CHICAGO — After nearly six months of debate, college football is on the verge of getting the playoff fans have been demanding for years.
The commissioners from every major Bowl Championship Series conference and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick announced Wednesday that they have “developed a consensus on a four-team seeded playoff” beginning in the 2014-15 season, signaling an end to the BCS system that has determined college football’s national champion since 1998.
Though many of the details involved with this new postseason model remain unresolved , the commissioners will present their recommendation to a committee of university presidents that is scheduled to meet in Washington next Tuesday. The 12-member BCS presidential oversight committee, chaired by Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, still must approve the four-team playoff before it goes into effect.
“We are excited to be on the threshold of creating a new postseason structure for college football that builds on the great popularity of the sport,” Swarbrick said in a joint statement from the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame. “We are getting very close and we look forward to next week’s meeting. We have already had extensive discussions with our presidents and it remains important to note that all final decisions will be made by the presidents, either at next week’s meeting or at whatever date is appropriate.”
Pacific-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said after the news conference that the two proposed semifinal games would likely be played as part of the existing bowl system, although no set rotation has been announced. The championship game would likely be bid out to a neutral site, Scott added.
As for selecting the teams, Scott and ACC Commissioner John Swofford indicated there has been serious discussion about implementing a selection committee similar to the NCAA tournament in men’s and women’s basketball.
A key issue will revolve around who exactly will be on the proposed committee and how much weight they would give to winning a conference championship and strength of schedule. Revenue sharing must also be resolved in the coming months.
“There’s a positive impression on the role the basketball committee has played and there’s been a consensus that the current system is pretty flawed in a lot of ways,” said Scott, who was originally opposed to a selection committee.
Wednesday represented the sixth formal meeting among BCS conference commissioners since the college football season ended in January. But significant progress has been made in the past two weeks, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.
The Big Ten, for instance, emerged from its conference meetings last month in favor of a plus-one model that would preserve the importance of the Rose Bowl and pit the top two teams against one another in a national championship game following the end of the bowl season. It was a philosophy also championed by Scott, and Delany said there would still be a presentation concerning the plus-one format when the presidents meet next week.
Four years ago, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive and Swofford presented a similar four-team playoff and “the conversation lasted about 10 minutes,” Swofford said.
However, there was a prevailing sentiment among all the commissioners concerning the need to preserve the importance of the regular season while continuing to support the bowl system. Steger echoed those thoughts in a statement to The Washington Post last week.
“There are some differences, and some legitimate differences, but we will work them out,” said Slive, who described himself as “delighted” by a compromise that will keep the SEC in a favorable position after winning the past six BCS national championships. “I do think that we’re all here together is an important statement on behalf of college football. We’re trying to do what’s in the best interests of the game.”
But even though the discussions surrounding what college football’s revamped postseason will look like remain a work in progress, it was clear a new day has arrived.
In the morning, before entering what turned out to be an historic meeting, Delany gave what sounded like a eulogy for the BCS, describing it as a system that never “got the momentum that we would’ve liked to have gotten in terms of public acceptance.”
By the end of the afternoon, there was hope that the commissioners had finally come to terms with a system more amenable to fans.
“I think we’re going to end up in a place where there will be more transparency. I think it’ll be more easily understood,” Swofford said. “There will still be access for teams to enter the system as well as significant financial gain for everybody in the system. I think all of that is important and all of that will be a plus if we can take this across the finish line.”