College football's 14-year-old Bowl Champion Series — a system in which a complex computer algorithm determines the nation's top two teams, who then play in a championship game — has long been unpopular with fans who want to see the nation's best teams settle things on the field with a multi-round playoff system. Even President Obama has lobbied for a change: "I think it is about time that we had playoffs in college football. I'm fed up with these computer rankings." Well, the president has gotten his wish… sort of. A committee of university presidents approved a plan Tuesday for a four-team college football playoff to begin in 2014. The four teams will be chosen by a selection committee that will use metrics similar to the one used now by the BCS. Here, a look who benefits and who loses out:
Television rights to the new playoff system should be worth at least double what the BCS draws, says Ralph D. Russon of the Associated Press. Conservative estimates put the playoff figure at $300 million, but it could be more like $400 million or $500 million. The big beneficiary of that windfall? College football's "five power conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12)" — which are likely to be well represented in the playoffs, and expected to pocket more cash than smaller conferences.
This playoff system is obviously a concession to the fans, says Mike Kern at The Philadelphia Inquirer. "The groundswell of public support for something different had simply become too loud to totally ignore any longer." The BCS, which was widely derided as unfair and arbitrary, was "hated by football fans more than most communist regimes," says Thayer Evans at Fox. The new semi-finals will be played on Dec. 31 and/or Jan. 1, which should delight fans, says Russon. "College football used to own New Year's Day. The Bowl Championship Series got away from that," but now the sport is reclaiming New Year's.
Most if not all of the four playoff spots will be filled by teams that finish the regular season on top of one of the five power conferences, says Mark Schlabach at ESPN. But in addition to the playoffs, college football is also adding at least two more marquee postseason games to its lineup, increasing the chances that a team like Boise State or Hawaii could score a coveted bowl game even if it doesn't make the playoffs. This "produces access and it's going to produce a significant opportunity for high-ranking teams that might not be ranked one through four," says SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
Team No. 5
Doubling the championship field from two teams to four will certainly temper griping about the BCS, says Russon. But there will still be plenty of complaining. Now, "it will come from teams No. 5, 6 and 7, instead of Nos. 3 and 4." Sure, the farther down in the rankings you go, the harder it is to make a case for playoff inclusion. "But there are plenty of people out there now that believe four is not nearly enough."
They may still be bowl-eligible, but "the mid-major schools just got assassinated by this new deal," says Austin Green at Bleacher Report. "All you Boise State fans (and supporters of similar teams) can bury your championship dreams now, because they're dead." The criteria for selecting the four playoff teams is essentially the same as the one used in the current BCS system, which heavily favors power-conference teams. Smaller schools in smaller conferences don't stand a chance. Two controversial BCS snubs — undefeated Utah and Boise State in 2008 — would still have been passed over with the new system, says Jerry Palm at CBS Sports.
College football fans haven't been shy about their distaste for the BCS, says Green. But this supposed overhaul is barely a tweak on the existing model. At this rate, fans while "have to wait until at least 2025 to get a legitimate playoff system." The extra game is an appreciated change, "but is a four-team playoff really any different than the previous format?"
The sport's integrity
"Money so often makes people do what they'd rather not do," says Mike Lopresti at USA Today. The allure of the playoff money windfall may well lead to more shady dealings, ruthless corner-cutting, corporate pandering, and questionable recruiting.