By RALPH D. RUSSO
PASADENA, Calif. — The College Football Playoff is all but done. The only part that remains unsettled is the membership of the selection committee that will determine which teams play for the national championship when the new system kicks in for the 2014 season.
Here’s how it will work and what you need to know.
1. THINK BCS
The conference commissioners who spent more than a year putting the playoff together cringe when it’s suggested that the new system is BCS 2.0, but to understand how it works, it helps to keep in mind how the Bowl Championship Series worked.
In the BCS, there were four, and then later five games played each season. Only one, the national championship game, had anything to do with the national championship. The others were glitzy bowl games played in showcase stadiums that — hopefully — had compelling matchups. Six conferences had automatic bids to those games, and other teams could earn automatic entry.
The new system will have a total of seven games, including two national semifinals and a final that will determine the national champion. The four other games will be glitzy bowl games played in showcase stadiums that — hopefully — will have compelling matchups. There will no longer be automatic bids for six conference champions, as was the case for the BCS. Now five conferences (the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Pac-12) each have guaranteed a spot for their conference champion in either the semifinals or one of the four glitzy bowls. There will also be a guaranteed spot for the best team from the five FBS conferences (the Big East, soon to be the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference-USA and Mid-American).
2. THE MATCHUPS
The selection committee will, for the most part, make the matchups. Foremost it will seed the top four teams in the country, setting up the semifinals. No. 1 will play No. 4. No. 2 will play No. 3. The committee will try as best it can to avoid giving the lower-seeded team a geographical advantage. For example, if LSU is seeded fourth the committee is unlikely to let the Tigers play a semifinal in New Orleans.
The selection committee will also set some of the matchups in the glitzy bowls, with a priority on getting as many highly ranked teams as possible into the games.
But this is important: when the Rose Bowl does not host a semifinal it will always be Big Ten vs. Pac-12. The Sugar Bowl in years it does not host a semifinal will always be Southeastern Conference vs. Big 12. The Orange Bowl in the years it does not host a semifinal will always be Atlantic Coast Conference vs. either an SEC team, a Big Ten team or Notre Dame.
3. CONFERENCE LIMITATIONS
None. Unlike the BCS, which capped the number of teams from a conference at two, in the new system there is no limit to how many teams a league can put in the two semifinals or the other bowls. Four SEC teams? Sure, why stop there.
The semifinals will rotate through six bowl games: the Rose (Pasadena), Orange (Miami), Sugar (New Orleans), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.), Cotton (Arlington, Texas) and Chick-fil-A (Atlanta). When those games don’t host a semifinal, they will put on one of the glitzy bowls.
The championship game will be bid out like the Super Bowl and move all over the country. The first one will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, also home of the Cotton Bowl.
Three games will be played back-to-back-to-back on New Year’s Eve and there will be another tripleheader on New Year’s Day. Adjustments will be made if Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday so as to not conflict with the NFL.
The championship game will always be played on a Monday, at least a week after the semifinals.
The first season the semifinals will be in the Rose and Sugar bowls on Jan. 1, 2015. The Rose will kickoff around 5 p.m. EST. The Sugar around 8:30 p.m. EDT.
The championship game in Texas will be played Jan. 12, and kickoff around 8:30 p.m.
The Rose and Sugar bowls will always be played on New Year’s Day, so in most seasons the semifinals will be played on New Year’s Eve.
All these games will be shown on ESPN. It has reportedly paid about $7.2 billion for the entire package.
7. WHERE ALL THAT MONEY GOES
About 85 percent of it will go to the Big Five conferences. The other five will split the rest, but don’t feel too badly for them. Most will be making about five times the amount they made with the BCS.
8. AND ABOUT THAT SELECTION COMMITTEE
The idea was to make it similar to the one that puts together the NCAA basketball tournament, made up of athletic directors and conference commissioners. But make no mistake, this will be much tougher to put together, and the commissioners know that.
“This is an issue of considerable complexity and given how much time we have until the playoff begins, we’re in no rush,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Thursday, the final of three days of meetings at a resort hotel in the Rose Bowl’s backyard.
Everything is apparently still up for debate, from who will be on the committee — current or former athletic administrators? — to how many people will be on it — 16? 18? 20? — to what kind of metrics and rankings it will be given to guide decisions.
9. HOW LONG BEFORE THIS SYSTEM CAN BE CHANGED?
The conferences and ESPN worked out a 12-year deal based on a four-team playoff format. So it appears to be locked in for 12 years, even though the structure is there for it to grow.
10. WHY COLLEGE FOOTBALL WON’T GROW THE SYSTEM TO EIGHT OR 16 TEAMS
“Because we don’t want to,” Hancock said.
Of course, a few years ago some of the same people working on this didn’t want a playoff system at all.