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Senior College Football Columnist

BCS meetings promise playoff talks, but little in way of solutions

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A plus-one playoff system would make the Rose Bowl a de facto semifinal venue. (Getty Images)  
A plus-one playoff system would make the Rose Bowl a de facto semifinal venue. (Getty Images)  

Now we know why a simple four-team playoff has taken so long. College football's power brokers have known for years.

Everywhere you turn there are roadblocks, disagreements and impediments. Yeah, the money was always good but we're beginning to understand why the commissioners (and presidents) haven't wanted to take on this task until now.

Consider how little we know for sure as the latest round of BCS meetings commence Tuesday in Chicago.

 At this point, there seems to be no consensus. We don't know if there is even going to be a four-team playoff. Back in late April, BCS executive director Bill Hancock called the new college postseason "seismic change." It was thought that everyone had at least settled on a four-teamer with the semis in the bowls and the championship game bid out to a host city.

"That's going to be the issue," said one person inside the room this week, "Is plus-one back on the table?"

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While Pac-12 Larry Scott said previously that it was, this is the first time since he made that statement to the Wall Street Journal that the presidents will meet in person. Since Scott's statements, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said the Big Ten presidents prefer (in descending order) the current BCS system (ugh!), followed by a plus-one, followed by a four-team playoff.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has gone off the reservation -- at least his reservation -- in now advocating the four best teams in a playoff. That lines up with the desires of the SEC and Big 12 but not necessarily with his conference's presidents.

A plus-one (a championship game after the bowls) would make the Rose and Champions bowls de facto semifinals if you consider that teams from those four leagues (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC) have won championships 16 of the last 18 years. Things wouldn't look too bad for the rest of the power conferences. Based on the commissioners' research, 79 of the past 80 teams to finish in the top four have been from the Big Five conferences (Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12). The only exception was Cincinnati in 2009.

Now there is word that the entire three-game playoff may be played outside the bowls. There is concern that if the bowls host the semis, coaches will bring their teams in shortly before the games, thus ruining that "bowl experience." Random coach's take: A semi isn't a traditional bowl game and the more time spent on campus avoiding distractions, the better. Imagine if Nick Saban brought Alabama in the night before a semifinal in the Rose Bowl. The bowl, the system and host city loses a bit of oomph.

By bidding out the semis, the thought is that the games would become more like events. If that sounds confusing, consider this: If all three games are bid out to competing cities, that doesn't necessarily mean they won't be played at bowl sites. Jerry Jones could lead a charge for Dallas and his Cowboys Stadium (site of the Cotton Bowl). Atlanta (Georgia Dome, site of the SEC title game and Chick-fil-A Bowl) is expected to pursue aggressively. The same goes for South Florida (Orange Bowl is tied to the ACC in the BCS) and Phoenix (University of Phoenix Stadium is home of the Fiesta Bowl; a remodeled Sun Devil Stadium hosts the Insight Bowl.)

 One thing is clear: Jones is more than interested. As soon as the playoff model is finalized, expect the Cowboys owner to aggressively pursue A) a national championship game; B) a national semifinal game; C) the Champions Bowl. Maybe a combination of the three.

Where does that leave the Cotton Bowl? In the mix to be part of possibly the biggest college football extravaganza ever in one place. Remember, the NCAA already has mandated that the bowl season basically fit in a three-week window.

And Jones isn't shy. He landed 2014 Final Four in Cowboys Stadium to be played before what could be a record 100,000 fans.

 There seems to be some support for the strength-of-schedule component to reward teams. That seems to be an advantage for the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12. The SEC clearly plays more Division I-AA non-conference opponents than, say, the Pac-12. In fact, some of those I-AA games could be bundled and become the backbone of an SEC Network.

But the Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games which should give them their own built-in schedule strength advantage. The SEC champion also plays nine conference games if you consider the conference title game. That little late-season bump seems to have worked fairly well for the conference.

The commissioners must be careful here. They eliminated the strength of schedule component from the BCS a few years ago because it was considered redundant. At some level, all the computers take into account schedule strength to rate teams.

Conclusion: The BCS era has proved to us that any SEC champion these days is probably going to be in the top four. Everyone else, not so certain.

 The selection committee idea sounds worse by the minute. Take last season. There may have been a "right thing to do" in the Stanford-Oregon argument. Oregon beat Stanford head-to-head and won the Pac-12. But the Ducks still had two losses and would have been out of a four-team playoff by a wide margin having finished fifth behind the No. 4 Cardinal. Oregon was essentially penalized for taking on powerhouse LSU in the opener.

A human committee most likely would have chosen Oregon over Stanford if they were picking the four "best" teams for a playoff. And Stanford may not have had much of an argument. Except that's one situation in one season.

Take Auburn in 2004. There were three undefeated teams at the top. Auburn was left out behind USC and Oklahoma. Project that to a human committee picking among three one-loss teams for that fourth spot in a playoff. I don't want a small, select committee anywhere near that decision. Too much subjectivity, too many biases, too much controversy.

 The first playoff championship game seemingly will be played Jan. 12, 2015. The commissioners have been told by their television consultants that a Monday night is an ideal slot. It would not conflict with NFL playoffs and allow a weekend build up a la Monday Night Football.

The coaches have weighed in and told the commissioners that they prefer a minimum of eight days to prepare before the championship game. In 2014-2015 that would put the semifinals on Friday, Jan. 2 or earlier. (Remember, no Saturdays or Sundays because of NFL conflicts)

 It seems we are nearing the end of the ticket guarantee.

The practice of making schools responsible for their allotment became a controversial topic. 17,000 tickets multiplied by $150 equals $2.5 million essentially subtracted from the bowl take. Bowls were perceived as gouging when it was simply a case of accounting in arriving at a fair bowl revenue number.

The new Champions Bowl will split revenues 50-50 -- no ticket guarantee -- beginning in 2014. Look for a similar elimination of the ticket guarantee in the new postseason.

 One of the hardest jobs left is to distribute the revenue from a playoff. Congress is watching. So are anti-trust lawyers.

The BCS distributed $140 million-$180 million per season. A playoff is projected to double that income. With the elimination of BCS conferences, the Big Six essentially becomes the Big Five -- minus the Big East. Does the Big East deserve an equal share? Does the ACC?

There is discussion of a participation pool that would reward teams on historical performance (top 25 finishes, conference titles, etc.). A source said an APR component has been introduced that would reward schools for superior graduation rates.

After the commissioners decide just what the postseason is going to look like, access points and revenue distribution are the main issues.

 This process could benefit from the presence of Graham Spanier. Yes, the reputation of Penn State's former president is stained by the Sandusky scandal, but he would have been a unifying force in this process. Spanier not only had the ear of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, he was respected throughout the country by his peers.

As mentioned, Delany has been all over the map in the playoff discussion. He has gone from proposing a top-six concept that many say came out of nowhere, to recently saying he was on board for the four best teams.

Some of it may be calculated but some of it may be a very smart man waking up each day with a new idea. Either way, Spanier could have focused the stances both on the Big Ten and national levels.

 These latest playoff meetings conclude Wednesday. There is another meeting scheduled for June 20, also in Chicago.


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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