CHICAGO – If the long slog toward a college football playoff were the Tour de France, the only thing left would be the ceremonial victory lap down the Champs-Élysées.
The guy in the yellow jersey, sipping champagne as he rides? That would be Mike Slive.
This Tour de Playoff has been a tour de force for the SEC commissioner. Four years after his playoff push was rejected by the Big Ten's Jim Delany and others, Slive has forced change upon a resistant sport.
"I am delighted with the progress," Slive said Wednesday.
The tough climbs through the BCS mountains largely have gone the way he envisioned. So have the sprints, the time trials and just about every other stage of the grueling journey from bowl system to something better.
That was the logical conclusion Wednesday, when the commissioners of the 11 Division I football conferences appeared together on a podium to say they're carrying a unified call for change to the last group that needs to sign off on it. They're taking a seeded, four-team playoff proposal to the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee for its hoped-for approval next week in Washington, D.C.
After 143 years, Tuesday could be the day the bowl establishment is overthrown as the method for selecting a national champion. Set your calendars accordingly.
Specifics of the plan were not publicly discussed Wednesday, as commissioners asked for time to debrief their member schools before discussing the details in the media. But sources told Yahoo! Sports that the plan calls for the "best four" teams to be chosen, likely by a selection committee, with added weight given to conference champions. That's also a win for Slive, since it does not limit the potential playoff field to only conference champs. At present, the SEC is the most likely conference to have more than one team finish in the top four of whatever ranking system is used.
The commissioners emphasized that a plus-one format also will be discussed at those meetings, which means that Nebraska chancellor and progress obstructionist Harvey Perlman will have his moment. Perlman will get one last chance to stave off a complete rout at the hands of the playoff proponents. It's a courtesy to the plus-one crowd, not likely to result in a fundamental alteration of the course charted over the past five months.
This basically will be Perlman pedaling uphill into an onrushing peloton. I like the peloton's chances.
It is a fairly remarkable change of tack for a sport that seemed addicted to an ossified bowl system. The change began over the winter, when Delany rather abruptly said he was open to a playoff, and momentum accelerated from there. By late April, the commissioners were in general agreement on how to proceed, and after weathering some tweaks and critiques from various conference constituencies over the past seven weeks, they arrived at this moment in rare lockstep.
"Things that seemed to be irreconcilable … have come together," Delany said.
They've come together behind the shrewd, circumspect leader of the SEC, whose league has won six consecutive national titles and now won the postseason showdown as well.
During a lunch break Wednesday, Slive said he anticipated that more than one model would be presented next week to the presidents. But he added, "Hopefully our goal coming out of here is to present a comprehensive, four-team playoff model."
Slive winked at the mention of the four-team model. There would be no discussion of a plus-one format from him.
A few minutes later, having escaped reporters by slipping into an elevator at the Intercontinental Hotel on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, Slive seemed almost giddy. He wasn't giving up any secrets about what was happening in the meeting room, but his demeanor made it apparent that the final round of negotiations were going his way.
By 5 p.m. CT, we found out how much had gone his way. Almost everything.
Slive has won on a playoff. He likely will win on his preferred criteria for entry into the playoff. He will win on having the title game played outside the bowl structure, bid out to a neutral-site city. He already won on semifinals sites, having led the successful opposition to playing those games on campuses. Instead, according to reports, they will rotate among existing bowls.
After decades of unsatisfying endings to college football seasons, we're on the verge of a new and improved reality. It's all over but the victory lap now.
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