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As plan for playoff crystallizes, hard part is proving it's more credible


In the last four months, New Orleans will have hosted the BCS title game and Final Four. (US Presswire)  
In the last four months, New Orleans will have hosted the BCS title game and Final Four. (US Presswire)  

NEW ORLEANS -- In the spring of 2006 an NCAA official and a major conference commissioner met during the NCAA tournament in Atlanta. Subject: A college football playoff.

It wasn't a formal meeting, nor did it carry much weight. But it is relevant today, six years later, as the sport's power brokers develop a new postseason model.

The two spoke specifically of a way a playoff could be sold to the public. At that time the BCS name was well on its way to being sullied. Oklahoma had lost by four touchdowns in its 2003 conference title game and remained No. 1 in the BCS. Auburn had been left out of the 2004 national championship game despite an undefeated season.

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Tweaks weren't going to get it. The BCS had to be rebranded. It may be the only way to sell a new model to the public -- and a TV rights holder who is going pay for it.

The BCS commissioners are well down the way toward developing a new postseason beginning in 2014. They seem to be leaning toward a four-team plus-one. That's the easy part. The hard part is convincing a public and a rights holder that it is more credible than the current system.

"The question is not whether they go to the playoff," a person in that meeting said this week, "it's whether they convince the market it brings harmony." recently learned that such an idea has existed for years. Two sources confirmed that the idea has been floated of a limited liability company created by the NCAA that could "house" the playoff. The NCAA wouldn't directly control it or even the money generated by it. The revenue generated could be housed in such an LLC. The BCS currently shares money all the way down to the I-AA level.

LLCs are popular because of owners have limited personal liability and are more like a partnership. In essence, the NCAA would be "lending" its brand value to the BCS. The commissioners are moving toward a playoff, in part, because the public outcry against the BCS has become too loud. NCAA president Mark Emmert, as well as predecessor Myles Brand, have said for years that the association is willing to help stage a playoff if asked.

The LLC plan may have been the "if asked" part. FBS football is the only championship not conducted by the association. In fact, the NCAA has little to do with major college football -- especially the postseason -- aside from assigning officials, licensing bowls and investigating schools.

With its name on a football playoff, the NCAA would at least have its name on what would then be all 89 championships. The conference commissioners would still control what would be a financial windfall from staging a playoff, but would rid itself from one of the most damaged brands in the country -- the BCS.

"The NCAA brand in championships is very powerful," Emmert said here Thursday at the Final Four. "Witness what's going on here right now. It depends on the model they come up with ...

"The issues that presidents voice is making sure that the BCS doesn't get tied up in some of the byzantine politics of the NCAA. There are ways that can be constructed if they want to, easily."

One observer has his doubts.

"What are they [NCAA] going to get for [putting their name on a playoff]?," said Gordon Schnell, a noted anti-trust attorney with Constantine Cannon in New York. "The NCAA has a lot to answer for in other areas when it comes to equity. I'd be surprised if they got into the BCS storm without it being financially worthwhile. Do I think it would be better for the BCS? Maybe." The idea has never been acted upon because it would take at least some sort of control away from the commissioners who built the BCS.

"I'm glad I don't deal hypotheticals," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive when asked about the LLC idea. "You can do what you want with that."

But if there is a place to dream about a bigger-than-life football playoff, this is it. The Final Four is the reason the commissioners are likely to start with four teams. The NCAA has been wildly successful in basketball with a four-team championship playoff at the end of a three-week tournament.

Now, think of a Final Four times three -- three football games in three different venues. The city, with this stadium, would probably be included in any kind of playoff rotation. The Sugar Bowl has been around for more than 75 years. New Orleans has an economy largely based on tourism.

"I suspect it would be a wildly popular event just in terms of the fan base," Emmert said. "I don't think it would in any way conflict with or reduce the attention or enthusiasm people have for this tournament. This is still a pretty remarkable iconic event."

This Final Four could be the biggest attendance-wise, in history. It is certainly the biggest in terms of square footage. The idea of putting a Final Four in the Superdome was hatched during a visit here by the NCAA in 2006 when the city and the building were recovering from Katrina.

The city is once again on fire for a big event. In the last four months, New Orleans will have hosted the BCS national championship game, the SEC tournament and Final Four. A football playoff, strung out over two or three weeks, would be bigger.

Much bigger.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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