First of all: Before we go on, don't get too excited, because it's nothing official or anything. But yeah, Bud Withers of the Seattle Times checked in Friday night with some pretty exciting news for playoff proponents (emphasis added):
Athletic directors of the newly expanded Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences found consensus on a "plus-one" football national-championship proposal at meetings early this week that could signal movement toward a revamped Bowl Championship Series.
The athletic directors, meeting in Newport Beach, Calif., discussed several possible postseason football formats, including the status quo. It's part of a process to give conference commissioners input from their leagues for possible changes to the BCS after its TV contract runs out in January 2014.
The proposed format the ADs favored in a straw vote calls for adding a BCS bowl, probably the Cotton, and seeding the top four teams, which would play semifinals in two BCS bowls on a rotating basis. Presumably, the current BCS formula still would be used to rank teams. Winners would advance to a title game in what has become known as a "plus-one" format.
No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you: While they may still need to call it a "Plus One" to get to sleep at night, power brokers in the conferences that have most consistently bristled at any hint of a college football playoff over the last decade have reportedly agreed in principle to a four-team college football playoff. No, your ears aren't playing tricks on you, either: There really is a chorus of angels humming Handel right now.
Getting the Big Ten and Pac-12 to the playoff table is critical, because the SEC and ACC have been sitting there for years: In 2008, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford teamed up to promote a nearly identical "Plus One" plan featuring two semifinals and a championship game, which was quickly shot down by the other conferences — specifically, the Big Ten and then-Pac-10, eternal guardians of their longstanding relationship with the Rose Bowl.
In the version described by Withers, the Rose Bowl would give up the right to host one of the semifinal games in order to keeps its traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup on New Year's Day, but would still host the championship game on a rotating basis. (Presumably, a Big Ten or Pac-12 team that finishes among the top four in the BCS standings would go into the "Plus One" bracket, and be replaced in the Rose Bowl by the runner-up.) Both Slive and Swofford are still on the job in the SEC and ACC, and if the Big Ten and Pac-12 are in the fold, the pro-playoff — excuse me, pro-plus-one — faction will have a majority among the six power conferences; the relatively weaker Big East and Big 12 would follow in short order. The five "Have Not" conferences, suddenly seeing a door to the national championship open to them in a way it never has before, wouldn't even have to be asked.
If that sounds a little too easy… well, yeah. Big Ten and Pac-12 athletic directors may be on board, but that's no surprise: Athletic directors everywhere tend to see the current system as a clunky burden on their bottom lines. Their alliance in this case, though, is non-binding and doesn't even rise to the level of a recommendation. Ultimately, the power on the institutional level lies higher up the chain, with the university presidents, and outside of Georgia's Michael Adams, there is far less evidence that they're willing to approve an overhaul. Then there are the conference commissioners — and one conference commissioner in particular who has straddled the borders of the playoff debate like the Berlin Wall, vowing to fend off all encroaching brackets with "Doberman-like aggressiveness," whatever the cost. (And it would cost: As Jim Delany himself admitted to Congress years ago, a playoff would bring in significantly more money from television networks, sponsors and probably ticket sales than the BCS does now.) After all: At what cost tradition, and stuff?
So the result of a straw poll is not an earthquake. But it could be the subtle shift that leads to a tremor if athletic directors can convince university presidents to follow their lead, and especially if progressive-minded Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott assumes a playoff-friendly stance than his predecessor, Tom Hansen, during the last "Plus One" push. New-ish NCAA president Mark Emmert has already said he'd be "happy to help" with a playoff if the constituency is willing to make the leap. Jim Delany is still on that wall, but the cracks keep bigger and bigger.