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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Playoffs: What We Know, What We Don’t

What we know: After two more years of B.C.S. living, the F.B.S. will adopt a four-team playoff system for the 2014 season. The playoff system is scheduled to run for the following 12 years. The four teams will be picked via a to-be-named selection committee.

The standard for selection will begin with won-loss record, followed by strength of scheduled, followed by head-to-head results, with whether a team is its conference champion the final criteria. The semifinal games will rotate among six bowl sites, with the national title game going “to the highest bidder.”

The Champions Bowl, Rose Bowl and an unnamed A.C.C. bowl game will comprise three of the six semifinal bowls; the other three are still undecided. Cowboys Stadium is one neutral site expected to enter the bidding for the national title game.

What we know outweighs what we don’t know. The proposal accepted yesterday provides the outer framework for the future playoff system: four teams, no plus-one; a conference championship is considered, but not mandatory; semifinals at a current bowl game; championship game at a neutral site.

That we have two years until the playoff becomes part of college football’s landscape gives the current B.C.S. commissioners and presidents time to work out the details. These details include the following:

How will the playoff system distribute revenue? The N.C.A.A. is going to be in for a major payday — one that, in my estimation, would top what the men’s basketball tournament pulls in for the institution. But would the money left over after the N.C.A.A. takes it cut go only to those conferences involved in the four-team playoff or to every F.B.S. league?

Who will sit on the selection committee? Transparency should be the goal, of course. Several former coaches have suggested themselves for a role, but I wonder if figures so closely associated with the game — with specific teams, in fact — can bring the sort of objectivity that’s needed from the committee.

Another option is members of the media, but making a media-heavy committee would give it the feel of the current Associated Press poll; polls, however, clearly aren’t the answer. In all likelihood, the best solution would be a committee akin to the men’s basketball group, with university presidents and administrators recusing themselves when their team or conference is discussed.

Will there be a conference limit? If so, last year’s national champion, Alabama, would likely not make the cut. Obviously, it’s not feasible to form a “best four” scenario — because that’s what this is — while putting a cap on one team per league.

With the primary emphasis on won-loss record, does this mean that an undefeated team from a current non-B.C.S. league would move ahead of a one-loss team from a B.C.S. league? We’ll know in 2014. While the former B.C.S. busters — Utah, T.C.U. and Boise State — will have moved up a step before 2014, you’d hope that an undefeated team from Conference USA, for example, would get a shot in the playoff.

What will the playoff be called? Let’s not get fancy: The F.B.S. National Championships works just fine. But don’t be surprised if the N.C.A.A. also rents out naming rights to the highest bidder — money is a central theme here, after all.

When will we start nitpicking this new system? Remember that outcries over the B.C.S. didn’t occur overnight; the first moment of negativity came in 2001, when Nebraska reached the national title game ahead of several qualified contenders. The B.C.S. wasn’t completely trashed until 2003 — though it’s been an annual occurrence since.

By that standard, we’ll find issues with the four-team playoff by about 2019 or 2020. Then we’ll live through it for another six years before, perhaps, a move towards an eight-team playoff. Then we’ll moan about that, at which point we’ll all need to take a long look in the mirror. If we’re all still around, that is.

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  1. Ezra says:

    the bete-noir is dead, long live the bete-noir.

  2. jhodges says:

    You mentioned the NCAA a couple of times, but I believe that this new playoff will not be administered by the NCAA, but instead by a successor to the BCS – a system controlled by the 11 (becoming 10) FBS conferences (and ultimately steered by the “big 5″ conferences: Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, Pac-12, ACC). Therefore, I don’t think the NCAA will get any cut of the money and, instead, the conferences will divide it up amongst themselves.

    It will be interesting to see how they get over the hurdle of changing the NCAA bylaws to allow this, though.

  3. Ezra says:

    I can’t imagine the cartel is going to let the NCAA interfere with the payout that’s on the line now.

  4. BobJ says:

    The Bob Rankings would have matched LSU-Oregon and Alabama Oklahoma State in the first round last season. Oregon doesn’t really belong, but if you had to have four teams, might as well have been them as anyone else.
    If the playoff ever gets to eight games, I’ll stop watching after the Humanitarian Bowl.

