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College Presidents Officially Approve a Four Team Playoff

The BCS is dead. Well, not really dead. More like terminal. That's what you wanted, isn't it?
The BCS is dead. Well, not really dead. More like terminal. That's what you wanted, isn't it?

The Presidential Oversight Committee of the BCS officially signed off on a four team playoff, thus signaling the end of the BCS era and bringing us a new era. The semifinal sites will be rotated between six different bowl games that will be played on New Years Eve and New Years Day. The national championship game will be played on the first practical Monday after New Years Day; no less than 6 days after New Years Day. The title game will be bid out and will not necessarily be tied to a bowl game.

The four teams in the playoff will be seeded by a committee based on record, strength of schedule, head to head results, and being a conference champion. Some sort of "RPI" formula to replace the old BCS formula likely will be developed...but will be a tool for the committee to use rather than determine the playoff teams.

Harvey Perlman reluctantly signed off on the proposal, calling it his "third priority." But Perlman knew that he had fought the fight as far as he could take it, and got the SEC to give in on the selection committee approach. Some will paint it as a loss for Perlman, but he may have helped force the discussion a little.

There are several things to like about this proposal; we've finally got a playoff and the BCS era is over. It served it's purpose, but it left fans wanting more. But what we got was less than what we could have had, and there are several reasons to be concerned. I'll make no bones about it; I've long felt that the fairest proposal for everyone was to play the semifinals on campus sites. Using the bowl games as the semi-final sites essentially gives SEC and Pac-12 teams a home field advantage. Asking fans to travel to two games in short order makes it difficult for many fans, and I firmly believe that fans will not travel as strongly to the semi-final games in order to save their resources (money and vacation time) for a national championship game.

There were a couple of new wrinkles in the final deal that caught me off-guard. The semi-finals will be rotated among six bowls. The Fiesta, Orange, Rose, and Sugar Bowls will be joined by two other bowls that are yet to be determined. The Cotton Bowl is almost a lock to join the rotation to be the fifth. The sixth has yet to be determined. The most likely candidates are probably the Citrus (aka Capital One) Bowl in Orlando or the Peach (aka Chick-Fil-A) Bowl in Atlanta. Don't be surprised, though, if a new bowl organizes in the midwest to bring a semi-final game out of the sun belt. Detroit's Motor City Bowl already exists, and St. Louis is talking about creating a bowl. And Indianapolis loves to jump into the bidding for these types of events.

The problem with this is that one of the reasons why some people wanted the bowls in the playoff formula was "tradition". And when they speak of "tradition", they are talking about the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup. Except in this formula, that won't happen many years since the Rose Bowl will occasionally host a semifinal instead of the traditional matchup.

The other wrinkle was the length of this arrangement: 12 years. That's an awful long time to commit to a new formula that hasn't been tried before. The original "Bowl Alliance" lasted three years. The BCS rotated the championship game between four bowls for 8 years, then went to the double-hosting model the last 8 years. Each time, the deal was renewed four years at a time.

Now we're locked in for a 12 year deal. The arrangement can be tweaked, but it's not going to change dramatically. There's no opportunity to revisit using campus sites until 2026. The TV deal is going to be locked in as well, and chances are that ESPN is going to bid using your money to lock it in. It's not like your cable company can say "No" to ESPN. ESPN has a near-monopoly on big sporting events: lots of college basketball and football, Monday Night football, Major League Baseball, golf tournaments, tennis tournaments, and NASCAR. The first cable company that says "No" to ESPN suffers an immediate outflow of customers to satellite or other providers. So ESPN can bid whatever they want to...they know they can just pass the costs onto you in the end.

The television deal is one of many things still to be determined. The selection committee is another. Will it be administrators or former coaches? And what will happen the first time the committee selects a team that the sportswriters disagree with?

And the idea of playing one of the semifinal games on New Years Eve is a bad one as well. They tried this one in the mid 90's, and quickly moved away from it. New Years Eve is famous for a lot of things...and football isn't part of that. ESPN only schedules one game on New Years Eve for a reason. Can you imagine the outrage in Pasadena when the Rose Bowl has to be played the night before the parade?

A four team playoff is a positive step for college football. But this 12 year agreement leaves a lot of questions and a lot of compromises that may not able to be corrected for a long, long time. This might prove the old adage: "Be careful what you ask for." Because we may get what we asked for, but not necessarily what we really wanted.