Of all the criticism lobbed at Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany through the years – and it's been considerable – no one ever has said he wasn't intelligent, pragmatic and, most important, politically savvy.
Delany was going to defend the controversial BCS until the moment he wasn't. And at that point, he was going to run from it like the tire fire it is.
Delany understands the winds of change blowing through college football and that the likelihood he could hold off a playoff was remote, at best.
So now the death of the BCS is upon us. That much is certain.
Right now, there isn't a single conference publicly supporting the current system. All that's left are a few rogue holdouts among presidents, coaches and athletic directors, and not even Delany is among them.
Monday's Chicago Tribune detailed not just the Big Ten's sudden interest in a playoff (two months ago, Delany still was publicly opposed) but, more important, its plan to shape the system so it might actually benefit the league competitively.
The Big Ten is open to more than a four-team playoff – expanding access to increase the likelihood a team from the conference makes the field. It also is contemplating a plan to have the semifinals played at campus sites and for the championship game to be open to bid by any city, not just traditional bowl sites. That would include some in the Midwest, particularly Indianapolis, which just flawlessly hosted the Super Bowl.
"It's a matter of coming up with something that does not kill the baby with the bath water," Delany told the Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, a bizarre mixed metaphor.
This kills nothing. It's a simple plan and an extremely important step forward that every fan should support. Except for bowl executives and their spokesmen, there's nothing not to like here.
Delany hasn't formally supported the proposal, but he wouldn't have talked about it in the newspaper if he opposed it. He'll smartly use his support as political capital, getting out of the way for the four-team playoff only if the other conference commissioners throw him a bone as they plot how to crown a champion starting in 2014.
Home field and an open bidding process are some of the bones. We presume guaranteed exclusive access to the Rose Bowl for non-playoff Big Ten and Pac-12 representatives is the other. Maybe there is more.
Regardless, the 180-degree shift is telling. The Big Ten isn't grudgingly accepting the smallest step forward: an unseeded "plus one" or a four-team playoff using traditional neutral-site bowl games.
Instead, it's going bold and proposing that college football frees itself from the bowl industry and stops outsourcing its most valuable games.
Combine this with a CBSSports.com report that there is a movement toward requiring seven wins for bowl eligibility – a standard that would kill off maybe a half-dozen minor bowls – and it's clear college administrators' patience with bowl games is waning.
Maybe it was all the bowl scandals and corruption. Maybe it was the realization of the tens of millions of dollars being skimmed off the top. Maybe it's all the schools that lost money playing in these games. Maybe it's the sagging attendance and TV ratings.
Whatever it is, the bowl lobby may not be able to dole out enough free golf weekends or Caribbean cruises to athletic directors to save its current sweetheart position.
Using traditional bowl sites to stage a four-team, three-game playoff makes little sense. It would allow third-party businesses to continue to profit off games that colleges can stage better on their own.
It also would force fans to make multiple trips to neutral locations, a cost-prohibitive move that could lead to empty seats. It would continue to stage games in some markets – particularly Phoenix and Miami – that are historically poor sports cities.
And maybe most important, it takes the biggest games away from the exceptional, historic and stirring on-campus environments and into mostly antiseptic pro stadiums.
Providing home-field advantage would reward the top two teams and maintain the importance of the regular season. It would result in sold-out stadiums (expect a 90-10 or 80-20 ticket split for the home team), revenue staying in-house and the economic impact benefiting college communities, not some far-off town.
"When did our job as a university become supporting the tourism industry in certain states?" West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has asked.
The bowl industry is a relic of an era when college football needed help promoting its sport and warm-weather cities needed tourists who could only get there by train and might be swayed to follow their team. It was born in the early part of last century.
It's 2012. There are things called air travel and interstates, allowing for 100 ways to get from the Midwest to Florida every single day.
This also would create incredible inter-regional matchups in the game's best settings: USC playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium? Oklahoma in the Horseshoe? Nebraska in the Swamp? Boise State at LSU's Death Valley? Texas at Autzen? And so on. And so on.
Or would you prefer the Alamodome?
Would there still be complaining over who is No. 4 and who is No. 5? Of course. That's always going to be the case, and it's always a better battle than arguing who is No. 2 or No. 3.
"Four is better than two," Michigan State AD Mark Hollis told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Is there anyone who wouldn't have enjoyed a Final Four doubleheader this past season of Andrew Luck and Stanford at LSU, followed by Oklahoma State at Alabama? Other than the guy the Fiesta Bowl is paying 600 grand to be executive director?
By advocating on-campus sites, the Big Ten is banking that its teams occasionally will finish in the top two and get to host. That means warm-weather opponents possibly having to deal with the winter elements. It also ends what the league considers (true or not) the unfairness of playing bowls on another conference's turf.
Rotating the title game is a help to Midwestern cities with domed stadiums – Indy, Detroit and St. Louis, not to mention Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta and so on.
Now, is the fear of playing in the cold too much for the SEC or Pac-12 to support? It shouldn't be. First off, under the current BCS standings, no Big Ten team would've hosted since Ohio State in 2007. It's not as if it would happen all the time.
While the fear might be playing in ice and/or snow, the occasional Big Ten home game is more likely to be played under fine conditions.
This past season, the SEC would've hosted both semifinals – Stanford at LSU and Oklahoma State at Alabama.
That's a decent tradeoff.
[ Dr. Saturday: Big Ten may be pointing way to a BCS playoff ]
As for the other bowls, they'd go on as they do now, with no bearing on the national championship. The Rose Bowl likely would go back to only Big Ten and Pac-12 teams (if a conference representative is in the Final Four, the bowl would pick the next suitable league team).
This is better for fans. More excitement. Superior venues. Added intrigue. And a regular season where more games matter.
No matter what, the playoff is coming. The debate is over. Even Delany understands that. It's time to formulate the best possible plan.
The Big Ten proposal may not be as big or as bold as some would like, but with the sport's great politician pushing, it's bigger and bolder than many ever expected.
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