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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

College football is moving toward a playoff, but slowly, as usual

It's taken only about 150 years for the sport to seriously consider any form of playoff, so it's no surprise that it's taking a bit longer than expected to settle on a format. Four-team? Or 'Plus One?'

June 19, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Bowl Championship Series Director Bill Hancock speaks during a news conference on June 13.
Bowl Championship Series Director Bill Hancock speaks during a news conference… (M. Spencer Green / Associated…)

It took from 1869 — the first game between Rutgers and Princeton — until last April to even contemplate a sort-of, kind-of, half-baked playoff.

Glaciers have moved faster than college football.

So don't get steamed or act surprised if we tell you a formal announcement of the four-team model proposed only weeks ago may not hit its target release date.

Following a late-April dispatch on BCS letterhead that included the words "we will present to our conferences a very small number of four-team options," it seemed logical to anoint June 20 as the day it might be ratified and forwarded to university presidents for a June 26 rubber stamp.

June 20 is Wednesday.

The commissioners are still meeting in Chicago and the presidents are still convening next week in Washington.

The tying up of strings, though, could continue after everyone was supposed to start summer vacation.

"The presidents may or may not make their final decision," BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock conceded this week about next week.

This is starting to feel like the rugby-scrum BCS title game, in which Louisiana State didn't cross midfield until the fourth quarter against Alabama.

What happened?

The commissioners left Florida locked in chorus-line unanimity on the four-team concept that, in 2014, would replace the controversial Bowl Championship Series, which inspired one book title that began with the words "Death to . . ."

The public rejoiced, yet the BCS neglected to include the important bailout qualifier, "pending a food fight between the distinguished decision makers . . ."

The underlying problem has always been that what is best for the Southeastern Conference is rarely what is also good for the Big Ten, Pac-12 or Rose Bowl.

The 11 BCS commissioners and Notre Dame thought they could amicably work out the four-team details.

The Big Ten and Pac-12, led by Jim Delany and Larry Scott, said emphasis should be given to conference champions, schedule strength and Rose Bowl preservation.

Why? Because, starting in 2017, the conferences will start beating each other up annually in a series of nonconference games, making the road to the national title more difficult.

The Pac-12 already plays a nine-game league schedule, compared with eight for SEC teams.

The SEC remains adamant that any playoff should not get caught up on "conference champion" labels.

Why?

Because Alabama, last year's BCS champion, didn't even win its own SEC division.

This might have been sorted out already if not for the speed bump in May, when the SEC and Big 12 announced their champions would play a bowl game that would become a companion piece to the Rose Bowl.

That opened the door for Scott and Delany, but especially Scott, to reintroduce the "Plus One" model.

That format would pair No. 1 and No. 2 after the bowl games, which is certainly the plan most friendly to the existing bowl system. It would also allow teams in other bowls to remain in the title-game mix.

"Plus One would give us a traditional game," Rose Bowl executive Kevin Ash said this week.

He also added, importantly: "We don't have a seat at the table."

The commissioners failed to sufficiently emphasize in April that any postseason plan ultimately had to be approved by university presidents.

They tend to be more conservative — some even wear bow ties.

One BCS official said some presidents think they are being "led by a car dealer to a car they don't want to buy."

Nebraska President Harvey Perlman, representing the Big Ten and also a member of the BCS presidential oversight committee, came right out and said the four-team playoff would be his third choice, behind status quo and Plus One.

"Some conferences liked the [four-team] option," Hancock said, "Some said, 'Is there a better way?'"

Shockingly, there's a lot of digging in and posturing going on. Florida's president was quoted as saying the Big Ten needed to realize the world was going in a different direction. Big Ten bosses don't like getting directions from, or to, Gainesville.

The four-team model is still the leader in the Big House. A BCS commissioners' vote, if taken today, would probably be 10-2 in favor. You can guess the "two."

Scott and Delany could be using "Plus One" as leverage for a more Rose Bowl-compatible model.

Scott declined to comment in advance of Wednesday's meeting.

This will, probably, be worked out. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has staked too much politically on the playoff to be walked back to square one or Plus One.

Slive is backed by Alabama's "Million Dollar Band" and the clout of six straight BCS titles for the SEC.

It was Slive, interestingly, who four years ago proposed a Plus One model at the commissioners' meetings in South Florida.

It was rejected.

The BCS has already sold the four-team model to the public. Pulling back now would be like getting toothpaste back in a tube or "Mike the Tiger" back in his cage.

The push toward a playoff hasn't been as seamless as it once seemed. You forget sometimes getting things done in college football is like herding cats.

Change is inevitable, but also gooey.

Hancock's conclusion: "If you're making an eight- or 10-year decision, what's a couple more months in the process?"

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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