Are you ready for the playoffs? If you're like most college football fans, you've been waiting for this for a very long time. Now two years after university presidents voted to approve it, a four-team system takes affect this season. The semifinalists will be announced Dec. 7. "The (selection) committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached," said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff (and executive director of the now-dead BCS). "We think the playoff gives us the best of both worlds. Our goal with the BCS going into this was to maintain the best regular season in sports. We've done that with the playoff. Four teams is not too many. It does not go too far. It goes just far enough. It also preserves the bowl system and the bowl experience for student-athletes top to bottom, which is very important to us." Does that mean when this season's national champion hoists the trophy Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas, the controversy that often surrounded the BCS title will fade? Most likely not. Expect teams at Nos. 5, 6 and maybe even 7 to have their gripes. But that's a discussion for another time. For now, here are a few things you need to know about the system.
A 13-member committee that includes university administrators, former coaches, a former athlete, a former reporter and a former Cabinet member:
. Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin AD
. Mike Gould, former Air Force superintendent
. Pat Haden, Southern Cal AD
. Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice president
. Jeff Long, Arkansas AD
. Oliver Luck, West Virginia AD
. Archie Manning, former Mississippi quarterback
. Tom Osborne, former coach and current AD at Nebraska
. Dan Radakovich, Clemson AD
. Condoleezza Rice, Stanford professor and former U.S. Secretary of State
. Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner
. Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter for USA Today
. Tyrone Willingham, former coach at three Division I-A schools
Hold the polls
Here's an aspect of the system coaches wholeheartedly approve of: a midseason start to the selection committee's polls. The committee will release a weekly Top 25 beginning Oct. 28. The top four in the final rankings, to be released Dec. 7, will be chosen for the playoff. In two semifinal games, No. 1 will play No. 4 and No. 2 will play No. 3. Why is the Oct. 28 start so important? Coaches have long complained that early polls — the writers' (Associated Press) and coaches' (USA Today) — are primarily based on the previous season's performances. That makes it hard, though not impossible, for any team that starts the season outside the Top 25 to reach the national title game. By the way, the coaches' poll, which made up one-third of the BCS formula, now is for entertainment purposes only.
The selection committee will choose the four semifinalists and matchups based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, common opponents, conference championships and other factors that appear to be totally subjective.
Where will your team go?
The Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A bowls will rotate in pairs as hosts of the playoff semifinals. The Rose and Sugar host the first semifinals Jan. 1. The championship game — which won't necessarily be at a bowl site — is Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. (The 2017 championship is at Raymond James Stadium.)
Where the semifinals are played depends on seeding. The No. 1 seed gets the closer available spot. For example, this season, a No. 1-seeded Florida State would head to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans while Stanford, for example, would go to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The No. 2 seed gets no geographic consideration for its semifinal. So if FSU finished No. 1 and played in the Sugar Bowl, a No. 2 Alabama would head to Pasadena.
The committee also will select teams for the four bowls not hosting a semifinal. The Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12), Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12) and Orange (ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame) are "contract" bowls and retain conference affiliations in years they don't host a semifinal.
One team from the conferences that didn't have an automatic BCS berth — American (formerly Big East), Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt — is guaranteed a spot in one of the six bowl games in the playoff system. Unless that team makes the semifinals this season, those bowls are the Cotton, Fiesta and Chick fil-A. The bonus for college football fans? Each season will feature a major bowl tripleheader on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Every season the semifinals will be played on the same day. "Whenever we go to our New Year's Eve parties, they better have a television set and it better be tuned into college football or we're not going to be there," playoff executive director Bill Hancock said. "It changes the paradigm of that holiday for keeps in this country, and we're very proud of that."
No 'SEC Rule'
Under the BCS system, no more than two teams from one conference could play in BCS games, a rule many in the SEC believed was instituted with their conference in mind. Under the new system, there is no limit on the number of teams from one conference that can make the playoffs. So yes, three — or four —SEC teams can make the semifinals.
There is no rule against rematches in the playoff format. So last year's epic Auburn-Alabama game could have had a Part II if this scenario had been in effect.
The selection committee will try to keep bias out of the voting process. That's why nine of the 13 members are recused from voting for their school: Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Mike Gould (Air Force), Pat Haden (Southern Cal), Jeff Long (Arkansas), Oliver Luck (West Virginia), Archie Manning (Mississippi), Tom Osborne (Nebraska), Dan Radakovich (Clemson) and Condoleezza Rice (Stanford).
Contact Antonya English at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Gators.