It's been a long time coming, but college football is finally changing.
The 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced from their meetings in Hollywood, Fla., on Thursday that college football would determine its champion by a playoff starting after the 2014 bowl season.
The group eliminated eight and 16-team playoffs, stating they would "diminish the regular season and harm the bowls," which leaves a 4-team playoff as the likely solution. Final approval could happen in June.
"This would be a seismic change for college football — and the commissioners are aware of it," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.
While this isn't necessarily the type of playoff fans were hoping for — many were pushing for a 16-team playoff that incorporated all conference winners and five at-large teams — it is a step in the right direction.
College football wasn't going to dive into a playoff. It's wading into the pool and testing the waters. It's doing away with automatic qualifying status and will ultimately change the way teams are ranked and the way playoff teams are chosen. I think this is the best college football fans could have hoped for at this time and if it goes well, there's no reason the field couldn't expand. College football is ever-changing.
However, will the new playoff system give everyone equal access or just reward a select few? That seems to be the biggest gripe in reaction to this news. Depending on how the teams are chosen, we could see the same teams and the same conferences in play year after year and continually watch conferences such as the Big East and the smaller conferences shut out of the playoff system and likely millions of dollars.
A few schools of thought here:
• In the past, the BCS bowls were run a little bit like AYSO where everyone got to play. Consequently, it created some really bad BCS bowl games. This will eliminate that. By taking the best of the best (presumably), college football will crown a deserved champion. It won't be an NFL-like scenario where a team that has a mediocre regular season record win its conference, gets hot and goes on to win the national title. Yes, that's exciting for the fans, but as the BCS commissioners stated, it diminishes the regular season.
• The days of a non-AQ BCS buster are over. With all of the best non-AQ teams finding bigger conferences, the chances of one of the remaining schools in the Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, WAC or Sun Belt having a strong enough schedule to rise up and take one of those coveted four spots is going to be near impossible especially if strength of schedule is factored into the new rankings formula. In that same vein, some of the teams looking to make the leap to the Big East might want to reconsider. With automatic qualification status gone, it's all about making your current conference as strong as it could be. Is a consolidated C-USA/MWC stronger than the Big East (and more cost efficient in terms of travel)? Craig Thompson and Britton Banowsky might want to start working the phones.
• Will people get tired of the monotony? At least with the old system there was some variety and suspense. You had a Boise State, TCU or Utah jumping up into the fray to make things interesting. Will this have the same type of flair? Will there be enough intrigue to keep people interested? Or will it be three SEC teams and one Big 12 team or Pac-12 team year after year? That could cause people to cry for change yet again.
• What happens to the current BCS bowl partners, specifically the Rose Bowl and its storied tradition of taking the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions? This has been a point of contention throughout this process and in a four-team playoff format, there would be no way to guarantee that Rose Bowl matchup would still exist. The conference commissioners know the Rose Bowl has to let go of its tradition if a four-team playoff system is going to work.
This process isn't over, but what once was murky water is starting to become clear. Now, it's a matter of waiting on the commissioner's final say.
"There could be a lot of disappointment if we're not able to carry this through to the finish line," Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford said. "We'll find out how much devil is there when we get to the details."
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