Selecting the playoff participants, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said, will be the biggest challenge in this changing football world.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The Big Ten took center stage in the playoff debate with Monday's teleconference that, while not rocking the college football world, made its public case.
Delany was clear about a couple of things — he doesn't want a playoff, but the Big Ten won't fight the inevitable; the four best teams should participate (rather than mandate they all be conference champions), he doesn't want polls or computers picking the participating teams (he called them “non-transparent, biased and flawed”), on-campus sites won't work for the semifinals (having enough accommodations could be a problem and Delany prefers to use current bowls); and the title game should be bid out.
"It would be good for college football, for all of its constituencies,” he said.
You'd better believe Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, which already hosts the Big Ten football championship game and has hosted a basketball Final Four, would be a major title-game contender.
Big Ten officials, who prefer keeping the current BCS system in place despite its flaws and the fact they can't stand the way it selects teams, concede a college football playoff is coming after the current deal ends after the 2013-14 season. That's something that the Pac-12 couldn't quite do in last weekend's conference meeting. Pac-12 officials just didn't vote on it at all.
Here's what we know for sure: eight-team and 16-team formats are off the table — at least for now.
Now the big questions come — what playoff model will be used, and how do you select the teams?
Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said Big Ten presidents are “realistic.” While they think the current BCS system, “is as good as you could do,” and don't want to play a 15th game, they are open to a four-team format that is run within the bowl system, preserves the Big Ten's connection to the Rose Bowl and that uses a selection committee to choose the playoff teams.
“We've tried not to put a stake in the ground (regarding a playoff) and say over our dead bodies,” Perlman said.
Three main playoff models are being discussed. The first is a plus-one, where you'd have all the bowls you have now, then have the top two teams after that, as determined by polls or a selection committee, play for the national championship.
That's not likely to happen.
There are two four-team playoff models. One works within the current BCS bowl structure (the Big Ten prefers this). One four-team format is played outside the current bowls.
As far as selecting the playoff participants, the SEC and the Big 12 want to go with the four best teams, period. Delany agrees on the four-best-teams scenario. That would reserve a spot for Notre Dame (an independent) as well as a strong team that didn't make its conference title game because of an earlier loss.
Last year Alabama lost to SEC rival LSU during the regular season and didn't make the SEC championship game, but wound up facing the Tigers again in the BCS title game and dominating the rematch.
Pac-12 officials want conference champions to have top priority, and that strength of schedule should figure prominently in determining the qualifying teams. Delany said that “it's important that regular season champions be honored.”
Conference commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick are set to meet twice this month in Chicago to discuss playoff scenarios. They're expected to present a final plan to the Presidential Oversight Committee. An announcement could come June 26 in Washington, D.C., although Delany said he wouldn't be surprised if it was delayed until in August.
The bottom line is college football is finally about to do what every other football division, and every other sport, figured out how to do long ago:
Use a playoff to determine a champion.
It's about time.