Hurdles remain for college football playoff

Officials agree to present 4-team options to conferences, but other compromises must be reached

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Bowl Championship Series officials trimmed the fat Thursday.

Off the table are playoff proposals that were absurd (the Rose Bowl as part of three semifinal games), would have harmed the regular season (eight- and 16-teamers) or would have invited even more controversy (a plus-one pitting the top two teams after the bowl games).

Also spiked is the distinction between automatic qualifiers and non-AQs. That's not significant because most of the compelling non-AQs (Utah, Boise State, TCU) are now in major conferences anyway.

What the BCS did not do Thursday was eliminate any legitimate four-team playoff models. The only important sentence in its news release stated, "We will present to our conferences a very small number of four-team options."

So even that was vague.

Still, BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock called it "an exciting day for all of us … if this happens, it will be a seismic change for college football."

In what counts as progress, Hancock and the commissioners are scrapping the "four-team event" lingo in favor of calling it what it is, a playoff.

"I've always refused to use the dreaded P-word," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said with a grin.

But for the playoff to become reality for the 2014 season, major compromises need to be reached on these issues — and in this order:

Where the semifinals would be played. Most likely and most logical is to have bowls host the games, giving the players and fans a traditional bowl experience. Then bid out the championship game to a host city, as the Super Bowl does.

All parties insist the Big Ten "home game" plan remains on the table, and it would strengthen the regular season by rewarding the top two seeds. But the arguments are strong about some stadiums and cities being ill-equipped to host the games.

Who gets in? The Pac-12 and perhaps the ACC and Big Ten favor allowing only conference champions. But considering LSU and Alabama were the nation's best two teams last season, the champs-only rule would invite more controversy. And the way Ohio State and Michigan are recruiting, it's conceivable the Big Ten will have two top-four teams before long.

How they're picked. There is no consensus on whether to create a selection committee or stick with the current combination of polls (Harris and coaches) and computer rankings. Everyone with a pulse believes that the coaches, flooded with conference bias, have no business determining who should play for a national title and that all the computer rankings should unmask their formulas.

A selection committee would have to answer the dicey question of "Who's No. 4?" Last year's decision would have been brutal: 11-1 Stanford, which had one decent nonconference win, or 11-2 Oregon, which drubbed Stanford on the road and lost only to USC and LSU. Committee members might want to go into witness protection after they vote.

The other thorny question relates to the Rose Bowl, which sources say does want to host semifinal playoff games, albeit reluctantly. Can the BCS devise a system in which a top-four Big Ten or Pac-12 team automatically gets sent to the Rose instead of the Sugar, Fiesta or Orange?

In the big picture, Hancock said, college football officials are "listening to the fans" and determined to create a playoff.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who did not meet with reporters Thursday, will discuss the playoff options with presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, coaches and football players. Presidents and chancellors will meet at Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge on June 3.

Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon have been vehemently and publicly anti-playoff. Brandon told ESPN.com there's no fair way to select four teams. Perlman told SI.com last month he sees no benefits to a playoff, but he also told Omaha.com in December that officials could "convince" him otherwise.

Conference commissioners will meet in Chicago on June 20 in hopes of agreeing to a playoff model. Then the Presidential Oversight Committee would decide on the plan, likely before July 4.

Perlman, by the way, represents the Big Ten on the Presidential Oversight Committee. He replaced Penn State's Graham Spanier after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Agreeing to a four-team playoff would create, as Hancock put it, a seismic change in college football.

That's where we're headed, assuming the spirit of compromise continues.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein
CHICAGO

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