Senior College Football Columnist

In the over-complicated playoff world, Bowlsby could hold all the cards


Former Pac-12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby (right) is now running the show for the Big 12. (Getty Images)  
Former Pac-12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby (right) is now running the show for the Big 12. (Getty Images)  

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Clear your mind for a moment during this rancorous playoff debate. Imagine a group of powerful college presidents surrounded by a powerful group of congressmen and senators, surrounded by a somewhat less powerful group of commissioners. All of them are on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., smiling in the summer sun, waiting to announce the Great American College Football Playoff.

Makes sense during a time when nothing else much does. We have the playoff structure figured out (sort of), we have the date (Jan. 12, 2015 according to recent NCAA documents) for the first GACFP. Now if we can just get past this month.

"Let me just remind you that the Korean War is still on," said acting Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas as the Big 12 spring meetings concluded on Friday.

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Yeah, well, there’s that. But the battle over the 38th Parallel may have nothing on college football at the moment. Don’t get your hopes up but a third BCS meeting this month (June 26 in Washington) could finally give us some closure. The commissioners already are meeting June 13 and June 20 in Chicago. Somewhere in that time frame they could put on their big-boy pants and start acting like, well, adults. Maybe it’s a coincidence this debate could be drawing to a close in the nation’s capital. Surrounded by the stars, stripes, apple pie and (new corporate sponsor?) Chevrolet, they could wrap themselves in the flag and anti-trust lawyers to ring in a new era. Inviting noted playoff advocates Barack Obama and Joe Barton would be optional.

"[Commissioner arguments] will continue until the day they make the announcement," said a person involved in the playoff discussions. Seems like it. The commissioners are treating the playoff structure like it is a struggle over nuclear secrets. Unless there is total gridlock, it’s going to be a bracketed four-teamer. We’ve been calling it the Football Four for a while. But whoever gets their favored model has dominance over the other countries, er, conferences. You might be sick of the argument of who populates those slots -- top-four vs. conference champs -- but they aren’t.

A few hours after incoming Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Friday there is room for compromise, his current/soon-to-be former commissioner fired a blast from the West Coast. Laid back Larry Scott of the Pac-12 parroted his Rose-Bowl partner Jim Delany in saying a playoff participant must have to at least win its division to qualify.

Sounds logical, except that Alabama didn’t last season. What was it that Nick Saban called the Scott/Delany axis at the beginning of the week, "self-absorbed"?

"Is it going to be without controversy?" Bowlsby said. "Forget it."

You see where this is heading. If the SEC hadn’t won six consecutive national championships, if Alabama-LSU hadn’t played twice in one season, then we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. Those are two big ifs.

But the SEC wouldn’t be in that situation without the BCS. The 1 vs. 2 model made it likely that the SEC champion was going to be in contention most years. The computers, polls and, well, talent also helped.

It’s the SEC against the world and the league wants a system that continues that dominance. The Strength Everywhere Conference announced Friday it will be distributing slightly more than $20 million per school in revenue this year. That will shoot up a bit if and when the league launches its own network.

Along the way the SEC has picked up a dance partner in the Big 12, but only because the leagues have the same football philosophy, and because they've combined for national championships in the last seven consecutive years and nine of the last 12.

Why not favor a model that would include as many of their teams as possible in the top four?

"You folks are the ones fanning that flame. I’m not kidding you," Neinas said scolding the media as the Big 12 meetings wrapped up. "I’ve seen people trying to set it up like its Delany against [Mike] Slive and it’s a game or a fight. It’s an expression of the views of the membership from that particular conference. But when we are together it’s a good exchange, no rancor."

Hey, pal, you’re the one dropping Korean War references. Besides, the announcement of the Champions Bowl two weeks ago made it a formal partnership between the SEC and Big 12, at least in terms of sharing revenue from that game. Not standing on ceremony, the SEC and Big 12 intend to play their new bowl in prime time on Jan. 1 following the Rose Bowl. How do you like them petals, Pasadena?

Top-four, Neinas says, makes it nice and easy. What screwed up the BCS, among other things, was automatic qualification for sometimes meaningless bowls that had nothing to do with the 1-2 game. With AQs gone, it’s easier for Neinas to drop this bomb aimed at the floundering Big East.

"It’s no secret," he said of what is left of the six BCS conferences, "We meet and talk about the Big Five."

There’s plenty of invective for everyone. Texas AD DeLoss Dodds was the one saying it’s either/or -- top four or conference champs. That plus-one suggestion by Scott -- a championship game after the bowls?

"That’s a different model altogether," Bowlsby said.

That could make things a bit sticky this weekend when Bowlsby attends the Pac-12 spring meetings in San Diego. He’ll have a foot in two conferences as the future Big 12 commissioner and current Stanford AD. Bowlsby said he has already been asked to wait in the hall during certain Pac-12 meetings.

"I’ve quickly become a partner but not necessarily an insider any longer," he said.

So how do we complete this 500-piece puzzle? Bowlsby actually has feet in three camps (is that possible?). While extricating himself from the Pac-12, he remains good friends with Delany having been Iowa’s AD for 16 years. Listen to the rumor mill and Bowlsby, 60, could have been Delany’s successor. But the idea of a high-paying promotion now rather than later had to be a lure.

"Jim is one of my closest friends in the business," said Bowlsby.

When asked if he could be a peacemaker in the meeting room, Bowlsby said, "We’ll see."

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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