CHICAGO — College football is headed toward a new era, with a four-team playoff deciding the champion starting in 2014. As conference commissioners said during the six months it has taken for them to come up with a playoff plan to present to university presidents next week for approval, "The devil is in the details."
Here are some of those details.
WHY NOW? For years, the Big Ten and the then-Pac-10 were adamantly against a playoff. What changed? Well, the Pac-10 and its commissioner for starters. Larry Scott has pushed the league to be more progressive and its members have reaped millions of dollars in rewards because of his bold moves.
In the Big Ten, as much as commissioner Jim Delany has been against a playoff, he realized the BCS just wasn't worth fighting so hard for anymore.
"No system can stand that much criticism and be sustainable," he said Thursday.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: There was never any question that a playoff would bring in more money than the BCS, with its hit-or-miss bowl games and often controversial championship matchup. With budgets being slashed at universities, the people in charge could no longer justify leaving so much behind. In TV rights alone, a playoff would bring in at least $300 million a year. The current BCS and Rose Bowl deals are worth about $155 million annually.
WHAT BECOMES OF THE BOWLS? The BCS championship game already had made the high-profile bowls less relevant. Now take the four best teams out of the bowls and put them in semifinals and a bowl bid will feel like even more of a consolation prize.
WINNERS: If it's college football, the SEC must be winning. The playoff negotiations were no different. SEC commissioner Mike Slive, whose teams have won the past six BCS titles, has been pushing for a playoff since 2008.
LOSERS: As much as the BCS seemed stacked against the teams from conferences outside the six founding member leagues, a playoff-driven postseason could widen the gap even more. While a playoff will increase the amount of revenue the postseason generates, those funds might be distributed more unevenly.
Leagues such as the Mountain West, Conference USA and the Sun Belt will make more in total but could get a smaller percentage of the pie. And if schedule strength will be emphasized for picking the playoff participants, how do those teams fortify their schedules to match what the teams from power leagues already have built-in?
NOT SO BIG EAST: There have been six major conferences. The Big East, after being plundered by expansion, is on the verge of second-tier status. How much less the conference that includes USF gets in revenue from the playoff than the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC will be something to watch closely.
A FEW GOOD MEN: It's not clear yet who will be on the committee given the task of picking the best four teams in the country, though it will probably be similar to the basketball selection committee — commissioners and athletic directors.
"I think you need a thick skin and an honest heart" to be on the committee, Delany said.
Ultimately, what might matter most is the parameters for making their decisions. The commissioners want to stress strength of schedule, give conference champions some preference and provide an RPI-like rating system for guidance to make it less of a guessing game.