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Before BCS ends, the whens, wheres, whys of College Football Playoff

BCS boss Bill Hancock will run the playoff; Arkansas AD Jeff Long chairs the selection committee. (USATSI)
BCS boss Bill Hancock will run the playoff; Arkansas AD Jeff Long chairs the selection committee. (USATSI)

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- At the end of Monday night's 16th and final BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl, postseason college football as we have known it since 1998 will come to an end.

The BCS, which is essentially a two-team playoff, will be replaced by a four-team playoff simply known as the College Football Playoff. No need to get any more creative than that.

I'll warn you in advance that the CFP has a lot of moving parts. But what better time to break down those moving parts and to provide you with a primer of the things you need to know?

I had a chance to sit down with Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS and now the CFP, and ask him some key questions about the new system. His answers are in quotes. Mine are not. So here we go:

What bowls are in the CFP?

The CFP will consist of six bowls plus a stand-alone national championship game whose site will be chosen separately in a bidding process like the locations for the Final Four. Three of the bowls are "contract" bowls because they have existing contracts with conferences: Rose (Big Ten, Pac-12), Sugar (SEC, Big 12) and Orange (ACC).

The non-contract bowls are the Chick-fil-A, Cotton and Fiesta.

What conferences will get guaranteed slots in one of the CFP bowls?

The champions of the five conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) with contract bowls are guaranteed spots in one of the CFP bowls. A sixth spot will be guaranteed to the highest-ranked champion from the other "Group of Five" conferences: American, Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt and Conference USA. These conferences had to have access to the CFP and the simplest way to do it was to guarantee a slot to the best team from that group of five.

"We thought it was important to have that automatic access in order to help those conferences stay strong," Hancock said.

How are the semifinals going to work?

Each season, two of the six CFP bowls will play host to semifinal games. The other four CFP games will have their matchups determined either by contract or by the selection committee. (Example: In the years the Sugar Bowl is not hosting a semifinal, it will get an SEC-Big 12 matchup. But the Chick-fil-A, to use another example, will have its matchup determined by the selection committee because it doesn't have a contract with a conference.)

Here is the bowl rotation for the national semifinals for the first three years of the CFP:

2014: Rose, Sugar
2015: Orange, Cotton
2016: Chick-fil-A, Fiesta

How is the selection committee going to work?

The committee, chaired by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, will meet several times during the season to discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams that could be chosen for the national semifinals. With all kinds of data at their disposal, the committee will come up with a Top 25 ranking several times during the course of the year.

"We just felt that it was helpful for college football to have some kind of measuring stick out there from our selection committee," Hancock said.

The committee will not in any way be bound by the rankings they produce when they make their choice of the four teams. On the Sunday after Championship Saturday, the committee will place four teams in the two semifinal bowls as well as provide the matchups for the other four CFP bowls.

Will the committee pick the four BEST teams or the four most DESERVING teams?

Here's the distinction: Using this year's final BCS standings, the four best teams were Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State. An argument could have been made that Big 12 champ Baylor or Pac-12 champ Stanford was more deserving of a spot in the playoff than a second team from the SEC (Alabama).

"That decision was made early on," Hancock said. "Our committee will be charged with picking the four best teams for the playoffs and the best available teams for the other bowl matchups."

So if the committee is charged with picking the four best teams, is there any limit to how many teams a conference can put in the four-team playoffs or the CFP bowls?

No. The two-team limit per conference that existed in the BCS structure goes away.

Are the national semifinals going to be on New Year's Day every season?

No. In fact, two out of every three years, the national semifinals are going to be in the late-afternoon and early evening time windows on New Year's Eve.

Why is that? Why can't we always have the semifinals on New Year's Day?

"The Rose Bowl's time slot (5 p.m. ET New Year's Day) was very important to them and we understand that tradition," Hancock said. "The Sugar Bowl's spot on New Year's night was extremely important to them. We felt like it was important to keep that slot."

The commissioners who run the CFP also decided they didn't want to break up the semis and have one on Dec. 31 and one on Jan. 1. So, as a result, the 2014 season semifinals will be on Jan. 1 (Rose, Sugar) but the next two sets of semifinals will be on Dec. 31.

