College football playoff closer to a reality

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Mike Slive appears close to presiding over another epic victory.

The commissioner of the Southeastern Conference has seen his member schools win an unprecedented six straight Bowl Championship Series titles. Now Slive's determined push for a college football playoff appears more likely to succeed than ever.

That was the vibe from multiple participants in the more than 10 hours of talks Wednesday at the annual BCS meetings here. Nothing will be official until later this summer, after each commissioner takes the proposals adopted here back to their conference membership and then more national meetings ensue. But this is the crucial first phase, and it has gone well for the pro-playoff faction.

At the very least, come the 2014 season we will definitely not have the same problematic postseason college football currently is saddled with.

"The status quo is off the table," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.

(Let us pause here for a moment of fan celebration. Feel free to rush into the streets, but no burning couches please. At least not yet.)

Slive characterized these meetings as a marathon, then said the group has "got 20 miles done out of 26.2." Four years after he was rebuffed in his bid to make a playoff a reality, it now feels like Slive is Alberto Salazar, on his way to breaking the tape first.

The eternally cautious and understated Slive didn't divulge much in the way of specifics, but said he's confident there will be a whittled-down number of postseason scenarios to announce mid-afternoon Thursday when these meetings are expected to end. Expect the results to fall in line closely with what Slive wanted coming into this confab.

"I think what we're looking at is a four-team deal with the semifinals either played in bowls or neutral sites and a championship game put out for bid," said one participant in the proceedings. "But there's still a lot of work to be done. There's still a lot of different thoughts on the details as you go around the room."

[Related: Dan Wetzel: College football playoff talk puts focus on broken bowl system]

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, Slive's rival and long the most stubborn opponent of a playoff, crumbled on Heartbreak Hill a long time ago in this marathon. In February, Delany for the first time said he was open to considering a four-team playoff, but he championed the idea of semifinals played on campus sites. Now it appears Delany won't even get his way there as the campus option has little support.

"The stakes are too high," to give teams home-field advantage by playing on campus, said a participant in this process.

Said Slive: "The NCAA basketball tournament is not played on home floors. For a reason."

What is left for Delany to champion is the inclusion of the bowls in the playoff format, the Rose Bowl prominently included.

He and Slive actually were described by one participant as "pretty aligned" on the key issues here, an indication of how much ground the Big Ten boss has given up. That certainly wasn't the case in 2008, the last time a playoff was seriously discussed. At that time, Slive and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford were blocked in large part by Delany and two men who are no longer part of this process, then-Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe and then-Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen.

It's a different cast of characters this time around, and a different mindset.

"People change, times change, tastes change," Slive said, speaking generally and not about any conference commissioners in specific.

There have been plenty of other changes (and side-effects of changes) discussed. Administrators must wade through revenue sharing, the potential death of automatic qualifiers for BCS bowls and how the bowl calendar might be shortened from the current sprawl more than a week into January. But that's not all.

[Related: Pat Forde: All you need to know about the BCS meeting]

Among the other significant changes that have been discussed is a new system for ranking the teams – up to and including the possibility of a selection committee. Deciding the specifics of such a change – from committee membership to selection criteria to input from computer rankings and other sources – is a painstaking process. It's unclear how much support there is for that substantial change, but it was among the points of discussion Wednesday.

So was the issue of limiting a potential playoff to only conference champions. That could be called "The Alabama Rule," since the Crimson Tide made the BCS Championship Game last season without winning the SEC or even the SEC West. The Tide seemingly validated its inclusion over Big 12 champion Oklahoma State by throttling No. 1 LSU, but there still are those who would like to limit the pool of national title contenders to teams that won a conference title first.

Slive, naturally, is opposed to such a rule. He wants teams ranked No. 1 through No. 4, regardless of conference standings.

"This is not a tournament," he said. "It's to figure out who the best teams are and let them play for the national championship."

Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott are leading support for the Rose Bowl's inclusion in whatever new format is adopted. And while there might not be unanimity in support of that, those two are not alone. The Rose Bowl's allure from the standpoint of TV ratings and tradition is impossible to ignore, and as long as the Rose Bowl is not a roadblock to a playoff – Delany said it is not – expect to see it prominently incorporated into the future plan.

In other words, DeLoss Dodds, the outspoken Texas athletic director, isn't going to get his way. He told USA Today this week, "The only way it's going to get fixed is for the rest of the country to have a playoff of some kind and let (the Pac-12 and Big Ten) do their deal. And then after five years, their coaches would go berserk because they're not in the mix for a national championship. And they'd have to join it."

Delany's response here: ""I like him. I respect him. I disagree with him."

Delany added, "He [Dodds] should be getting more excited as the discussions become more mature." That seems to be a clear indication that the maturing discussions are leaning toward a playoff.

And toward another big victory for Mike Slive.

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