But with the 12-member Bowl Championship Series presidential oversight committee set to meet in Washington on Tuesday to approve the proposed playoff, the question that will likely take center stage is why now, after more than 100 years of simply playing postseason bowls, is this the right path for college football?
Money certainly played a role. The BCS currently generates about $180 million from its television contract with ESPN, but some predict when negotiations on a new deal open this fall, a four-team playoff could be worth $400 million.
Bob Boland, the academic chair at New York University’s Tisch School of Sports Management, went one step further. He said once a playoff is established on the marketplace, the money from television rights fees and neutral site bidding of a national championship game could mirror that of “a second Super Bowl.”
But the answer university presidents are likely to get from the commissioners will be much simpler. After spending decades defending the parochial nature of college football to the public, the fans left college football’s decision makers with no other choice.
“Any system only can last so long without support and with just constant criticism,” said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, one of the last major figures to come on board with a playoff. “The level of criticism was so significant over time that, in some ways, it forced the change. . . . The BCS never had any vocal supporters.”
20 years in the making
The way commissioners describe this new playoff model, it is simply the latest evolution for a sport that has been searching for a pragmatic way to declare a national champion for more than 20 years.
It started in 1992. The SEC, Big East, Big 8, the now-defunct Southwest Conference, the ACC, Notre Dame and six bowl games joined together to form the Bowl Coalition. In 1995 it was re-structured with just three bowl games and renamed the Bowl Alliance.
But neither incarnation could avoid controversy because the Big Ten and Pacific-10 were contractually obligated to participate in the Rose Bowl. So in 1998, the BCS was formed as a way to pair the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a bowl game to determine the national champion.
The brainchild of then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, it brought the Rose Bowl into the rotation and ranked teams using a formula of human polls and computer rankings.