College football conference title game restrictions to be relaxed by 2016

Legislation allowing for the deregulation of conference championship games is now expected to be passed by 2016, CBSSports.com has learned.

The move would directly impact the Big 12 and ACC, which developed the legislation. The Big 12, which is the only Power Five league without a championship game, is merely seeking the option of staging such a contest with 10 teams. The ACC’s ultimate intentions with a 14-team league in football, one which already holds a championship game, are not clear.

Current NCAA rules state a league must have at least 12 teams in order to play a conference title game. Those teams also must play a round-robin within each division.

The legislation is now expected to move forward after being delayed somewhat by NCAA governance reform. CBSSports.com reported last year that legislation had formally been submitted.

“I think there’s some belief that ACC would play three divisions, have two highest-ranked play in postseason,” said Bob Bowlsby, chairman of the new NCAA Football Oversight Committee. “Really, nobody cares how you determine your champion. It should be a conference-level decision.

“But because the ACC has persisted in saying, ‘We’re not sure what we’ll do,’ there’s probably a little bit of a shadow over it. In the end, I don’t think it’ll be able to hold it up. We’ll probably have it in place for ‘16.”

That oversight committee would vet the legislation and pass on any recommendations to the NCAA Council for final approval. The new oversight committees in all sports are meant to streamline the rules-making process.

“This isn’t really changing the rule, it’s deregulating,” Bowlsby said. “It’s moving a little bit slow, but I don’t think it’s not stalled in any way.”

From the beginning, deregulation has been seen as non-controversial. In the College Football Playoff era, the selection committee picks the top four teams, not necessarily conference champions. The champions of the Power Five, however, are all guaranteed a spot in CFP bowls, though not necessarily the playoff. 

The ACC has maintained it is not pursuing a specific change to determine its conference champion, just the freedom to do so. As Bowlsby mentioned, the league could theoretically use some sort of metric to match its top two ranked teams in order to better impress the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.

"The reason the concept was introduced two years ago was because the league believed, much like other topics, leagues should have their own ability in determining how to structure and host conference championships," an ACC spokesman reiterated. "Our league has been very consistent in that ever since. There's no movement toward necessarily changing how our league manages its championship game."

Many observers believe that then-No. 5 Ohio State skunking then-No. 13 Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game allowed the Buckeyes to get into that first CFP. However, Michigan State was the league’s next-highest ranked team at No. 8. The Spartans finished behind Ohio State in the Big Ten East.

Any conference is worried about its highest-ranked team being upset, knocking it out of a playoff spot. The most ideal matchup in any league champ game would be between the two "best" teams. In 2013 -- the final year of the BCS -- then-No. 1 Florida State did not play the highest-ranked team available in the ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles defeated No. 20 Duke (then 10-2), the Coastal Division champion. Meanwhile, the league’s next-highest ranked team was No. 13 Clemson (also 10-2). It finished as the runner-up to FSU in the ACC Atlantic.   

In December, No. 4 Florida State survived No. 11 Georgia Tech 37-35 in the first ACC championship game of the CFP era. The next highest-ranked ACC team in the CFP rankings was Clemson at No. 18, once again the Atlantic runner-up.

With Florida State the last two seasons, the ACC has been the home of the 2013 national champion -- in the final year of the BCS -- and fourth participant in the first year of the CFP.

None of this would change the basic math of the CFP. Five Power Five champions do not fit into a four-team playoff. The Big 12 was left out last season when co-champions Baylor (No. 5) and TCU (No. 6) finished outside the top four.

“This isn’t really changing the [conference championship game] rule, it’s deregulating,” Bowlsby said. “It’s moving a little bit slow but I don’t think it’s stalled in any way.”

Critics have long pined for a so-called “commissioner” of football and basketball. Bowlsby and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero -- chairman of Basketball Oversight -- are as close to those designations as there is these days.

Both committees will include 12 members -- four from the new NCAA Council, seven non-Council members and one athlete. The football committee will oversee only Division I, which includes the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision programs and the 124 in the Football Championship Subdivision. The committees are still being assembled using competency-based guidelines. Previously, the NCAA adhered to rigid gender and diversity guidelines that critics say didn't always mean the most qualified members were in place.

The new basketball and football committees are expected to lessen coaches’ influence in the process, according to Bowlsby. Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema spoke to the NCAA football rules committee in 2014 about the so-called 10-second rule. The controversial change in pace of play was ultimately tabled.

“The NFL, they don’t ask coaches what they think about the rules,” Bowlsby said. “The owners make the rules.”

The American Football Coaches association has an advisory role to the NCAA rules committee. Now both those organizations’ recommendations will flow up through oversight.

Because of the oversight committee’s broad power, it is seen more as a true competition committee. The system currently lacks that component. The rules committee is made up of representatives of all four divisions -- FBS, FCS, Division II and III. Some of those members may not be sensitive to the issues of college football at the highest level.

Bowlsby also suggested the current problems regarding college basketball could be remedied by that sport’s oversight committee.

“There’s really no objection to widening the lane, making the semi-circle [under the basket] four feet instead of three,”  Bowlsby said. “Moving the line back, going to a 30-second [shot] clock, cleaning up the post, hand checking. Everybody knows it needs to be done, but if you count on coaches to get it done, it will never get done.” 

The ACC and the Big 12 helped develop legislation to change conference title game restrictions. (USATSI)
CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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