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Blair Kerkhoff: BCS postseason format is about to change

By Blair Kerkhoff, McClatchy Newspapers –

Hark, the sounds of spring football: Coaches barking, pads bashing, motorcycle s crashing.

If we’re finished rubber-necking at the wreckage of a Harley and a coaching career at Arkansas, it’s time to move on to an issue with wider impact in college football.

During the next couple of months, the quiet and steady progress of restructuring the national championship will come to a resolution.

“We’re getting down to it,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the Bowl Championship Series. “Pretty soon, it’s going to be time to make a decision, and I’m confident the game will be better for it.”

Coaches like the shamed Bobby Petrino come and go, but the idea of crowning a college football champion through what in all likelihood will be a playoff is revolutionary stuff for a sport that kicked off 143 years ago and largely identified its champion through opinion polls and computer rankings.

Last week, a position paper surfaced that detailed the most discussed options of change among conference commissioners. Those with visions of eight- or 16-team playoff s will be disappointed.

Let’s start with the option that, from interviews, seems to have the most traction: a four-team event with seeded semifinals and a championship game.

This model works because it satisfies the desire for change without, traditionalists believe, diminishing the value of the regular-season and bowl games.

New school and old school forging a new path. It sells.

The devil, as is his custom, plunges his pitchfork into the details.

Would the semifinals be played in bowls, where the bowl experience becomes a business trip and fans of the winning team would have to travel twice?

Or would the semis be contested on campus? The smaller classifications make it work, but Division I-A scale is much different. National semifinals would be the second-largest productions of a season, with enormous attention from the news media. BCS bowls and NCAA Final Fours in large cities can handle the congestion. Could Manhattan, Kan., or Stillwater, Okla.? This concern has been quietly expressed.

Also discussed as a four-team option would be holding the semis and final at neutral sites through a bid process not branded as bowl games. If this were a PowerPoint presentation, Cowboys Stadium and Jerry Jones would fill the screen.

A piece of two of the models may work best: semifinals at bowl sites — winner could get an Orange Bowl trophy like the AFC champion hoists the Lamar Hunt Trophy — and the finalists advance to the bidded-out College Bowl (OK, you come up with a name).

Applying last year’s BCS standings, the winners between LSU-Stanford and Alabama-Oklahoma State would have met in a championship.

Three other models for determining a national champion are offered in the paper, and fall into two categories: Not enough and too much.

First are two ideas that aren’t bold enough. One thought is to stay the current BCS course but eliminate the limit of teams from one conference and do away with the automatic qualifiers that have kept out higher-ranked teams. The other thought is the original “plus-one,” selecting two teams after the bowls.

The third model intends to preserve the Rose Bowl. The two highest-ranked teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 would always play in Pasadena, Calif., and if it were part of a national-title structure, fine. If not, fine.

The Rose Bowl was/is/always will be special and has survived the invasion from Oklahoma, Texas and TCU. The Granddaddy can keep its Big Ten/Pac-12 game, dropping in the standings for a matchup if the champions are involved in a four-team playoff.

But if Oregon and Wisconsin were top-four teams, they ‘d have to line up with the rest of college football and engage in the playoff. It doesn’t work otherwise.

The commissioners have talked about more than a championship. Also on the table are models to reshape the highest-profile bowls, with matchups determined by a committee “with the aim of providing the most evenly matched and attractive games that make geographic sense for the participants.” Five to 10 bowls would be involved, and this would be the postseason experience for conference champions of non-playoff participants plus at-large teams.

BCS officials meet later this month in Florida, but Hancock said no action would be taken on the postseason format’s future. Conference meetings in May and June will bring university presidents up to speed, and a new college football postseason world is expected to be unveiled by July 1, to become effective with the 2014 season.

It won’t arrive with the suddenness of a motorcycle crash, but change is coming. An official close to the BCS told me recently, “Don’t be surprised if the BCS as we know it goes away.”

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