With the clock ticking toward a resolution to major college football’s postseason future, it appears the men who will make recommendations to their collective bosses have whittled their original to-do list down from what was originally 50-60 possibilities to a manageable handful.
Included in that list? A format that could include three semifinal games. And, yes, you read that correctly.
According to Steve Weinberg of USA Today, and based on an outline obtained by the paper, BcS officials and conference commissioners have turned their focus to four options for college football’s postseason beginning in 2014, the season after the current BcS cycles ends. The two-page summary obtained by the paper, prepared ahead of the next set of scheduled meetings on the issue later this month, states that while no options have been eliminated from consideration, there are four that are currently classified as the preference of the collective.
Below are the four preferences as outlined by the paper, with how each would’ve played out in 2011 as well as the individual format’s viability:
1. Status quo, using the system that’s been in place for a decade to determine a national champion.
Last year: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama, of course.
Viability: The fact it’s even one of the preferences is eyebrow raising to say the least, especially given the comments of late by many in positions of power that they sense a movement to shift away from the BcS and into some type of playoff. While an unchanged postseason remains a far-fetched proposition, no one should ever put it past the “leaders” in the sport to conclude that all is well with the current system. Especially when those very same leaders are considering…
2. A four-team playoff consisting of the four highest-ranked teams that would include two semifinal games… unless one or both of the champions from the Big Ten and Pac-12 are among the four highest-ranked teams, at which point the Rose Bowl would become a third semifinal game. The next highest-ranked team(s) would replace the Big Ten/Pac-12 champs in one of the two true semifinal games, with the title game finalists being determined after those three “semifinals” have been played. How it would be determined which two of the three winners would play in the title game is unclear.
Last year: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Stanford, No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State. There would’ve been no third semifinal game as the Cardinal was not the Pac-12 champion; that honor went to Oregon, which won the inaugural conference championship game but was ranked No. 5 in the final regular season BcS rankings. Whether the format would’ve impacted how the voters ranked Stanford/Oregon at the end of the regular/championship-game season is a matter that’s certainly up for debate.
Viability: ROTFLMAO!!! LULZ!!! Or whatever mocking ‘Net shorthand you want to attach to the mere idea that this was something proposed, let alone apparently being seriously considered. Suffice to say, this proposal has Jim Delany‘s haughty ego written all over it, with a sprinkling of his Pac-12 counterpart, Larry Scott, thrown in for good measure. In no way, shape or form is a format that includes three semifinal games an acceptable change. Then again, the Big Ten has 12 members, so that conference has not been historically shy about flouting mathematics. Based on this proposal, and the fact that the status quo is reportedly a serious consideration, it’s hard to believe the game’s leaders will do anything but — some how, some way — screw-up the future of college football’s postseason. Short of reverting back to the old bowl system, I didn’t think that was even a remote possibility.
3. A true plus-one format, with the two participants in a title game squaring off after their bowl games have been completed.
Last year: It’s impossible — with any degree of accuracy, anyway — to determine how this format would’ve played out. It’s fair to say that, if LSU and Alabama had both won their respective BcS bowls, they would’ve met for the crystal under this format.
Viability: This format has long enjoyed significant support among some of those with influence on the game’s future. It’s far from optimal, but would have to be considered progress when compared to the status quo. Or a three-semifinal format.
4. A seeded, four-team playoff.
Last year: Assuming the seeding is determined by the highest rankings, and not limited to conference champions-only as some want, the participants would look exactly the same as Option No. 2.
Viability: Common sense would suggest that, short of an eight-team playoff, this would be far and away the best option for getting beyond the current system. Then again, with two of the options listed above reportedly in play, common sense may not have a seat at the table that will determine the future of the postseason.
As far as the latter proposal is concerned, there are still myriad details to refine if it’s in fact the format that is ultimately agreed upon. USA Today details some of those too-be-determined issues:
• Fold entirely into existing bowls.
• Stage the semifinals and title game at neutral sites selected through a bidding process. A bowl or bowls could buy in, hosting the games atop their own annual events.
• Place semifinals in bowls, bidding out the championship site.
• Or play semifinals at campus sites, again bidding out the title game.
Also still to be worked out is the team-selection process. Will the BCS let its mathematical rankings — melding polls and computer ratings — determine who makes a four-team playoff cut? Will it change that formula? Could it go to a selection committee instead?
If I were the commissioner of college football, and an eight-team — or six- or 16-team or any other number plucked out of the air– playoff were not part of the equation? A seeded four-team playoff involving the three highest-ranked conference winners plus the highest-ranked team that did not win its conference — unless the four highest-ranked teams are all conference winners, of course — with the latter team being the lowest seed regardless of its ranking to the other three teams. Play the semifinal game in the home stadiums of the two top-seeded teams, with the title game bid out to cities on an annual basis. Such a format would add some needed value to winning your conference and, with just four teams taking out of the selection pool, the bowls — Rose and otherwise — would survive just fine if such a limited playoff were implemented.
Getting back to the idea of an eight-team — or even larger — playoff format, and because I know it will be mentioned in the comments section below this post, anything above a four-team playoff, while it’s not necessarily been issued a death certificate, is on life support and family and friends have been called home to say their final goodbyes.
“The underlying theme of all this,” BcS executive director Bill Hancock (pictured) said, referring to little support for a format that would involve more than four teams, “is to protect the regular season. That keeps coming up and keeps coming up and keeps coming up. We have the best regular season in sports, and we don’t want to mess with it.”
Some would say that argument went out the window with this past season’s title game matchup, but that’s another story for another day.
A final decision from school presidents and conference commissioners on exactly how the postseason will look in 2014 and beyond is expected at some point before the end of summer this year.