Big 12 considering asking for rule change so it can hold conference championship game

IRVING, Texas – The first year of the College Football Playoff was controversial, acrimonious – and a raging success, according to the power brokers who oversee the new postseason.

For that reason, changes to the system are few and minor, College Football Playoff spokesman Bill Hancock announced here Wednesday after three days of meetings with the CFP management committee, which consists largely of conference commissioners.

"It worked," Hancock said. "There was a pretty strong sentiment, if I can quote an old Oklahoma phrase: don't fix it if it ain't broke."

The most controversial element of last year's playoff selection process was the exclusion of Big 12 teams Baylor and TCU from the top four. Both were leapfrogged by Ohio State, which went on to win the national title but had been on the outside until the final week of the season.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. (AP)
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. (AP)

The fallout from that comeuppance has led the 10-team Big 12 to seriously consider seeking deregulation of the NCAA rule mandating that a conference must have 12 members to hold a championship game.

"I think we are at a disadvantage not playing a championship game," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. "The first step is to get that rule deregulated. If the rule changes, we'll take a good look at it … and I surmise we'll probably move in that direction."

However, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany cautioned that conference championship games "cut both ways" – sometimes helping a league's best team and sometimes costing it with an upset loss.

One of the lessons learned from the Bowl Championship Series Era was that the constant alterations to that ill-fated system eroded public confidence.

"We probably made some mistakes by tweaking, to be honest," Delany said.

So the basic format remains the same – four teams chosen and seeded by the CFP selection committee playing two bowl games, with the winners advancing to the national championship game. And the weekly process of selecting those teams will remain largely unchanged as well.

There will again be a weekly release of a top 25 ranking on ESPN, with one fewer week of rankings this year – six instead of seven, which is a function of the calendar more than anything else. The rankings will be released Tuesday nights from Nov. 3-Dec. 1, with the final and formal rankings coming out on Sunday, Dec. 6.

There was some external criticism of the frequency of the rankings, the fluctuations that went with them and the televised explanations by selection committee chairman Jeff Long of Arkansas. But none of those criticisms resonated with the management committee to the point of changing the format – especially after a unanimous recommendation from the selection committee to keep it unchanged.

"The Selection Committee felt like they wanted to continue [the weekly meetings] because they thought it enabled them to get to know the teams," Hancock said. "The committee continues to believe those weekly rankings are good for the regular season.

"Everyone felt that Jeff did a great job. We pledged to be as transparent as possible from Day One, and Jeff helped with that. We won't cut back on anything that happens on Tuesdays."

The College Football Playoff championship game will move to Glendale, Ariz., next season. (AP)
The College Football Playoff championship game will move to Glendale, Ariz., next season. (AP)

Hancock said about 8 million viewers were added to the college football audience between the regular season and the playoff – a huge bump that he said the sport had not enjoyed in the past in the postseason. The challenge will be to maintain that new audience, especially given the dates of the semifinals in the upcoming season.

They will take place on New Year's Eve at the Orange Bowl in South Florida and the Cotton Bowl in North Texas, with the championship game to be played in January 2016 in Glendale, Ariz. ESPN had some concerns about the negative impact of the New Year's Eve slot, but a request to move the semifinals to Jan. 2 was dismissed. An ESPN presentation to the management committee here Tuesday indicated that there is a plan in place for trying to direct viewers to the games on what is a traditional night out.

" ESPN has an aggressive approach to talking about New Year's Eve," Hancock said. "It's an opportunity for us."

One thing the CFP intends to alter is to more thoroughly communicate the importance placed on winning a conference title. While it's a near-certainty that eventually a non-champion will get into the playoff field, the selection committee will give some weight to winning a title.

The one unresolved issue from this meeting was what to do with Army and Navy, which traditionally play their season-ending game a week after the selection committee announces its playoff teams and its final top 25 ranking – which is used to help select participants in four other bowl games outside the playoff. On the chance, however rare, that one of the two independent service academies could wind up playing a game that impacts the final rankings, a contingency will have to be devised.

"Everyone loves Army and Navy," Delany said. "We're working on it."

Hancock termed the service academy discussions "robust" and said they would continue, probably at the CFP management committee's next meeting in June in Asheville, N.C., in conjunction with the Collegiate Commissioners Association meetings.

There will be two new members of the selection committee in 2015: Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt is replacing former West Virginia AD Oliver Luck as a representative from the Big 12; and former Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson will replace Archie Manning.