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June 27, 2012
Yesterday will go down in history. Well, at least it will for college football fans.
We can now mark June 26, 2012, as the day when the powers-that-be in college football pulled themselves out of a failing and unpopular postseason system, and thrust their sport into a more profitable and even more enjoyable future.
It's time to pop the champagne- college football will have a playoff system in time for the 2014 season. After 15 seasons (and two more to go), the Bowl Championship Series is on its deathbed.
The new college football postseason will feature a four-team playoff, with the teams chosen by a selection committee in accordance with a few different criteria, such as conference championships and a team's strength of schedule. The teams will be seeded, with semi-final games taking place within six different existing bowl games on a rotating basis. The national championship game will be bid out among different cities, instead of rotating between the current BCS bowl sites. All in all, it's a massive change for college football.
For those who have long rallied against the BCS, It's cause for celebration. As a long-time playoff proponent, I'm thrilled that the conference commissioners and presidents have approved this plan. It's a big step up over the BCS, which was and remains an inefficient way of determining college football's rightful champion. Even that is probably an understatement.
But as much as I am excited about the prospect of a new postseason format, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the flaws that come with this four-team model. Improvements can and should still be made. As it stands, I see three major changes that the conference commissioners could make to turn this new playoff into one of the best postseasons in sports.
First of all, I'm disappointed that the new playoff will feature semi-final games within the existing bowl structure. I understand the desire to keep the prestigious bowl games involved in the process in some way, at least that's the public reason for keeping them involved, but putting the semi-final games at the bowl sites will likely place an unnecessarily harsh burden on fans.
If a team were to keep winning after the regular season, fans could be expected to travel to three completely different off-campus sites for a conference championship game and two playoff games. With all those games taking place in the span of just over a month, it's clear that that's an unreasonable expectation for even the most die-hard superfans.
The semi-final games would be a much more reasonable venture if they were held on the campus of the higher-seeded team. The vast majority of fans would then only have to travel to two different sites, which is no different than what they do now. Throw in the added fairness of home-field advantage for the higher seeded team and the extra revenue an on-campus playoff game would generate, and it seems like a no-lose situation.
In addition, four teams is a start, but a six or eight-team playoff would go even further towards turning the college football postseason into one of the best in all of sports. I have always been in favor of including more teams rather than fewer, and I think a six or eight-team format strikes the right balance between including the deserving teams and keeping undeserving ones out. The "last team out" of the playoff will always gripe about being excluded from the system, but that argument becomes less powerful when more teams are allowed into the playoff picture.
If the seventh or eighth-best team complains about being excluded from the process, there's a simple solution: win more games. Expanding the playoff would only add an extra week to the schedule for the qualifying teams, and it would severely reduce the access problems that will probably still plague the new format. Fortunately it's hard for me to see a scenario where the commissioners wouldn't expand the playoff when this new agreement expires in 2026, unless they all have changes of heart and become averse to generating more revenue.
Finally, I'd like to propose a much simpler solution for hosting the national championship game. As it stands now, the game will be bid out to cities on a year-by-year basis, which will be a financial boon for college football. But the presidents and commissioners are missing out on an opportunity to turn the college football playoff into something more than just a new way to print money.
The national championship game should be held every year in Pasadena, Calif., at the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl Game is arguably college football's premier event, and has been for a long time. Hosting the championship game at the Rose Bowl every year would only build on the game and the stadium's already magical legacy.
I covered the Rose Bowl Game this January, and it is easily one of the most picturesque and stunning events in all sports. To me, having an entire college football season leading up to a national championship game at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains at twilight is too good of an opportunity to pass up.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences might be resistant to the idea at first, since they treasure the Rose Bowl Game as if it were one of their own children. But in the end, this would be for the greater good of all college football. The traditional game could still exist in some format, but the tradition and history of the Rose Bowl would grow by leaps and bounds if it were to host the sport's biggest game every year.
But even though I think the new playoff format needs some tweaking, it is undoubtedly a great first step into a new era of college football. We're getting closer to building one of the most perfect sporting events in the world, and that by itself is worth celebrating.
The BCS is dead. Long live the college football playoff.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.