  5. Walker says:

    You forgot Hawaii’ as a BCS buster (though they lost a lopsided one).

  6. George says:

    They must think that college football fans have unlimited time and cash to follow their teams. In the new scenario, in all likelihood, a team’s fans will be expected to go to a conference championship game, and then, if they are successful and in the final four, to a semifinal game, and then to the championship game. Just how much money is it going to cost to go to three games that will not be home games? Probably will necessitate three airline tickets, three over-priced hotels for at least three nights each, and three game tickets that won’t be cheap.

  7. Mark says:

    Conference championships are the first round, you should be required to win to move on. Every game should matter – the sports networks win again, the biggest draws not the teams with the best records will be chosen.

  8. Woodrow says:

    @George: I-AA/FCS fans travel; hoops fans travel.

    Perhaps the family budget shifts funds from that prime tailgating “$pot” to road trips.

  9. Hokieshibe says:

    @ Woodrow
    FCS games are home games for one team though, right? It’s not a neutral site game in the some random part of the country. So there will always be a crowd for that. We aren’t comparing apples to apples here.

  10. Mr Football says:

    Woodrow, you are insane…..college hoops games are played before empty crowds. Only the final venue sells out.

    Even the ACC title game played to an empty crowd and that was prior to this possibility of additional upcoming (2) neutral site games.

    This 4 team “playoff” is not going to improve the sport at all. It only will satisfy the curiosity of lazy NFL fans that don’t follow college football from Sept like the rest of us.

    Playing major games in empty NFL stadiums is going to be mocked once people see most of these games will not sell out.

    Regular season Georgia v Vandy sells out…..many of these major neutral site games won’t….this is debasing college football from it’s greatest asset..by far the most intense fans and live sports atmosphere in America.

    Requiring you win your regular season conf title is a joke. No sport on earth requires this. None…not one anywhere. The point of the playoffs is to get the 4 best teams or 8 best teams together to “settle it” on the field. If you require something no other sport requires, you will have the #1, #4 and #8 and #16 teams playing off. Look back at history, this plays out every other year.

    Here is a simply suggestion….let’s ask this new back room “blue ribbon” committe to apply whatever standard for selection they come up with to the last 11 seasons…going way back to 2001 when Miami beat Nebraska and Colorado and Oregon claimed they belonged…..why can’t we ask them to do this? They should do it and show the sport what “improvements” they will make and allow us some transparency into their thinking and allow us to either rip them, praise them or expose this entire process as nothing but a charade.

  11. Mr Football says:

    not one sport requires you win anything to advance to into the playoff bracket postseason. You can finish 2nd in every single sport.

    Applying some made up rule to a sport with 11 conferences, when most agree the top teams play in the SEC, then Big 12…and a few in the Big 10/Pac 12, is simply ignorance.

  12. Jason Foster says:

    The only time in the BCS era that you couldn’t find four conference champs in the top 7 of the final BCS rankings was last year (#10 Wisconsin). When you “look back at history,” you do not see #1, #4, #8, and #16 match-ups every other year. Not even close.

    The reason some people want a preference for conference champions is because it’s at the very least an objective measure. Relying on subjective rankings last year would’ve put Stanford in a playoff over a team that had beaten it by 23 points.

    And the reason every other sport doesn’t require playoff teams to have won their conference/division is because every other sport admits more than 1.67% of its teams into the playoffs. The smaller the postseason, the more selective the criteria (see MLB, pre-wildcard).

  13. Dave says:

    @ Mr. Football –

    re-read the 2nd paragraph – winning your conference is not a “requirement;” it is the 4th of 4 criteria, behind W-L record, strength of schedule, and head-to-head results. In other words, if two teams had identical records against equally strong opponants and never played each other, but only 1 of them won its conference, that one would get the nod. What’s wrong with that?

    PS the reason the ACC conf. title game never sells out is because it usually pits a 2-loss team against a 3-loss team, with the winner rewarded by going on to get crushed in the Orange Bowl. The proposed neutral site playoff games, on the other hand, will by definition have national title implications. People WILL travel to see them.

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