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June 12, 2012

Meetings to hammer out a college playoff begin

Considering all the recent rhetoric about what a four-team playoff in college football should look like, getting 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame to agree on anything beginning Wednesday in Chicago could be akin to locking them all inside the Jersey Shore house.

But based on the seemingly singular focus to make a four-team playoff happen after April meetings in Florida, any my-way-or-the-highway or lines-in-the-sand bluster about proposed formats may end up being just that - bluster.

"We have to end up with a four-team playoff," said interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas, who will be joined in Chicago by new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. "That's what everything involving college football beginning in 2014 has basically been predicated upon."

WHAT COULD BE COMING: So here's what sources close to the situation think is likely to come out of the meetings in Chicago and forwarded on to the oversight committee of presidents and chancellors in the next two weeks:

Some hybrid of conference champions (most likely two or three) and one or two at-large selections (which could also happen to be conference champions) determined by a selection committee.

The semifinals would be part of the current bowl structure with the most likely bidders being the Sugar and Fiesta bowls, who are suddenly without a conference champion tie-in thanks to the Big 12 and SEC forming their own Champions Bowl beginning New Year's night 2015.

The national title game would be bid out to cities much like the Final Four, sources say.

That would be a compromise between the Survivor-like alliances formed by the Big Ten-Pac-12 (who favor conference champions and have even uttered the words "Plus-One") and the SEC-Big 12 (who want the best four teams selected at-large).

There appears to be momentum for semifinal games to be part of the current bowl structure so that student-athletes in those games continue to get trips to zoos, Sea World and cool gift bags containing the latest audio or video gadgets.

There was sentiment initially in the Big 12 (Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds included) the four-team playoff should be separate from the bowl system so ticket allotments, TV, etc., could be controlled by the conferences as opposed to third-party bowls.

But the pendulum appears to have swung back in favor of tradition for the student-athletes instead of financial control for the conferences - allowing bowls like the Fiesta and Sugar to live to see another day by being involved in the semifinals … at least for now.

By bidding out the national title game, the conferences would at least have control over ticket allotments, etc., for the biggest game of the year.


FINDING COMMON GROUND: The two most controversial components to be hammered out, however, will be the means of selecting the teams and the revenue distribution for all the conferences and Notre Dame.

The arguments for a selection committee similar to those used for the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments appear to be sound.

First and foremost, a committee would bring transparency to a process currently cloaked in confusing computer formulas and human polls that include votes by coaches who have too many self interests.

A committee would also assign proper weight to strength of schedule, which is seen as a blind spot in the current formula. Neinas brought up how Stanford was somehow ranked No. 4 in the final BCS standings, ahead of No. 5 Oregon, despite losing to Oregon head-to-head on Stanford's field as well as the Ducks playing out of conference (and out of state against LSU).

BRAVE SOULS: Finding a group of former commissioners, athletic directors or coaches willing to serve on such a committee who would subject themselves to the vicious attacks and threats of fan bases left out of a playoff - not to mention the media and social media onslaught - is an entirely different subject.

A selection committee in basketball only has to worry about offending the 69th or 70th placed teams in the country - light years from the top four in the rankings. In football, a committee would be faced with the vitriol of scorned fan bases that could make life so miserable for committee members that they feel like their faces are on a Wanted Posters in certain parts of the country.

My advice would be to expand that committee to about 25 members. Dilute the blame. Leaving it up to seven or nine members, might seriously change the quality of those people's lives.

Remember, the Associated Press pulled its poll from the BCS formula because of threats being made against some of its voters over ballots cast. You leave a school out of the playoff that thinks it absolutely deserved to be there and people will lose their minds.

That's guaranteed.

MORE REALIGNMENT?: Could the choice of playoff format trigger more realignment?

It's possible.

There is a sense in the Big 12 that if a predominantly conference-champion format emerges, Notre Dame could feel compelled to move its non-football sports out of the Big East and into the Big 12 as a way of securing a future home in one of the top revenue producing conferences - especially one that would allow the Irish to maintain its independence in football while having its own network for third-tier TV rights.

The word out of the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City in late May was that voices like Texas and Oklahoma were able to convince the rest of the league to sit tight until Notre Dame decides if it's going to keep its non-football sports in the Big East or possibly move them to the Big 12.

If Notre Dame were to make such a move, it could trigger other schools - in the ACC, for example - to get serious about approaching the Big 12. Orangebloods.com reported a month ago that efforts were made on behalf of Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech to gauge what the Big 12 was thinking in terms of expansion.

Sources in the Big 12 told Orangebloods.com Florida State would be the most attractive expansion candidate, but only if the Seminoles' leadership was in unison about jumping conferences. And it's become clear Florida State's leadership is not unified about leaving the ACC at this time.

FSU board of trustees chairman Andy Haggard, who told Warchant.com in May the board would be unanimous in listening to what the Big 12 had to offer, has stepped down because his term ran out. New board chairman Allan Bense is probably still having business cards printed up while FSU president Eric Barron is on the record questioning any move by the Seminoles to the Big 12.

At Clemson, the board of trustees is meeting Wednesday to take up some academic agenda items but will also meet with football coach Dabo Swinney and basketball coach Brad Brownell. It is believed the board wants to hear from Swinney and Brownell about their thoughts on life in the ACC versus what life could be like elsewhere.

Swinney left little doubt where he stands on the matter Tuesday, telling reporters, "Going to the Big 12 is the worst thing we could do as a program. It makes zero sense."

The sense I'm getting from Big 12 sources is the Big 12 won't make any moves in terms of expansion until it knows what Notre Dame is doing. And if Florida State isn't on the table, then it's unlikely any other ACC team is on the table.

But I was also told Tuesday if Notre Dame were to decide to move its non-football sports into the Big 12 and agree to play up to six football games per year against Big 12 schools, then it could trigger a reaction that leads to more schools approaching the Big 12.

Stay tuned.



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