Senior College Football Columnist

College football's playoff will be huge, and everyone wants a piece of it


At stake is the first realistic chance for a city to call itself the college football capital of the country.

Among other things.

"It will kind of be the Super Bowl's healthy brother or sister," Neal Pilson said of the coming college football playoff. "It's not a Super Bowl, it won't get Super Bowl ratings but I call it the biggest American sports event that hasn't happened yet. And now it's going to happen."

Like the rest of us, Pilson can't quite comprehend everything that is ahead. The playoff is still two years away. There's a lot of money waiting to change hands. Determining a college football capital is down on the list of priorities. From 1936-1997, the polls assigned a mythical national champion. The BCS has done its damage since then. Beginning in 2014, there will be four teams, two winners, playing in a central location instead of being placed there by computers and polls.

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So who do you like for Super Bowl Jr. -- Atlanta, Dallas? Maybe even L.A.?

Pilson, the longtime sports media consultant, pitched an eight-team playoff in 1992 as president of CBS Sports. Twenty years after being laughed out of the room, he'd kill to get a piece of this playoff -- estimated to be worth $5 billion over the 12-year term of the agreement.

"It could be closer to $6 billion," said another TV consultant who did not want to be identified because of ongoing negotiations. "This is the second-most popular television event. When you take the impact a playoff has on the regular season ... it's got a lot of value. Where else are [advertisers] going to spend that money?"

Big brother -- or sister -- is waiting.

Becoming the college football capital is only an ancillary benefit for the convention and tourism bureaus. And it only is possible because the playoff championship game is going to rotate between cities, not necessarily bowls. Considering that cities could be involved in semifinals and the championship multiple times over a five-year period, it's going to make for some interesting T-shirt hyperbole if nothing else: College Football Capital Of The World.

More at stake will be the sports reps (and wallets) of Atlanta, Indianapolis, Detroit, Dallas, Tampa and New Orleans. Those are educated-guess early-line favorites to be awarded the first few championship games. Playoff news has caused a stir in the media, advertising and athletic worlds that ends with the same question. How big can college football be?

So big that the news is a week old and we can't get enough of it. Cities are lining up -- publicly and privately -- to host the championship game. Bring somewhere in the range of $25 million-$30 million to reserve that place in line. One source close to the Indianapolis Super Bowl bid said that's what it took in cash alone to secure the city's bid. Now consider the "in-kind" perks that could be worth at least that much (hotel rooms, transportation, etc.)

You fans had better bring a wad of cash yourselves. It's already been reported that tickets for the playoff games could cost $350 each.

Get used to the price hike. In attempting to price a playoff for television -- he was not involved in any official capacity -- Pilson basically cut the Super Bowl in half. Half the TV ratings (a 20 which represents about 25 million viewers), half the ad rates for a 30-second commercial (approaching $2 million).

Considering that one game in BCS history (USC-Texas, 2006 Rose Bowl) surpassed a 20 rating, that's still part of a revenue monster worth $500 million per year based on that $6 billion valuation.

Conservative playoff payoff: $40 million per year for leagues formerly known as BCS conferences (Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, Big East, ACC) just for being there.

How big is big? Jerry Jones wants it all -- semifinals, championship, Cotton Bowl, Champions Bowl. That's not Jones talking. That's his rep shouting. The Dallas Cowboys' owner hasn't said much of anything since a playoff became likely. But his presence in this new age is best defined by that iconic pose of a certain giant ape on top of the Empire State Building.

"You could put together a hell of a bid," one industry source said, "and Jerry can come in and bid $50 million more."

How big is big? Unless it starts playing better football, Notre Dame may have finally been left behind. The answer to the great question: 'Why do the Irish get special consideration by the BCS?' may end with a playoff. Notre Dame essentially has the same access to the top four as Bowling Green.

How big is big? Bigger than the Final Four, eventually. Bigger than the World Series, possibly. Bigger than everything, basically, except that Super Bowl. So big that a playoff is the biggest, baddest, gnarliest manifestation of the sport's popularity in college football's 143-year history.

"The BCS has given birth to a child, and the child has to be born full grown," said Bill Hancock, the BCS executive director. "From Day 1, it has to be. It will not be a mature event but will have to be a mature event. It would be like starting the Final Four from scratch."

He ought to know. For 16 years, Hancock ran the Final Four for the NCAA. Welcome, then, to the Football Four or whatever copyrighted label replaces the BCS.

"I think it has unbelievable potential because it comes at a time of year -- New Year's Eve, New Year's Day -- where we all used to sit there and watch bowl games and stuff our faces," said Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. "We're going back to that. And, oh by the way, a week later we've got The Big One."

While Jones has been quiet on The Big One, Atlanta has been aggressive. Last week's press release from the Chick-fil-A folks included a reminder that Atlanta is a veteran host of Final Fours, Super Bowls and four neutral site college football games per season (two opening-weekend games, SEC championship game, Chick-Fil-A bowl). It doesn't hurt that Atlanta is the future home of the College Football Hall of Fame. Oh, and Falcons' owner Arthur Blank is pushing for a new retractable roof stadium in 2017.

In New Orleans, they're hoping for something similar to the economic impact produced last season by the Sugar Bowl (Virginia Tech-Michigan) and BCS title game (LSU-Alabama) -- $450 million.

Mark Romig, CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Association, said a playoff "becomes an iconic event."

Orlando suddenly became a player when the city last week announced $175 million in renovations to the 76-year-old Citrus Bowl. Los Angeles could become interested if it builds a downtown stadium for a possible NFL franchise. For now, the assumption is that Cowboys Stadium (Dallas) and the Georgia Dome (Atlanta) will fill out the six-bowl rotation for the semifinals. Those cities could also bid on the championship as a "neutral" site.

A playoff has also changed the way bowls do business. With two of the six bowls spoken for in the semifinals each season, that's going to put a strain on a 35-game bowl system that barely had enough teams (72) to fill its 70 spots last season.

"Probably at least one of the existing bowl games will fold," Pilson said. "They're market-place driven. If you can, you do it. If you can't, you fold."

It still has to be determined how many times in 12 years the Rose Bowl and newly-created Champions Bowl may actually participate in the semifinals. The average would be four times in those 12 years for each bowl (24 slots divided by six bowls). However, the Rose prefers to protect its Pac-12-Big Ten matchup as often as possible. The SEC and Big 12 are sharing revenues evenly in the Champions Bowl.

That could mean more semis and monies for the likes of the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls.

"It's a de-centralization," one BCS source said. "Conferences taking control of their bowl games and determining who participates in the games. It's the conferences really loaning their bowl games to us to have semifinals."

How much bigger can a playoff be? No bigger than four teams for the foreseeable future.

"The problem with 16 teams is you're killing the bowls," Pilson said. "You can't run it into late January. If you try it with eight teams, you've got to start playing Christmas week. [With too large a playoff] each of those bowl games you kill has two senators and at least one Congressman who is going to fight you.

"I clearly think this is the best idea."

The T-shirts are going to look cool too.

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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