|With a playoff in 2011, OK State may have faced Pac-12 champ Oregon in a semifinal. (Getty Images)|
ATLANTA -- The godfather of the BCS concedes that for the first time since its inception, there is a broad-based consensus to change college football's postseason structure.
But when I recently sat down with former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, he offered these words of caution:
"I understand the emphasis on and the desire for change is greater now because of what happened last season [when both sides of the BCS championship game came from the SEC]," said Kramer, still razor sharp at 82. "But wanting to change and actually finding a way to change are two different things. I think it probably gets done, but right now I wouldn't bet the whole ranch on it. There are a lot of details to be worked out. A lot of people still have to say yes."
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The commissioners of the 11 BCS conferences, plus Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick, will meet later this month in South Florida to take the next step in changing the two-team championship format that has been in place since 1998.
As our Dennis Dodd and Brett McMurphy have been reporting, there is a genuine desire on the part of the commissioners to get to some form of a four-team playoff.
But Kramer remembers that college football, by its nature, is resistant to big change. It prefers, and is more comfortable with, incremental change. Kramer remembers how the Big Ten and Pac-10 had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the BCS.
"One of the toughest things I've ever been a part of," Kramer said. "I don't blame them -- they were trying to protect the Rose Bowl."
Kramer said he has looked at all the options for a playoff that have been reported. They range from a four-team playoff with the semifinals on campus to a four-team playoff with all three games (semifinals and championship) at neutral sites.
If an agreement can't be reached on one of the four-team options, there is always the possibility of a true "Plus-One," in which two teams are picked after the bowl games rather than after Conference Championship Saturday, as is now the case.
There was also this silly notion of a format that would protect the Rose Bowl by creating an extra semifinal game in Pasadena if the Big Ten or Pac-12 finished in the final top four. That is simply not going to happen.
Now 10 years removed from his post at the SEC, Kramer has two words for his former colleagues: "Be careful."
"I always believed there would be changes down the road after we started the BCS," said Kramer, who retired in 2002 and was replaced by Mike Slive. "Change is inevitable. But the truth is, your options are more limited than most people think.
"If you say you want to move into another phase, another round [of the BCS], then how do you get there and maintain the regular season? This much everyone can agree on: at the end of the day, protecting the regular season is paramount."
Kramer understands the desire by fans and media to have a more definitive and less controversial ending to the college football season.
"But you have to be very careful in your desire to improve the postseason that you don't hurt what the game is all about," he said. "You can complain about the BCS all you want, but at the end of the day it did what it was intended to do. It increased interest in the game. In the BCS era, college football has gone from a regional sport to a national sport."
Kramer sad his caution is based on what has happened to college basketball.
"My criticism of college basketball is that it has become a one-month sport," he said. "You just can't do that to college football. If you do, you break the foundation of college athletics because football finances everything. The donor programs and all the stuff that people don't want to talk about is built around [regular-season] football. That's just the way it is."
So, does Kramer see a four-team playoff that could work?
"There are basically two questions," he said. "Where do you play the games and how do you pick the Final Four?"
Kramer doesn't like the idea of playing the semifinals on campus.
"On campus is viable if your primary goal is to fill the stadiums," he said. "But on campus takes away a little of the grandeur of college football in the postseason."
So Kramer suggests the powers that be find a way to cut a deal with the New Year's Day bowls to host the semifinals.
So how do you pick the Final Four? Here is where it gets tricky.
There is going to be some demand for a selection committee because the current BCS formula has come under so much criticism. The coaches poll represents a clear conflict of interest. The coaches are held accountable for only one poll per season -- the last one. The Harris Interactive Poll has had all kind of issues and, please, let's not even discuss the computer polls, with its secret formulas.
Still, a selection committee, Kramer says, is not the answer.
"We had to come up with a [BCS] formula because no one wanted to be on a selection committee," he said. "Having a committee to pick 64 basketball teams is a lot different than a committee picking four football teams. Picking 1 and 2 and maybe 3 would be easy. But the number of people who think they should be No. 4 would be significant. It will not eliminate controversy. In fact, there will probably be more controversy."
Kramer has done some thinking about who should be in the Final Four. Earlier this year he told our Dennis Dodd he was leaning toward a four-team playoff that would include conference champions only.
Now Kramer believes the way to go is to pick the three highest-rated conference champions. The fourth spot would be a "wild card" that would go to the highest-rated non-conference champion.
Had that plan been in place last season, LSU (SEC), Oklahoma State (Big 12), and Oregon (Pac-12) would have qualified as the highest-ranked conference champions. Alabama, No. 2 in the final BCS standings and whose only loss was 9-6 to No. 1 LSU, would have been the wild card.
"[With this system,] you've elevated the importance of the conference championships and kept the significance of the regular season," Kramer said. "But you still have room for a team like Alabama."
Or Notre Dame. If it qualified. (But that's a story for another day).
The fun part, Kramer said, is that when it comes to the next version of the BCS (or whatever it will be called), he won't have to sell it or worry about the fallout from it. He'll be able to watch it all unfold this summer from the comfort of his home just outside of Maryville, Tenn.
"Understand that whatever is decided, the controversy is not going to end," he said. "People who love college football are going to disagree about who's No. 1. That is not going to change."