Answers to key issues in new playoff system

This is a photo of the Louisiana Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.  (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
This is a photo of the Louisiana Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Here’s a look at some of the key issues in college football’s new playoff system:

How long will the playoff system be in place?

It will begin after the 2014 regular season and is a 12-year deal, running through the end of the 2025 season (the 2025-26 bowl season).

How many teams, and who will televise it?

Four teams will be selected for the playoff each year. ESPN will televise the national championship game, semifinals and all bowls part of the semifinal rotation for the entire 12-year run.

Currently only two teams per conference are allowed to play in BCS bowls. Will the new playoff system have such a limit?

No. You can have one, two, three or all four teams from the same conference in the playoff. It wouldn’t be very credible if that weren’t the case. Conversely, no conference is guaranteed a spot.

Will it still be called the BCS?

It will not. Whether the name “BCS” is considered too toxic none of the major players are saying at this point, but BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said the playoff will not be called the BCS. Call it the “TBA playoff” at this point.

Additionally, the individual bowls will still have title sponsors, but like the Super Bowl, Hancock said the championship game will not. So while you will still have names like the Allstate Sugar Bowl, you will not have the Discover National Championship Game as it was this year here in Miami.

Where will the playoff games be played?

Six bowls will rotate the semifinal games over the 12 years of the deal, each bowl hosting four semifinal games. The national championship games will not rotate but will be bid out, much like the Super Bowl.

So far three bowls — the Sugar, Rose and Orange — have been selected as host sites. The Sugar and Rose will host semifinals on Jan. 1, 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024. The Orange will host semifinals on Dec. 31, 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024, along with another bowl to be named.

Which bowls are likely to get the three remaining slots?

It is a pretty poorly kept secret that the Cotton, Chick-fil-A and Fiesta are the front-runners. Hancock said the Fiesta Bowl, because of its current place in the BCS rotation with the Sugar, Rose and Orange, has been guaranteed the first chance to negotiate a place in the rotation.

Who will host the first national championship game, Jan. 12, 2015?

Two words: Jerry World. Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, host site of the Cotton Bowl and the Cowboys Classic, is expected to get the nod. An official announcement should come in April.

Will the national championship game be limited to the six semifinal host bowl sites?

No. Any city and/or bowl may bid for the national championship game. It is generally accepted that any city that has hosted a Super Bowl could mount a bid for the national championship game. So it wouldn’t be a shock if the game were one day played in Indianapolis or one of the cities not in semifinal rotation, like Tampa, Fla., if it is left out as expected.

Can someone host a semifinal and the national championship game in the same year?

No. You can have a regular version of your bowl and the national championship game in the same year, however. So, for example, you could have the regular version of the Sugar Bowl between the SEC and Big 12 on Jan. 1, 2016, and the national championship game that same year.

What key issues are still to be decided?

Plenty. A selection committee must be picked. The number of people on the committee as well. The criteria for selecting the four playoff teams must be finalized. The playoff system needs a name. Three semifinal bowl sites must be picked, and at least the first three or four national championship game sites selected.

It’s a full plate, but expect most of this work to be done by the next meeting of BCS conference commissioners in late April in Pasadena, Calif. Hancock said the next two or three national championship game sites after the first one — January 2016, 2017 and probably 2018 — should be selected before the coming college football season begins.

Why did the Sugar, Rose and Orange get in as playoff host sites first?

These are the so-called “contract bowls” because they are contracted to have conference champions play in them when not in the playoff. The Sugar gets the SEC and Big 12, the Rose the Big Ten and Pac-12, the Orange the ACC.

Are the other three bowls to be named lesser among equals?

Yes. These are the so-called “host bowls,” who do not have any conference tie-ins. The Fiesta lost the Big 12 tie-in to the Sugar, and the Cotton got outflanked by the Sugar in its desire for the SEC-Big 12 tie-ins.

These bowls will get semifinals, but they will also have to guarantee access to the “Group of Five.”

Who is the Group of Five?

The Sun Belt, Big East, Mountain West, Mid-American and Conference USA have become known as the Group of Five.

The top-ranked team from these five conferences are guaranteed a spot in one of the three bowls still to be selected for the playoff (again, probably the Cotton, Chick-fil-A and Fiesta). That’s great for the SBC, but not for the endangered Big East, which has one of the six automatic slots in the current BCS system.

Is there a catch?

Financially, yes. The SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC (plus ACC semi-member Notre Dame) all get more — much more — money from this new playoff deal than do schools from the Group of Five.

How much money are we talking about?

Sports Business Journal estimates that over its 12-year run, the new format could be worth a staggering $7.3 billion.

How did the Sugar Bowl make out in all of this?

It’s virtually impossible to say the Sugar could have done better in this new format. The Sugar will get four semifinals. And in the other eight years of the playoff, it will host the SEC and Big 12 champions, or the best available teams from those conferences as the Rose does with the Big Ten and Pac-12 (one assumes the SEC and Big 12 teams would have to meet a criteria, like being in the final top 12 of whatever ranking is used). The Sugar gets to be played in prime time on New Year’s Day ever year (except when the NFL finishes on Jan. 1, when The Sugar Bowl will be on Jan. 2) with a strong TV lead in from the Rose. And it is a virtual lock to get at least one championship game over the next 12 years, though at least two seems more likely.

The Sugar probably won’t have the national championship game every four years as it currently does in the BCS, but that’s the case for everyone. The Sugar has insured its and New Orleans’ status as a major bowl host city for the life of the playoff deal and probably beyond.

Could the playoff expand to eight or even 16 teams?

Of course. The minute after the first four teams are picked, expect the No. 5 team to start howling. Bracket creep, as it is called, seems inevitable, but the 12-year length of the playoff format starting out is designed to hold that off as long as possible.

How would the playoff have worked this year?

Making use of this year’s BCS standings and the first semifinal playoff sites, you would have had No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 4 Oregon in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 Alabama against No. 3 Florida in the Sugar, thus guaranteeing an SEC team in the national championship game. Considering how the bowls went, let’s say Oregon would have knocked off Notre Dame and Alabama would have beaten Florida. Think an Alabama-Oregon national title game in Cowboys Stadium would have been closer than the Crimson Tide’s 42-14 rout of the Fighting Irish?

What about the rest of the semifinal bowls when not hosting semifinals?

You would have seen some mix of the teams ranked
Nos. 5-12 in the Cotton, Chick-fil-A, Fiesta and Orange bowls. LSU, which finished No. 8 in the BCS standings, would have been in one of those bowls. So would MAC champion Northern Illinois, though No. 15 in the final BCS, it would have been guaranteed a slot as the top team from the Group of Five. The playoff selection committee will fill those bowl slots.

Maybe it would have been Northern Illinois against LSU in the Chick-fil-A.

No, it’s still not a perfect system.