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Presidents get playoff call right

The day many college football pundits believed might never come finally arrived on Tuesday.

Expectations are sky-high for Brady Hoke and the Wolverines as the NCAA moves to a playoff system.

Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Mack Brown won titles in the BCS era. It will be harder to do, though, now with a semifinal round starting in 2014.

It was almost a rubber stamp by the Presidential Oversight Committee, which approved a four-team playoff as a new means of crowning a college football national champion. This decision was almost preordained over the last year or two as the call for a college football playoff reached critical mass.

The decision by the presidents puts the Bowl Championship Series out of its misery. The BCS, which will wrap a 16-year run with the 2013 season, was a perennial whipping boy despite the fact it gave fans a one-versus-two match-up throughout its run.

For any number of reasons, the BCS just never captured the hearts and the imagination of football fans. There were too many years where the teams ranked anywhere from third to fifth had just as legitimate claims to the title as the teams that were selected to play for it. There were also too many meaningless BCS games dictated by policy rather than the marketplace or the desires of the fans.

I can remember back to 1996 when they first announced the advent of the BCS. I was excited about the prospect of having conference champions move out of their assigned bowl games and into designated national championship games. The first four BCS title games (1998-2001 seasons) involved only one “bowl attached team” and would have still happened whether there was a BCS or not.

The “magic” of the BCS finally came to light in season five (2002), when Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, went to the Fiesta Bowl instead of the Rose and defeated Big East champion (and defending national champion) Miami (Fla.) for the title in an epic double overtime game.

But controversy followed as unbeaten teams – like Auburn in 2004; Hawaii in 2007; Utah in 2008; Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State in 2009; and TCU in 2010 – were all passed over for national championship game berths.

Still, there were holdouts. In 2007, Ohio State president Gordon Gee made the famous comment that "they'll have to wrench a playoff system from my cold, dead hands.”

(Gee, at last check, was resting comfortably at the university president’s palatial residence in Columbus.)

The BCS gave us some great moments. That OSU-Miami game was an all-time classic. The 2006 title game with Texas and USC at the Rose Bowl was also a great one. Who will forget where they were a year later when Boise State upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl?

It was just two years ago when Yahoo! Sports journalist Dan Wetzel – the best going today – co-authored the book, “Death To The BCS.” Wetzel had far too many reasons to enumerate on why the BCS wasn’t a great system for college football. Tops among them was the greed and graft openly displayed by the bowls, who chiseled money from the schools through ticket and hotel room mandates.

With each passing year, the drumbeat got bigger and bigger. BCS impresarios found out that keeping everybody – coaches, ADs, presidents and even legislators – on the same page was like trying to herd a flock of cats: It could not be done.

At all times, somebody was voicing their displeasure at the system.

With two years left in the fourth BCS cycle, the time was right for the conference commissioners to pick up the ball and suggest a playoff format. They got the presidents to buy in and, one rubber stamp later, here we are.

The BCS, as it turns out, was simply the conduit – albeit a 16-year conduit – to get us closer to what everybody seems to want: a true college football national championship playoff.

I will share some random thoughts on this new arrangement, which will take us through the 2025 season. (Wow!)

A 12-Year Deal?!

Go all the way back to the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance (the forerunners to the BCS) and each postseason format over the last 20-plus years has only been renewed on a three- or four-year basis.

Today’s decision by the presidents to go with a 12-year term for this new four-team playoff is utterly unprecedented.

It’s as if the presidents heard the playoff pitch this afternoon, took one look at one another and said, “Yeah, let’s do 12 years. That will shut them up for a while.”

Yes, it certainly will. A 12-year deal means there won’t be any way to expand the field to eight or 16 schools for quite some time.

What it does not address, however, is how the college football landscape is ever changing. The continual conference realignment dance doesn’t figure to stop any time soon. For instance, who knows whether Notre Dame will be an independent for five, 10, 20 or 50 more years? And if that domino falls, what impact could that have on the rest of the sport?

And, in turn, how will the postseason need to adapt and change as schools jump in and out of conferences?

Who Picks The Teams?

The commissioners suggested that the new format do away with the controversial BCS rating system, which mashes up two human polls and six computer indexes to ID the sport’s top two teams.

Instead, the new format will be shepherded by a committee, presumably of leading athletic directors and administrators – like what we see each year with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament committee.

Nobody knows just yet how that committee will look. My guess is it will be comprised of representatives from across the country.

In general terms, we know they will be looking at win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and whether a team is a conference champion. We don’t know which of those factors will be weighed out the most, however.

Six Major Bowls and a Title Game?!

The college football bowl season has grown into its own ESPN-fueled, three-week cottage industry.

