College football finally has its playoff. University presidents on Tuesday approved a four-team seeded playoff beginning in the 2014-15 season, officially putting an end to the controversial Bowl Championship Series and moving college football’s postseason more in line with every other major sport in the country.
So what exactly are the details of this new plan? You’ve got questions, and we’ve got some answers.
When and where will the national championship be played?
College football is already touting “championship Monday,” setting the date of the championship game on the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the final semifinal game. That means starting in 2014-15, the championship game will be held on Jan. 12, 2015; Jan. 11, 2016; Jan. 9, 2017; Jan. 8, 2018; and Jan. 7 2019. The location of each game hasn’t been determined, and the BCS will begin taking bids from potential host cities this fall. Many expect Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to put up top dollar to host the first national championship game at Cowboys Stadium, but other big event cities in warm climates such as Miami, New Orleans, Atlanta and even Jacksonville could also be part of that process.
Why are the semifinal games being played on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Da y?
After years of sagging ticket sales and declining television ratings, this was a return to normalcy for fans and bowls alike. Holding BCS games on Wednesday nights after the holiday season was not popular among fans who needed to take extra time off work to attend. The hope among college football’s leaders is that this plan will boost attendance and TV ratings by returning to traditional dates and allow the sport to reclaim the New Year’s holiday.
What six bowl games will serve as the semifinal game hosts?
You can bet on the Rose Bowl, the newly formed Champions Bowl and the Orange Bowl being a part of the rotation. Those are the bowls with ties to what presidents and commissioners now call the “Big Five” – the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC. The other three bowls will be determined by a bidding process, similar to the one that will take place for the neutral site that wants to host the national championship game. The Sugar and Fiesta bowls will undoubtedly put up a bid in order to maintain their relevancy after years of being given BCS status, but second-tier games like the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Capital One Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Gator Bowl also will be in the mix.
What about the bowls that aren’t hosting semifinals?
In terms of the other four bowl games that aren’t semifinals, the conferences that have tie-ins to games will send their teams there, unless they’re in the four-team playoff. The playoff organizers still have not decided if, after choosing the four semifinal teams, the selection committee will then assign teams to the other bowls that don't have a tie-in team available.
Using the Rose Bowl as an example, that game will feature a Big Ten team vs. a Pac-12 team except for the years that the Rose Bowl is hosting one of the semifinals. If a Big Ten or Pac-12 team is in a semifinal during one of those years, another team would go to the Rose Bowl. But it's unclear at this point whether the selection committee or the Rose Bowl organizers would select the alternative team.
What about the lesser bowl games? Will they still exist?
The playoff doesn’t really change anything for the lesser bowls. They'll still be around because the commissioners have always emphasized that players and coaches enjoy going to bowl games at the end of the season. It was the fans who dictated a change to a four-team playoff. If anything, by allowing six bowls to host semifinal games, the commissioners made the bowl system more relevant than ever. Meantime, games such as the Beef O’Brady's Bowl and the GoDaddy.com Bowl will continue to host 6-6 teams to less-than-capacity crowds, just like they were previously.
Why is the format in place for 12 years?
By using six bowls as part of the rotation, a 12-year term allows each to host a semifinal game twice. But simply put, the commissioners and presidents didn’t want to deal with this again so soon. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said agreeing on a long-term deal was one of the easier compromises made by commissioners and presidents. Past BCS deals involved four-year contracts, which invited constant tweaks to the system and led to more controversy. A 12-year deal also puts off the possibility of expanding the playoffs further in the near future, an idea that never gained traction among this set of commissioners. “The vast majority of the people in the room wanted something long term . . . just so we’re not re-inventing the wheel every four years, because that gets old and tiresome and I think there’s a feeling that we needed to bring some stability to the postseason,” Swofford said.
What about the selection committee?
Well, it is expected to resemble the one used for the NCAA tournament in men’s and women’s basketball. The committee will weigh factors such as win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. Commissioners also have talked about coming up with a mathematical metric to help guide the committee, such as the RPI in college basketball. As for who will be on this committee, the basketball version is composed of 10 administrators from various conferences. Some have also mentioned using former coaches, or even reporters. However, the football committee will be larger than the basketball one because commissioners expect more people would need to recuse themselves from discussions because of conflicts of interest. Whoever is on the committee will need to have some thick skin, because even though the controversial BCS system is a thing of the past, this new playoff system won’t be immune from debate.
Will we ever see an eight- or 16-team playoff?
It seems inevitable now that we’ve entered college football’s playoff era, but it also goes back to the previous question. By agreeing to a 12-year term, the presidents and commissioners can wait until the 2025-26 to consider expanding the playoff further. The commissioners believe an eight- or 16-team playoff would dilute the regular season too much, but you can bet that as soon as there is a controversial No. 5 team left out of the four-team playoff, clamoring will begin in full for allowing more teams to be included.
Does this four-team playoff help the Boise States of the world?
Not really. In the old BCS system, Boise State had no shot at winning a national championship if it didn’t go undefeated, and the same will be true with a selection committee that will use strength of schedule as a key component. The guess here is, though, that if Boise State were to go undefeated, the selection committee would not be able to exclude them from a playoff, if only because the public outcry would be too much. Smaller conferences will receive more money from this playoff because it will be so lucrative, but the percentage of money they earn could go down. While details about revenue distribution remain vague, the commissioners and presidents have agreed that the concept will reward conferences for success on the field. If anything, the consensus that there is now a “Big Five” in college football and incorporating their bowl tie-ins to the new system simply illuminated the growing divide between the haves and have-nots in the sport.