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With 'College Football Playoff,' those in charge know what they're doing

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The unveiling of the name of the new college football playoff – it'll be called "College Football Playoff" – unleashed plenty of jokes for being so bland. BCS executive director Bill Hancock was actually asked if the name of his dog was "Dog." (Hancock told USA Today he has never had a dog.)

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BCS executive director Bill Hancock, handing the national title trophy to Nick Saban, knows the power of a name. …

It's a good name though, one that is simple and effectively conveys the product. It's perfect for the present because its genius is in what it doesn't mention.

The thing with the men who run the highest levels of college sports – and it's almost exclusively men – is that you can rarely believe their public explanations on anything. They may be telling the truth. They may not. Wholly trusting their rhetoric though is folly, like going with whatever a general manager proclaims on the eve of the NFL draft.

After all, it was less than 18 months ago when they were still promising there would never, ever, ever be a college football playoff and claiming silly things like how a return to the old bowl system (and less revenue) was more likely. "They'll have to wrench a playoff system from my cold, dead hands," Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee once said. (Gee's hands are still warm and alive at last report.)

As we inch closer to the first incarnation of the college football playoff – semifinals on Jan. 1, 2015; title game on Jan. 12 – everyone in college athletics knows it won't be the last incarnation.

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Hence the name.

College Football Playoff contains the three words that simply can't be taken out of the equation, while leaving open just about everything else.

Notice the word "NCAA" in there? How about monikers such as "FBS" or "Division I-A?" Of course not. That way if the high-major college football schools decide to bail on the NCAA itself, the playoff isn't tied to outdated labels.

Notice a corporate sponsor? Not yet, but College Football Playoff sponsored by (insert tortilla chip company) is always a possibility.

It also doesn't mention "national" or "championship" or anything else even. The BCS was under attack from Congress, in part, for claiming itself a championship while, according to some politicians, systematically excluding some schools. This is just a playoff involving football played by colleges. You can't find an untruth in there.

Most notably, they didn't take the "Football Final Four" or "Football Four" or anything else that puts a numerical limit to the concept. That's because, no matter what Hancock or the others say now, almost no one inside college sports expects the playoff to stay at just its current four teams.

So why box yourself into rebranding the playoff in as little as six years – or at most 12 – when the thing gets expanded?

One of the chief reasons the playoff has just four teams to start is because the upper level of the bowl industry – fearing its mortality as outrageously compensated middle men – waged a war to keep it at four.

With four teams, the biggest bowls could make the case that they should host the semifinals – and in some cases essentially run the title game also.

If you go for the better-situated eight-team playoff, then asking fans to travel to three neutral sites in a row becomes problematic. In that case you need to follow the NFL model and use home fields for at least the first round and possibly the semifinals also. That provides sell-out crowds, grander environments, greater convenience for players, fans and family, more money directly to the schools and an incentive for regular-season success, among other benefits. After all, no one has ever looked around at kickoff of a game at an electric, pageantry-rich Bryant-Denny or the Horseshoe or Death Valley and said, boy, if only this were the Chick-Fil-A Bowl?

Once games are on home field though, it makes it difficult for the head of the Fiesta Bowl to make about $700,000 in salary, plus a litany of fringe benefits.

Many in the current generation that run college football are longtime friends with the bowl directors, so be it cronyism or all the lavish gifts and trips bowls dole out to commissioners and athletic directors or the simple hope that one day a cake executive director job awaits as a golden parachute, they're willing to cut them in.

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It's absurd and exactly the kind of corruption they'd suspend a player a century for, but that's the deal.

Those days are numbered, however. The Big 12 and SEC already partnered up to essentially take over the Sugar Bowl by forming the "Champions Bowl" and beginning the excision of the middle man – the Sugar will now subsist mostly on just ticket sales; the leagues and ESPN get everything else. You'll see more of this in the future.

And the next generation of college administrators – the 40-somethings who will one day soon make the decisions – are, in general, more bottom-line driven and don't have the same affinity for bowl games.

Besides, everyone is eyeing early June, when the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA could be certified as a class action suit. If that happens the economic model of college athletics changes dramatically and there will be a scramble to replace whatever revenue that will then be shared with former and current players.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany claimed – under oath no less – that he expected his league to go the Division III, no-scholarship model. Like I said, don't believe anything from these people.

In reality though, college sports could be in need of money. Lots of it. And the biggest and most accessible pile out there will continue to be maximizing the football postseason. For years they completely outsourced it to the bowls. Now there is a partnership that makes everyone richer, a big first step into taking this completely in-house.

Eventually, the power brokers will need to wring out every penny and that means an end to these illogical, lopsided deals with the bowl industry, no matter how many complimentary 19th-hole, single malts are offered up.

That means the playoff format will shift to an eight-team model. There'll be automatic bids to the five major conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

That'll increase interest and importance – and in turn the television value – of conference title games. Anything bigger ruins that, which is why there will be a significant financial motive to hold at eight for the time being. A conference title game with a postseason berth on the line will be worth more than round one of a 16-team playoff.

There will also be three at-large bids, which will continue what will be a surge of interest (courtesy of the four-team playoff) in late regular-season games as teams jockey for a second chance. The at-large bids will also hold off anti-trust issues and provide access to Notre Dame or any other independent.

The quarter and perhaps even the semifinals will be played on the campus of the higher seed. The neutral-site title game will be open to bid. It'll be just like the NFL playoffs (simple name), with all non-playoff schools participating in whatever bowl they chose, only with fairer contracts.

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If that's not inevitable – but certainly likely over the next decade or sooner – then why box yourself in on a name that would need to be reworked?

In a turbulent time in college athletics, nothing's better than keeping it as simple as possible.

So College Football Playoff it is. No NCAA mentioned. No bowls or numbers either. Nothing that limits what's coming next.

When the men in charge speak, they are often lying. Their actions though tend to speak clearly about what's to come.

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