The BCS initially had three major bowls and a designated title game. In 2006, the format expanded to four major bowls and a separate title game as one BCS site each year began “double hosting” its regular bowl and the title game.

Under the new arrangement, the national championship game will be pulled out of the bowl system and operated by the conferences as a stand-alone game.

But instead of four BCS-caliber games, there will now be six games on that level. And it sounds like they will be operated with the idea of putting together the best match-ups available. Two of these six games each year will be national semifinal games. The other four games will feature the next best available teams – especially since they are doing away with the automatic qualifier provisions.

(That means we won’t see unranked Big East champions shoved into a BCS bid they don’t deserve ever again once this new system begins – at least I think that’s what this means.)

The Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls all seem intent on staying at this BCS level. Bowl games in Dallas, Orlando, Atlanta and maybe even Jacksonville, Houston or somewhere else will be lining up to fill those last two spots in the new rotation.

It seems like Cowboys Stadium will be a done deal as part of this. Orlando was very timely with its announcement Tuesday that it will invest $175 million to renovate the 76-year-old Florida Citrus Bowl. With the major Disney holdings in the Orlando area (i.e. Walt Disney World and its affiliated parks), I have never understood why ESPN has never pushed for Orlando to be considered as a BCS-caliber destination. Maybe that changes in this new arrangement.

Atlanta is also working on a plan to replace the creaky Georgia Dome with a retractable roof stadium. That would make the ATL a serious player in any talks about a top six/semifinal level bowl and/or a national championship venue.

So What Is The Champions Bowl?

The Big 12 and the SEC have noted how the Big Ten and Pac-12 have built a coalition to protect the sanctity (and immense revenue) produced by the Rose Bowl.

Earlier this spring, the Big 12 and SEC announced that their champions – or next best available team if the champion is in the national title game – will play in a new bowl game.

They don’t have a site or anything concrete in place. It’s possible the Champions Bowl will usurp the Cotton Bowl as the main bowl at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas. Maybe it will be contained inside the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans or even as a new major bowl in Atlanta.

Those leagues have their hands fully extended right now to see what city (or cities) are interested in the Champions Bowl.

If they and the bowls were smart, they would rotate that game between Dallas and New Orleans (or Atlanta). That means it would be contested on Big 12 and SEC turf in alternating years. That’s my suggestion but we know somebody is going to get paid and paid well for this new bowl game.

Preserving The Bowls

I am a college bowl junkie. I’ll watch them all if I can. (OK, I admit I did not watch Temple vs. Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl last year.)

The bowl system works. Seventy teams got into the 35 bowl games that were spread across 28 American cities last December and January.

As long as these bowls make money and the schools participating are OK with breaking even or taking even a small loss to participate, then I think you’ll see the bowl system chug on unabated.

The only thing that could threaten it is if ESPN has to pull money out of these “other” bowls to pay an inflated rights fee for the semifinals and new championship game.

For now, though, the addition of one more game – the national title game – should not have any kind of negative impact on the New Orleans Bowl, the Hawaii Bowl and the like. And that’s a good thing.

Eliminate The Awful Match-Ups

The new arrangement, at face value, lifts the two-school maximum imposed in the BCS era. That means that 12 of the top 15 teams should be involved in the major bowls, regardless of conference affiliation.

I think bowls should still have some wiggle room to take a lower rated team that will sell more tickets and turn on more TVs.

But, as touched on before, there have been too many instances when deserving teams have been relegated to lesser bowl games.

In fact, here are my five worst BCS bowl match-ups foisted on the viewing public:

* 1999 Orange Bowl – No. 8 Florida vs. No. 15 Syracuse while No. 3 Kansas State sat at home. Florida rolled 31-10.

* 2005 Fiesta Bowl – No. 6 Utah vs. No. 21 Pittsburgh, while No. 5 California was sent to the Holiday Bowl. Utah won 35-7 … and the Urban Legend was born.

* 2007 Orange Bowl – No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 14 Wake Forest, while No. 7 Wisconsin was left out of the BCS. Louisville won 24-13 in the lowest rated BCS game at the time (7.0 rating on FOX).

* 2008 Rose Bowl – No. 7 USC vs. No. 13 Illinois, while No. 6 Missouri was left out of the BCS. USC crushed Illinois 49-17. This was really galling for Mizzou, which dropped out of the national title race with a Big 12 title game loss to Oklahoma. The Tigers had beaten Illinois as well as Kansas, which went on to win the Orange Bowl, during the regular season. (Yep, it sucked to be them that year.)

