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Blowing Up the BCS: 20 Miles Through the Marathon

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On Wednesday, BCS executive director Bill Hancock said, "The BCS as we know it with the exact same policies will not continue."

After days of speculation that the BCS leadership meetings in Florida would produce some sort of movement on the BCS vs. Playoff front, media and fans were excited--both positively and negatively--about the announcement that, as Hancock went on to reinforce the point that "The status quo is off the table."

Any changes would be made ahead of the 2014 renegotiation of TV deals with ESPN.

Rather than leading you through a 4,000-word novel on what exactly is going on, I thought breaking it down into sections would be less painful to read. So here we go.

Four-Team Semifinal Round

Over the last 24 hours, this has gotten the most traction as the BCS's future. It's not out-of-nowhere, either. Back in 2008, when many of the same Very Serious People met at the same Hollywood, Florida hotel, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, and then-ACC commish John Swofford proposed this exact model. Of course, at the time, it fell on deaf ears and condescending laughter from nearly every other BCS power broker.

Maybe they should have listened four years ago. Now with subterranean public opinion, plummeting bowl profits, and the general consensus that the status quo is just not sustainable, the current crop of BCS leaders are finally realizing change, massive change, is needed.

The basic idea, though with so many details yet to be worked out, would be taking the top four teams in the BCS final standings (following the conference championship games) and pitting them 1 vs 4, and 2 vs 3. The winners would go on to play in the national championship game. Sounds simple, right? Ehhh...

Home Fields, or Neutral Sites?

While fans at powerhouse football programs like those in the SEC and Big Ten would love for the semifinal round to be played on the higher-seeded team's home field, it's increasingly likely that the idea is not going to be part of the final equation. That sucks, but there are more voices in favor of neutral sites (current bowl sites?) than against. Those voices are the 90 or so college football teams that don't play in 70,000-plus seat stadiums each week.

Ohio State and Alabama aren't going to be in the Final Four every year, with their 100,000-seat venues to rake in the cash. Some years, you will get a Virginia, or Purdue, or Baylor as a higher seed. Not only would their stadiums lower revenue ceilings, but their local economic and media markets would be stretched too far to handle the kind of explosive power a national college football semifinal would level against it.

I'd love to see Penn State host a Final Four game on the final Saturday in December, with driving snow and wind, and some poor southern team freezing their asses off. But, right now, that's not going to get this deal done. And now is not a time to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Of course, there's the argument by SBN's own Jason Kirk, who lobbied:

Keeping games off campus over stadium worries actually seems like the bigger risk. Home playoff games are guaranteed sellouts, no matter the teams. And Cincinnati making it in would be the exception -- Alabama, Texas, USC, Michigan and Ohio State would forever be much more likely, and all have stadiums much larger than every BCS facility save the Rose Bowl. So send Penn State and LSU to the Orange Bowl if you want, so long as you like losing money.

Absolutely. But I'm still not willing risk losing the four-team playoff because the home-field amendment isn't included in the final product. It can/will be added later.

The Granddaddy and Its Brethren

The Big Ten and Pac-12 are rightfully concerned about what a playoff proposal could mean for their own cherished tradition: The Rose Bowl. But both conferences, and the Rose Bowl execs, have come out in support for revamping the system. What remains to be seen is how the bowls overall are worked into the final proposal. Two questions I'm thinking of:

Will all the bowl games still be played, but completed before the playoff games?

Which bowl games would be in the rotation (if there is one) for the semifinal and final playoff games?

I'd like to see the bowl games continue as normal. However, no bowl games should be played after January 1. Even better would be a limitation to all bowl games being finished by the final Saturday in December. That would allow the traditional significant of New Years Day to be preserved.

In an interesting and refreshing twist, the representatives from the bowl organizations have been left out of the conversations this week. That's a great move by the BCS and commissioners, as public opinion of bowl game organizers is challenging Wall Street and the U.S. Congress for most-despised group of power brokers in the nation.

Picking the Teams

Well we know lining up on the blacktop and picking the teams is off the table. So how the frick will the BCS decide who gets into the semifinal round, if the four-team playoff is ultimately chosen?

The likeliest answer comes from what is already in place. The BCS, for all its faults, has been generally effective at ranking the top four or so teams each season. It's not a bad idea to keep the BCS rankings, using them to seed the top four teams into the semifinal games.

Other options being discussed include a selection committee similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I'm not in favor of that, because you'll have so much whining each year of "BIAS!" among committee members that it would cloud over any positive light this new system would shine.

Now What?

The BCS leaders are hoping for a more clearly-defined plan very soon. The negotiating window with ESPN comes this October, so time is tight. But Mike Slive's analogy is correct, that this week's meetings got them through 20 miles of a marathon, we should expect something like a final proposal in the next month.

Exciting stuff.

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