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College football officials to discuss championship structure

By Blair Kerkhoff, McClatchy Newspapers –

NEW ORLEANS — Change may be coming to college football’s championship structure.

Eleven conference commissioners will meet here Tuesday, the day after LSU and Alabama tangle in the BCS national championship game at the Superdome, to open talks about the way the sport selects its champion.

Implement a plus-one, a four-team playoff where semifinal winners meet for a championship?

Have the BCS get out of the major bowl business and just select the finalist field, with a rating formula or selection committee?

Or no change at all.

“It’s not easy, but we’ll roll up our sleeves and do what’s best for the game,” BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The current system matches the two teams that finish atop the BCS standings. The rest of the BCS bowls are tied to conferences but with rules that allow for flexibility in selection.

In this system, a pair of teams, Michigan and Virginia Tech, were invited to play in the Sugar Bowl despite being ranked below others, like Boise State, Kansas State and Arkansas.

What would become of current BCS bowls is uncertain, but everything is on the table.

“We have a real opportunity for the first time to look at several models, and start the process if there’s change in the BCS structure,” said Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West.

If change happens, look for the 2013 season to be the final one under the current system. That would take the BCS through its contract with ESPN.

This isn’t the first time college football leaders have discussed change. In 2008, a four-team playoff model was considered but didn’t gain enough support. The Big 12 stood against the plan.

But in December, Big 12 athletic directors voted in a straw poll to support a plus-one model, and a desire for change seems to have momentum.

“Attitudes change, the market place changes, coaches change, we’re receptive to fans, alumni,” Thompson said. “You hear people say why it works in other sports by not in college football.”

Also, conference commissioners have turned over since the last meeting. Larry Scott has made dizzying changes in the Pac-12; Dan Beebe is gone from the Big 12. The most vocal opponent of changing the system, the Big Ten’s Jim Delany, may not have many allies among commissioners for maintaining the status quo.

Another factor: University presidents, a major force in objecting to change, would have to be convinced.

Hancock’s concerns are the impact on the regular season, the bowl system and the welfare of the athletes.

“If college football turns into pro football with a massive tournament, the biggest losers will be the student athletes,” Hancock said. “Teams would fly in the day before a game, play Saturday and fly home after the game, rather than having a multi-day bowl experience. … That’s not the type of experience I want for the kids.”

How might a plus-one work? Would bowls be involved in a playoff? Would fan bases be asked to travel more than once? Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy offered his idea after the final BCS standings listed LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford as the top four teams.

“Stanford at LSU, Oklahoma State at Alabama, the winners meet at a bowl site for a national championship,” Gundy said.

But, as with any process, there would be controversy. In Gundy’s scenario, fourth-seeded Stanford is in, but Oregon, No. 5 in the BCS standings, represented the league in the Rose Bowl based on its victory over Stanford.

The discussions won’t be limited to selecting a champion and bowl matchups. Commissioners will re-examine schools’ ticket purchase requirements in BCS bowls of 17,500. There’s no problem meeting that number in the title game, but other schools labor to sell to sell tickets and are on the hook for those that go unsold.

More than two teams per conference in major bowls will be on the agenda, as will the timing of the bowl season. Sentiment is rising to play fewer games after Jan. 1.

But the leaders also will remind themselves that prospective change isn’t because the sport needs a booster shot.

“The game is remarkably popular,” Hancock said.

Indicators such as attendance and television ratings are solid.

“A lot of sports will kill for the problems college football has, from a media standpoint,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice president for college programming.

And whatever the outcome, “we stand ready to put a value on that,” Magnus said.

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