Playoff semifinals would 'float,' be played at bowl sites of higher seeds

The Sugar Bowl's relationship with SEC teams could he a hitch in a 'floating' system. (US Presswire)

Commissioners in the process of molding the first major-college football playoff are leaning toward floating bowl sites for the semifinal games.

In fact, the predetermined rotation of semifinal sites in the bowls was described as a “non-starter” to CBSSports.com. There are still discussions over the sites of the entire three-game playoff (in or outside of bowls), but there seems to be a growing consensus that the bowls will at least host the semifinals. The Big Ten recently backed off an idea for campus sites to host semifinals.

While site issue is one of many yet to be resolved in the playoff discussion, this development does point out that the commissioners are sensitive to the fairness issue.

They do not want the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds having to “go on the road” in the semifinals. In other words, if the Sugar Bowl were anchored in advance to be a semifinal site, it would be possible that a No. 4 seed – say, LSU – would have the home-field advantage playing the No. 1-seeded opponent in the Superdome.

The discussion seems to center around the SEC and the Sugar Bowl. The conference has the most rabid fan following and its teams are in the closest proximity to New Orleans than the other conferences are to other major bowls. The Sugar Bowl has had a formal agreement to take the SEC champion since 1976. However, its relationship with the league goes back decades.

LSU's latest rise to prominence has occurred during the BCS era (since 1998). Some would argue because of the BCS. Three times during that 14-year period, LSU has played a “home” national championship game in the Superdome, only 70 miles from its campus.

The Tigers won two of those games -- in 2004 over No. 1 Oklahoma and in 2008 over No. 1 Ohio State. Any advantage gained in January's BCS title game in New Orleans may have been negated by the following of the opponent, Alabama.

Such a move by the commissioners would probably mean the so-called “flex” plan is in play. That option came out of the BCS meetings in late April. The flex plan would allow the bowls with the highest-seeded teams to host semifinals.

Currently, five leagues have major-bowl tie-ins for their champions: Fiesta (Big 12), SEC (Sugar), Rose (Big Ten, Pac-12), ACC (Orange). That will change beginning in 2014. At this point only the Rose is sure to have its current tie-in.

The difference all along for the bowls in a playoff is that their games would not be an end-all to the season, but simply a “pass-through.” All four major bowls made presentations during those meetings last month. Each was asked by the commissioners if they were OK being a pass-through playoff game in years during which their traditional game might not be played.

It has not been determined what rotation or even what bowls will be involved in the playoff when it is scheduled to begin after the 2014 season. In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said a “plus-one” -- one more game after the bowls -- was still on the table.

With the addition of the Champions Bowl announced 10 days ago involving the SEC and Big 12, it is assumed that the Sugar would a) remain linked to the SEC and b) be involved in the four-team championship rotation. Officials said the site of the Champions Bowl, at least initially, would be bid out. The Sugar Bowl and Cowboys Stadium remain early favorites.

Other major bowls don't have as much of a conflict with conference affiliations and possible “home” playoff games. The Fiesta Bowl has hosted the Big 12 champion but that partnership supposedly will end in 2014 when the Champions Bowl begins. The Orange Bowl has struggled attendance-wise matching the ACC champion against an at-large opponent. The Big East champion has been guaranteed a berth at-large in the BCS era. The Rose Bowl is trying to keep the Pac-12-Big Ten matchup as often as possible in the new playoff era.

The Rose doesn't particularly like being a national semifinal, one source said, but it will do it to make the playoff happen.

 
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