* 2011 Fiesta Bowl – No. 7 Oklahoma vs. unranked Connecticut, while No. 9 Michigan State and No. 10 Boise State (each 11-1) got snubbed by the BCS. UConn took a beating on the field (48-20 loss to Oklahoma) and off the field as well (the school reported nearly a $2 million loss on the game after having to buy thousands of tickets that went unused). There were probably 20 other teams more deserving of a BCS bid that year than UConn.

* Honorable Mention – Any BCS appearance by Cincinnati. Yeah, the Bearcats won Big East titles and one year they were even unbeaten. But their 2009 Orange Bowl loss to Virginia Tech drew an all-time BCS low 5.4 rating on FOX and they dropped a terrible 51-24 decision in the 2010 Sugar Bowl despite going into that game ranked third at 12-0.

Rotating The Semifinals

As I was driving my son to dinner tonight, he asked me, “Dad, what does this mean for the Rose Bowl?”

Well, it seems like we will be going back to the days when one or even two non-traditional teams may tee it up on the hallowed ground of that amazing stadium in Pasadena, Calif.

It looks like the semifinals will be designated several years in advance. In two out of every three years, the Rose Bowl will match the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions (unless one or both of them is rated between first and fourth). In that third year, the Rose Bowl will host a national semifinal game.

My guess is they will look at the four playoff teams and try and logically slot them into the semifinal game which typically has hosted teams from their conference.

Let’s say LSU is No. 1 and Ohio State is No. 2. If the designated semis are the Sugar and Rose bowls, I would hope they would send LSU to the Sugar and OSU to the Rose. That only makes sense, right?

It looks like they will play one semifinal in prime time on Dec. 31 and the other on the evening of Jan. 1. I’m not sure that makes sense, but I bet if they don’t like the ratings on Dec. 31 they will move it out of that slot in successive years.

Rotating The Championship Game

The championship game will be played on the first Monday that is at least six days after Jan. 1. That means it could be played anywhere from Jan. 7 through Jan. 13 depending on how the calendar falls. I think the 13th is too late.

I also am not a big fan of Monday night, either. The NFL plays the Super Bowl on Sunday night, usually at 6:30 p.m. Those in the workforce know they can see the end of the game and be in bed by 10:30 p.m. They can party and enjoy the game at least a little bit.

I know college football has to work around weekend nighttime playoff games in January. But starting a national title game at 8 p.m. or later on a Monday night just isn’t going to work. Those on the East Coast would need to be up until midnight or later to see the end.

They are playing the hand they have been dealt. They need to engage their TV partner (whoever it will be … my guess ESPN) and even the NFL, perhaps, and see if they can negotiate a better night than Monday night.

In the first five years of this new deal, the championship game will be played on Monday, January 12, 2015; Monday, January 11, 2016; Monday, January 9, 2017; Monday, January 8, 2018; and Monday, January 7, 2019.

As for the sites, we should know the location of the first playoff championship game in January 2015 by sometime next spring.

I don’t think you have to look too far past the last 10 Super Bowl sites to see the viable cities that can host this game.

That list includes San Diego, Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit, Miami, Glendale (Ariz.), Tampa, Miami, Arlington (Texas) and Indianapolis. The next three Super Bowls will be in New Orleans, East Rutherford (N.J.) and Glendale.

I would hope northern cities with domes like Indy and Detroit will get some consideration. I don’t think you’ll see it outside in the north, though. I also don’t think Jacksonville is truly viable to host the national title game. (A buddy who has covered more than 10 Super Bowls said Roger Goodell came out after that game in JAX and said there will never be another Super Bowl in that city.)

The one city we’re missing here is Los Angeles (or Pasadena). The Rose Bowl or the proposed new NFL stadium (Farmers Field) in downtown LA could get heavy duty consideration as well.

My inclination is that bowls hosting semifinal games should not be in the running to host a national title game in that same season.

If you asked me who gets the first game in this new arrangement, I would put my money on the man with all the chips – Jerry Jones and his amazing Jerry World stadium in Arlington. (I know, the Super Bowl there kind of hit the windshield a couple of years ago … but did I mention Jerry has a lot of chips?)

What Are The Loose Ends?

OK, we have the framework. We have the blueprint. But what we don’t have are the final details or the finer points.

They need to name this whole concoction something. (I don’t think Bowl Championship Series will work.)

They need to figure out who will sit on the selection committee.

They need to determine how much this whole thing will be worth. The BCS deal is worth $150 million annually. You hear pie-in-the-sky figures like $300 million-$500 million for this new format. But the rubber has to hit the road at some point. (I hear the guys in Bristol are already turning out lights as they leave their offices and doing everything they can to save here and there to pay the increased toll attached to these new games.)

