IOWA CITY — For a sport that modifies its postseason at a glacial pace, college football’s changes will feel like an avalanche next year.
The much-despised Bowl Championship Series, which gave the sport a true No. 1 versus No. 2 match-up and a heck of a lot controversy, will exit after January. In its place comes the College Football Playoff, which will pit the nation’s top four teams in semifinal games within two bowls. The winners then will advance to a title game staged outside the bowl structure.
The College Football Playoff is set for 12 years and comprise six bowls: Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach. Each bowl will host a semifinal four times, and a traditional high-profile bowl match-up the other eight years All six bowls will appear on ESPN.
Playoff participants will receive $6 million, while the other eight bowl squads will receive $4 million. There is no additional payment for advancing to the title game, and the payout formula to the leagues is nearly determined, executive director Bill Hancock told The Gazette this week.
A committee consisting of 14-20 members will select the four teams participating in the playoff and choose the four other bowl match-ups. But there are more questions than answers right now about the committee.
“We don’t feel any rush to either come up with a protocol or certainly the numbers since we’re a year away from having that group have to begin its work,” Hancock said. “The questions are, how many people are on a committee, and obviously then what generally who would they be? Not even specifically who would they be, but generally who would they be?
“The questions are would they be some mix of current administrators, probably athletics directors and other people who know the game well and if it is, then what’s the ratio? Then after that, the questions to be decided, is what’s the protocol? What’s their voting processes, how often do they meet, would they announce rankings during the year? Those are the most significant questions that are still to be answered.”
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told The Gazette and other reporters this month the panel’s reputation and integrity must be beyond reproach. A trained eye test is vital and a committee member “can’t be a Congressman” with provincial bias.
“You need a core group of people who know what they’re watching and a core group of people whose reputation speaks for itself,” Delany said.
“If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.”
Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith publicly nominated Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez as a jurist. Former coaches Tom Osborne and R.C. Slocum also have been mentioned as possible panelists. Each conference likely will have a representative.
Because of the passion involved with the regionally based sport, omitting any team from the playoff field will be controversial. Hancock joked members won’t need witness protection afterward, but media and fans will dissect the choices for nearly a month until the semifinals begin.
“There’s going to be intense scrutiny,” Delany said. “Everybody knows that. It’s probably overstated a little bit.”
“Whoever it is, get that flak jacket ready,” Smith said. “This is not going to be a panacea, guys. We all know, one and two, there might be clarity. But three, four, five and six, it’s going to be the same old debate we always had.”
Here are some other facts about upcoming College Football Playoff:
WHO’S IN: A selection committee will determine the full, 12-team roster of semifinalists (four) and bowl teams (eight), consisting of at least the champions of the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 conferences and the highest-ranked champion from the other five leagues (American, MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West, Conference USA). The committee will select the other six teams based on criteria.
The bowls no longer get a choice for at-large teams. Travel parties, geography or television prominence have no bearing on the selection process.
“Television will not have anything to say about that,” Hancock said. “As slots are open, the committee will decide what teams go to those games. Of course that’s a significant change over the BCS. The bowls have agreed to participate with the understanding that their teams will be assigned by the committee.”
The selection committee does have the option to slot match-ups based on regional emphasis. For instance, if Texas is considered an at-large team and the Cotton Bowl has an open slot, the Longhorns might fit better in Dallas than in Miami. Likewise, the committee will try to avoid scheduling rematches.
“I’ve said all along that college football is one of the few sports where every game is important,” Alvarez said. “Every game counts.”
WHO’S PLAYING WHERE: The Rose Bowl will continue its traditional Big Ten-Pac-12 match-up the eight seasons it doesn’t host a semifinal. The Sugar Bowl will host SEC and Big 12 representatives the eight years it doesn’t host a semifinal. The Orange Bowl hosts the ACC champion in its eight non-playoff years. The Orange Bowl also worked out a deal with the SEC (at least three picks), Big Ten (at least three picks) and Notre Dame (maximum of two picks) as the ACC’s opponent the other eight years.
If the champions of those five conferences cannot compete in their contracted bowl because it is hosting a semifinal, they automatically qualify for another available bowl (Cotton, Fiesta, Peach). However if a league champion earns a semifinal spot, only a previous arrangement would guarantee another league team (Big Ten at the Rose or Orange bowls) a major bowl slot.
“Now the teams will be decided just on football for the games that are not semifinals or not contracted,” Hancock said.
But no longer are there restrictions on the number of teams from a conference. Currently only two teams per league are allowed to compete in the BCS.
TIMES/DATES: The Rose and Sugar bowls will air on Jan. 1 (or Jan. 2 if Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday). It doesn’t matter if either hosts a semifinal (years 1, 4, 7, 10) or a traditional bowl match-up. The Rose will stay at 4 p.m., while the Sugar Bowl will start afterward.
“All of them obviously have long traditions,” Hancock said. “It was just something that the conferences negotiated.”
The other bowls will rotate between Dec. 31 and the first time slot on Jan. 1. Semifinal games outside of the Rose or Sugar bowls will run in the second and third time slot on Dec. 31.
OTHER BOWLS: Hancock said multiple bowls were considered the final three playoff slots after the Rose, Sugar and Orange. The Cotton and Fiesta bowls have steep traditions, and the Peach also is well-known.
“There were others in the hunt, but at the end of the day those three were clearly the choices,” Hancock said.
An industry source told The Gazette it’s likely other bowls likely will air on ABC or ESPN2 concurrently with the first games on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 but not against the late afternoon games on those dates. The Capital One Bowl, for instance, has been played in early afternoon on Jan. 1 every year since 1987.
SPONSORSHIP: “College Football Playoff” will not have a title sponsor, but the bowls and the telecast will remained sponsored.
“ESPN will say, ‘This national championship game brought to you by Company X,’” Hancock said. “As for as a title for the playoff itself, we just think the event is such of an iconic nature that it doesn’t need a title. It’s in the club with The Masters and the Final Four and the Super Bowl that just doesn’t need a title sponsor.”
The semifinals also will be considered bowl games. That means the full bowl experience, including gifts.
PAYOUTS: $6 million to the semifinalists, $4 million to the other bowl teams. The championship qualifiers will not receive extra money. The rest of the revenue is distributed to the conference via a formula yet to be finalized.
SCHEDULE: The semifinal rotation is set through 2026. Here’s the schedule for the first three seasons (times not finalized):