"What it does is change the paradigm of what New Year's Eve is all about," Hancock said. "If you're hosting a New Year's Eve party, you better have a bunch of televisions around."

With CFP tripleheaders on each day, the net effect will be that the playoff will create a two-day holiday instead of one. Not a whole lot of work is going to get done on New Year's Eve.

Will the other bowls that are currently played on New Year's Day (Outback, Capital One, Gator) still be played on Jan. 1?

Yes, if that is what they choose to do. But they will have to be played in the early afternoon time slot. The time slots for the Rose and the Sugar will be exclusive.

When you have the semifinals on Dec. 31, won't the games of Jan. 1 be a letdown?

"We don't think so," Hancock said. "The Rose Bowl is the Rose Bowl. The matchup in the Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12) is going to be so strong that the game can stand alone. We think the games will do well."

Now, what about the fans? Some fans will not be able to afford to attend a semifinal game and then go to a national championship game a week to 10 days later. Does that mean the semifinals or the national championship won't sell out or become corporate events like the Super Bowl?

"We talked about that a lot," Hancock said. "First of all, we're confident that fans will go. These games are going to be so huge, we just feel the fans will find a way to get there. We also reduced the ticket allotment for each school from 17,500 to 12,500. We want to make it as easy as possible for fans to get there."

The first year of the playoff, the semifinals will be on Jan. 1, 2015, but the championship game in Dallas won't be played until Jan. 12. Why the long wait?

It begins with the decision to always play the final game on a Monday night in order to avoid a conflict with the NFL. There must be at least a week between the semifinals and the national championship. Jan. 1, 2015, falls on a Thursday. So the next available Monday is Jan. 12. The championship for the 2015 season will be Jan. 11 and for the 2016 season it will be Jan. 9.

So why did it take us so long to get to this?

SEC commissioner Mike Slive started thinking about a four-team playoff in 2004 when Auburn went undefeated, won the SEC championship but got shut out of the BCS title game in favor of Oklahoma and Southern California.

"I just felt that there should be a place in the postseason structure for an undefeated or one-loss champion from our conference," Slive said. "So over the long haul, it became clear to me that expanding the structure was going to serve us better."

Ironically, the BCS comes to an end with the SEC on a seven-game winning streak in championship games. An Auburn victory would give the SEC eight consecutive BCS championships and 10 out of the 16 that were played.

The BCS was very controversial. Does the CFP put an end to all of that arguing about the postseason?

No. In fact, the four-team playoff will be more controversial than the BCS ever was. It's simple: With the two-team playoff, only one or two teams each year felt they were treated unfairly. Big 12 champ Oklahoma State still argues it should have gone in 2011 instead of Alabama getting a rematch with LSU after the Crimson Tide had lost to the Tigers during the regular season.

But in the four-team playoff, there will be a number of teams that think they are as good as No. 4.

"No. 5 is going to be very disappointed along with some other teams," Hancock said. "We get that and expect that. It's college football and there are going to be differences of opinion. We wouldn't have it any other way."

So if all these people are going to be mad, how long will it be before fans start clamoring for an eight-team playoff?

One year. Mere moments after the four teams are announced in December, the calls for expansion will come.

When will the playoff go to eight teams?

The conferences and the bowls have a 12-year contract for the CFP. I say it goes at least six and maybe the entire 12.

OK, guys, get out your calendars. If you want to attend the college football playoff for the next three years, here are the dates and locations. If you have any questions, ask away. I'll do my best to answer them.

College football playoff dates

2014-15 season
Dec. 31: Orange, Chick-fil-A, Fiesta
Jan. 1: Cotton, Rose (semifinal), Sugar (semifinal)
Jan. 12: National championship: Arlington, Texas

2015-16 season
Dec. 31: Orange (semifinal), Cotton (semifinal), Chick-fil-A
Jan. 1: Fiesta, Rose, Sugar
Jan. 11: National championship: Glendale, Ariz.

2016-17 season
Dec. 31: Chick-fil-A (semifinal), Fiesta (semifinal), Orange
Jan. 1: Rose, Sugar, Cotton
Jan. 9: National championship: Tampa, Fla.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
 
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