They need to figure out where all this newfound money is going to go. Yes, the victors will get a few of the spoils. They tried to tell us in general terms on Tuesday that the money will be divided as a reward conferences for success on the field, accommodate the teams’ expenses, acknowledge marketplace factors and reward academic performance of student-athletes.

Marketplace factors is their way of saying “the rich just have to get richer.” The distribution formula will be heavily stilted in favor of the five surviving BCS conferences (sans the Big East). The academic performance component is a nice touch. (Translation: Some of you better brush up on your APR.)

Oh, and there’s one more hoop (which should be another rubber stamp): The decision is subject to passage of appropriate legislation by the NCAA Board of Directors to permit the two semifinal winners to play an additional postseason game.

Winners and Losers

It’s obvious who the winners are here.

The four existing BCS bowls – despite all of their problems – came out of this very much a major part of the formula with the ability to host a semifinal game once every three years. Plus, they also have the relationships and machinery in place to put in successful bids for the national title game.

Also, I’d say the SEC got over big time. Commissioner Mike Slive wanted the top four teams regardless of whether they win a conference or not. Looks like he won out on that.

The Big Ten also came out of this well. The SEC and Big Ten almost always got two BCS teams and could now get three or four in lucrative bowls in the years to come.

The losers are the Big East and probably the rest of the non-automatic qualifier leagues. The Big East has lost so much cache with West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all pulling out and even having Boise State waffle on the invitation to move there next year. That league’s champion has rarely been in the final top eight and hasn’t deserved a seat at the table. They will be there even less in the future without an automatic spot.

The non-AQ conferences have lost a lot of their top schools like TCU, Houston and Boise State (provided Boise follows up on its intention to play in the Big East). Unless a school from one of those leagues can go 12-0 or 13-0, they probably won’t be getting an invite to one of the four “extra” upper echelon bowls (beyond the semifinals).

How It Would Have Looked

I am going to operate under the assumption that the four existing BCS bowls will be joined by the Cotton Bowl and Capital One Bowl for top six/rotating semifinal status.

The order of semifinal game rotation would be: Year one, Fiesta and Orange; year two, Sugar and Cotton; year three, Rose and Capital One. Here’s how it would have looked the last three years (if I’m reading this right; BCS ranking in parentheses):

* 2009 – Rose, Oregon (7) vs. Ohio State (8); Capital One, Florida (5) vs. Boise State (6); Cotton, Iowa (10) vs. Georgia Tech (9); Sugar, Virginia Tech (11) vs. LSU (12); Fiesta (national semifinal), Texas (2) vs. Cincinnati (3); Orange (national semifinal), Alabama (1) vs. TCU (4). Note: There wasn’t another viable Big 12 team after Texas to play in a Champions Bowl against Florida or LSU.

* 2010 – Rose, Wisconsin (5) vs. Boise State (10); Capital One, Ohio State (6) vs. Missouri (12); Fiesta, Oklahoma (7) vs. LSU (11); Orange, Michigan State (9) vs. Arkansas (8); Sugar (national semifinal), Auburn (1) vs. Stanford (4); Cotton (national semifinal), Oregon (2) vs. TCU (3). Note: There wasn’t another viable Pac-10 team after Stanford to play in the Rose Bowl.

* 2011 – Fiesta, Oregon (5) vs. Boise State (7); Orange, South Carolina (9) vs. Wisconsin (10); Cotton, Kansas State (8) vs. Arkansas (6); Sugar, Virginia Tech (11) vs. Baylor (12); Rose (national semifinal), LSU (1) vs. Stanford (4); Capital One (national semifinal), Alabama (2) vs. Oklahoma State (3). Note: Maybe Michigan (13) or Oklahoma (14) would replace Baylor due to “marketplace concerns.”

How It Might Look This Year

Keep in mind, this does not go into effect until the 2014 season/2015 postseason. We still have the BCS format -- and more unranked Big East champions taking up space -- to kick around for two more years.

In May, I posted my look at the post-spring top 25 rankings.

Using those rankings as my baseline, here is how this year’s bowls could shake out under this new arrangement:

* Rose – Oregon (6) vs. Michigan (9)

* Capital One – South Carolina (7) vs. Michigan State (10)

* Cotton (Champions Bowl) – Georgia (6) vs. West Virginia (8)

* Sugar – Florida State (11) vs. Wisconsin (13)

* Fiesta (national semifinal) – USC (2) vs. Alabama (3)

* Orange (national semifinal) – LSU (1) vs. Oklahoma (4)

* National Title Game (at Arlington, Texas) – LSU-Oklahoma winner vs. USC-Alabama winner

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