for college football’s playoff to end up having its semifinals games rotate among the current BCS bowls, including the disgruntled Rose Bowl, and for the site of the national championship game to be bid out like the Super Bowl.

Keep in mind that once those details are determined, the real bloodbath will begin. There will be the obligatory fight over how to divvy up the money paid to televise the playoff and other BCS games, which could include additions like the Cotton Bowl.

For good reason because the price tag is expected to at least double the $160 million ABC pays for the existing BCS through the 2013 season.

“There’s a long way to go on it,” Hancock admitted Thursday of revenue sharing.

But the real war likely will come over an issue the conference commissioners have agreed to set aside for now: how the teams would be selected for the playoff.

Leading up to Thursday’s announcement, conference commissioners had come to the stark realization that the current BCS is flawed. Last season’s all-SEC national championship game between LSU and Alabama even gave some of them the perfect cop-out.

Yet as united as the commissioners seemingly are about a four-team playoff, they are just as divided as to exactly how those teams will be chosen. Scott prefers that the berths only consist of conference champions (almost always guaranteeing his league has a team included), while Slive wants the best four teams (giving his dominant league the opportunity to have multiple teams).

“There’s a lot to still be talked about,” said Hancock of a selection system for a playoff.

How teams would be chosen under Slive’s preference is another debate in itself. There’s been talk of continuing to use the existing BCS formula consisting of two human polls and computers, going to a selection committee similar to the NCAA tournament, or using a hybrid of some sort.

“It’s an important issue,” Slive said Thursday of how teams would be chosen for a four-team playoff. “We spent a lot of time talking about it.”

So much that Slive hinted that the selection format may take far more time than between now and the commissioners’ expected approval of the four-team playoff in June. He pointed that there is still another nearly two years to decide the matter if needed.

“It’s an issue that we’ll deal with when we’re ready,” Slive said.

And based on past precedent, it likely will be one in which Slive once again gets his way with the best teams receiving berths regardless of conference titles, a sentiment college football fans have craved for years. Even after Thursday’s announcement, though, Slive still couldn’t say playoff withough laughing.

“I’ve always refused to use the dreaded P-word,” Slive said. “But now that we’re all using the same word, what the heck?”

A playoff isn’t what commissioners are afraid of anymore. Now it’s another P-word, Slive’s predominance.