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The word of the day is 'playoff,' and it's coming (relatively) soon to a field near you

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – A vision of the future in college football:

On the afternoon of Jan. 1, 2015, the No. 1-ranked team in the BTBCS (Better Than Bowl Championship Series) will play the No. 4 team in the Rose Bowl. That night, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams will face off in the Orange Bowl.

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The SEC's Mike Slive can finally use the word

A week later, the winners of those games will play in the first BTBCS Championship Game at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, courtesy of a massive winning bid by Jerry Jones to play host to the game.

And America's quality of life will be improved because of it.

After 145 years of fan aggravation and bowl avarice, we will have a championship settled on the field. The college football regular season – best of any sport – will remain a vital and thriving entity. The college football postseason – the dumbest thing in sports – will be significantly upgraded. The televising network will have a ratings smash surpassed only in athletic programming by the Super Bowl. Conferences and schools will be rolling in even more revenue.

That's the glory road we are headed down as of Thursday. A day of a "seismic change" in college football, BCS executive director Bill Hancock said. A day of "significant change," said SEC commissioner Mike Slive, the driving force behind this.

The change was so significant that it altered the verbiage of the men in charge of college football.

"I'm going to say the word I never use," Slive said, beaming.

That word is playoff.

"I never use the dreaded 'P-word,' " Slive said. "Now we're all using the same word, what the heck."

The P-word is the word coming out of the annual BCS meetings after 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced they will take various four-team playoff models to their conference membership. Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson said there was "unanimity" in support for the four-team playoff; now they have to decide what kind.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Wetzel: Won't remove all controversy]

Hancock estimated that "two to seven" playoff models will be discussed in late May and early June at conference spring meetings. Then there will be a Collegiate Commissioners Association meeting in Chicago on June 20, and a meeting of the BCS presidential oversight committee the following week.

Barring any eruptions of obstructionist self-interest or outright lunacy – neither out of the question – we should have a playoff plan by July 4 at the latest. Get your fireworks ready.

It must be said that there were multiple notes of caution sounded Thursday, as the powers-that-be tried to prevent premature celebration. There are a staggering number of intricacies to be dealt with before this is a done deal.

"You know the old cliché: The devil is in the details," ACC commissioner John Swofford said. "We're going to find out how much devil is in there."

Said Swarbrick: "I don't want to do anything to minimize the next step, which is at the conference level."

Swofford said he believes his conference membership has been aligned in favor of a playoff for years. The same should be true of the SEC, since Slive unsuccessfully championed the playoff cause in these same meetings four years ago. The Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East presumably will be onboard, although that remains to be seen definitively.

The biggest question is where the Big Ten stands. For years, commissioner Jim Delany was the staunchest supporter of the bowl system. He began ceding ground to the playoff advocates in February – but will he have a tough sell to his membership this spring?

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is publicly in support of the bowl system. So is Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, who happens to sit on the BCS presidential oversight committee. That conceivably could make him a major roadblock to progress, but Perlman told the Omaha World-Herald last December, "I can be swayed."

[Related: Pat Forde: SEC's Mike Slive continues to collect wins]

Among the many things that must be sorted through in the next two months, the biggest are these:

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Bill Hancock described the result of the NCS meeting as a "seismic shift" for college football. (Getty Images)

• Where will the three playoff games be contested and who is in charge of them? Although the commissioners did not formally eliminate campus sites for semifinal games from consideration, the strong sentiment seemed to be against those. It is much more likely that the games will be played at existing bowls – see the vision above – or be bid out to neutral sites unaffiliated with the bowls. The guess here is that the existing bowl games will be included as at least semifinal sites, in deference to their traditional primacy in the postseason.

• Who is eligible to compete in the playoff? There is some sentiment to limit the field to conference champions, especially after the outcry when SEC West runner-up Alabama made the BCS Championship Game this past season over Big 12 champ Oklahoma State. But Slive prefers the top four teams in whatever rankings formula is used, regardless of whether they won their conference. The guess here is that Slive will get his way on that one, too.

• When will the games be played? Most everyone has come to dislike the TV-induced brainstorm of dribbling out the big bowls for up to nine days past New Year's Day. While it's almost certain that a playoff title game would come no earlier than Jan. 8, expect to see a return to emphasizing Jan. 1 as the feast day on the college football calendar. In addition to the national semifinals that day, other major bowls may relocate to then (or New Year's Eve) as opposed to being played on an arbitrary week night during the first week of January.

Other key aspects of the brave new playoff world – like deciding how to rank or select the four teams – can wait. There are two years to work with.

What could not wait Thursday was Slive's low-key celebration with friend and ally Chuck Gerber, a former ESPN executive who now is serving as a television consultant to the BCS.

"I'm going to have a hell of a dinner," Slive said. "And a great cigar."

A victory cigar. He's winning the battle for the future of college football, to the betterment of all fankind.

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