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Surveying commissioners to discern what a plus-one will look like

by | CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has publicly backed limiting postseason to league champs. (US Presswire)  
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has publicly backed limiting postseason to league champs. (US Presswire)  

DALLAS -- This is what college football's most powerful men definitely know about what a future playoff will look like: a national title game will be in January of 2015 and the format or plus-one model will not consist of more than four teams.

Other than that, to paraphrase, Sgt. Schultz: they know nothing.

On Monday, the 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met for the third time in three months to discuss college football's future, specifically what the postseason will look like after the 2014 regular season. They all admit they have made a great deal of progress since January, but the problem is the more progress they make creates even more questions.

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"The more you drill down, the more complicated it gets because when you do one thing, it affects something else," MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. "It's challenging. We're making progress, but we have a ways to go. The deeper you get, the deeper you have to dig."

After Monday's 7½-hour meeting at the Dallas Fort Worth Grand Hyatt, the BCS released a 10-sentence statement heavy with questions and light on answers.

"When the commissioners tell you they don't know what they're going to do, they're telling you the truth," an industry source said. "They're all over the map"

Since the BCS is asking the questions, the least I can do is provide some answers from those who will make the decisions.

Where did I get my answers? Good question. In the past two weeks, CBSSports.com polled the 11 commissioners and Swarbrick about the plus-one. Anonymity was guaranteed for the responses. A majority of the group responded, but everyone did not participate. Based on the responses along with other college football industry sources with knowledge of the meetings, plus what the commissioners were willing to share after meeting, here's the best guess at what the plus-one will look like in 2014.


BCS asks: If we change the current format, would we play some games on campus or all games on neutral sites? If some games are on campus, is that too much of a competitive advantage? If all games are at neutral sites, would fans be able to travel to two games in a row?

What they're thinking: On Monday, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson mentioned the hardship for fans traveling to the NCAA basketball tournament. "Look at the NCAA tournament [last week]," he said. "Very traditional powers traveling 400 to 500 people because they're waiting to see if I've got a ticket to New Orleans [to] go to the Final Four."

There is a very real concern among the group that semifinal games at neutral sites would not be well-attended. I actually disagree, but the last thing they want to do is have a semifinal game played before thousands of empty seats, say, like pretty much every bowl game.

Some concerns about holding semifinal games on campus sites are potential weather issues, traveling advantages and how much of a home field advantage should the home team have? "If it's a 100,000-seat stadium, would it be 90,000 for [the home team] and 10,000 [for the visitors]?" Thompson said.

CBSSports.com survey says: The commissioners that responded favored playing the semifinal games on campus and holding the title game at a neutral site -- either an existing BCS bowl or letting cities bid for the title game. There was not much support for holding the semifinal games at neutral sites.

I predict in 2014: Semifinal games will end up being played on campus sites with the current BCS bowls hosting the championship game on a rotating basis. Although, don't count out the BCS allowing other cities to bid for the game -- similar to the Super Bowl. Also it's a stone cold lock that the double-hosting format by the BCS bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose) will be eliminated when the new cycle begins.


BCS asks: How would teams be selected? By a committee, by the current ranking formula or by a different formula?

What they're thinking: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott have publicly backed limiting the four teams to only conference champions. The four conference champion requirement is targeted to keep the SEC from making up half of the four-team playoff field. I asked SEC commissioner Mike Slive Monday about limiting the field to only conference champions.

"There are pros and cons," Slive said. "I'm open-minded, but the purpose of what we've always done is create a national champion where the best teams play. It's not a tournament. It's who are the best teams. When you get to [limiting the field to] conference champions, you're not necessarily dealing with the best teams. You're creating more of a tournament than playing for the national championship."

CBSSports.com survey says: The commissioners are split almost down the middle whether this should be limited only to conference champions.

I predict in 2014: The issue whether access should be limited to conference champions only will be the most-heated and intriguing aspect of the new BCS format. This could go either way. I think ultimately they'll take the three highest ranked conference champions with the fourth spot going to whichever team ranks the highest from the following group: a fourth conference champion, Notre Dame or a non-conference champion.


BCS asks: When exactly would games be scheduled, considering finals, holidays and our desire to avoid mid-January games?

CBSSports.com survey says: There was total agreement on this one. The commissioners want the semifinals played around Christmas with the final as close to Jan. 1 as possible.

I predict in 2014: Semifinals will be played two to three days after Christmas and the final held seven to 10 days later. That is, however, unless they don't use the seeded four-team playoff (keep reading).


There are still several other questions that must be answered including:

Seeded four-team playoff vs. plus-one format The commissioners appear to favor a seeded four-team playoff opposed to a plus-one (one game after the bowls for the national championship), however I'm told that a one-game playoff after the bowls is still very much in play.

"Do not read into this that a four-team model is a done deal, because it's not," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Monday.

One of the concerns about the four-team model is how it would affect the bowls -- specifically the Rose Bowl. If there's a four-team playoff, then the Rose Bowl could be reduced to the Runner-up Bowl. With the Big 10 and Pac-12 champions likely advancing each year to a four-team playoff, the Granddaddy of Them All would have to settle for the Big 10 and Pac-12 runners-up.

"I previously thought the original plus-one -- one game after the bowls -- was dead in the water, but it's not," a college football industry source said. "It's one of the things they're looking at."

What happens to the BCS bowls? The four major bowls -- Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta -- would be thrilled if the format is a one-game playoff after the bowls. It would mean each bowl would get one or two conference champions and then the two highest ranked teams after the bowls would meet for the national championship.

However, if the four-team format is selected then the major bowls likely would require the freedom to select whatever team it wants if it loses its conference champion to the playoff. For instance, if the SEC champion is in the four-team playoff, the Sugar Bowl could conceivably take any bowl eligible team it wants.

In other words: the teams with huge fan bases that draw bigger TV ratings would benefit, while the schools that don't travel well would get bypassed -- no matter how much better its win-loss record might be.

"I'm sorry, that's life," a bowl official said.

How much will the new media rights deal be worth? "A buck or two," joked Big 12 acting commissioner Chuck Neinas.

Monday's meeting was the first attended by newly hired consultants Chuck Gerber and Dean Jordan and Neinas called the talks "encouraging."

Last month, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd reported that projections are that a plus-one could be worth about $360 million, or nearly double the current worth. Not surprisingly, the amount of revenue from the media rights deal will help determine the answer to a lot of these questions.

What happens to the BCS AQ conference label? While sources said this discussion has not formally taken place yet, the "BCS AQ conference status label" is going, going, gone. "Oh yeah, they're gone," said one commissioner.

Added another source: "That term will go away, but they'll replace it with something different and just call it something else."

Don't be fooled, though. Getting rid of the BCS AQ status in 2014 won't mean all 11 conferences and Notre Dame will be treated as equals. They won't. And make no mistake, the BCS meetings are not a democracy. Although there are 12 voices in the room, only six really matter: SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame.

Whatever plan the commissioners come up with for the 2014 postseason, Thompson has a pretty good read on what will happen next.

"We know whatever is determined," he said. "There still will be critics."

Those critics will have to wait a while longer, though. Hancock said the format will not be determined in next month's meetings in Hollywood, Fla., but a final decision could stretch into the summer or even the fall.


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