New college football postseason will utilize six “access” bowls

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The slow death march of the BCS continued on Monday when a group of 12 university presidents, representing the 11 conferences and Notre Dame, announced an agreement on the broad structure of the new playoff that will begin with the 2014 season. Many details have yet to be settled, including a television rights deal, and the new structure raises questions about who will really be in charge of the reformed postseason.

The biggest unresolved issue is the exact composition of the selection committee that will determine the four playoff participants. The playoff will abandon the widely criticized BCS methodology that combines rankings from two polls and six computer-based rankings. Selection committees are commonly used in NCAA-sponsored tournaments, including the Division I FCS championship, to select at-large teams and assign seeds. The NCAA tends to favor committees run by athletic directors rather than coaches or outside observers like members of the media.

The BCS, as presently constituted, is not a legal entity.

The new playoff, however, will not be run by the NCAA. Indeed, it’s not exactly clear who will run the playoff. The BCS, as presently constituted, is not a legal entity. Its entire staff apparently consists of executive director Bill Hancock and two administrative assistants. Monday’s announcement said that staff would be hired “so the new structure could begin operating,” yet it’s not clear what that “structure” will be.

The BCS lists three “governance groups”: a Presidential Oversight Committee, the conference commissioners and an Athletics Directors Advisory Group. The Presidential Oversight Committee is nominally in charge. (Florida’s Bernie Machen is the SEC’s representative.) But in practice, the conference commissioners are expected to make the major decisions, including host sites for games and negotiating a television package. This sets up a potential power struggle between the new playoff and the NCAA, which retains governance authority over college football, including player and postseason eligibility.

The playoff system will oversee six bowls. In addition to the current BCS games—Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta—two existing bowls will join the group, likely the Cotton and Chick-fil-A Bowls. The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC champions will automatically qualify for one of these six bowls along with the highest-rated champion of the five remaining conferences. Two bowls will be designated as semifinals, with the championship being bid out as a separate game.

The SEC and its four major brethren will receive an identical “base” payout with additional revenue for each team they qualify for the playoff and related bowls.

The SEC and the Big 12 are tied in to the Sugar Bowl. In years when the Sugar Bowl is a designated playoff semifinal, the SEC champion (or highly ranked SEC team) may receive a berth to the Orange Bowl to play the ACC champion. However, ESPN has reported that “when the Rose and/or Sugar bowls are hosting the semifinals” and the SEC champion is not in the playoff, that team may be assigned to one of the lesser bowls”–the Fiesta, Chick-fil-A or Cotton—“to increase the worth of that bowl.”

While the exact revenues from the new playoff won’t be known for some time, Monday’s agreement maintains the BCS policies of giving higher payouts to the major conferences—which will now not include the Big East or the Western Athletic Conference, which is abandoning football after this season. The SEC and its four major brethren will receive an identical “base” payout with additional revenue for each team they qualify for the playoff and related bowls. The five minor conferences will split a single base payout among themselves.

The only other major detail from Monday’s announcement is the date of the first playoff championship game—Monday, January 12, 2015. Like the popular NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the new playoff plans to climax with a Monday night championship. The last BCS championship in January 2014 has also been scheduled for a Monday night.

Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

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