College football seems destined for the four-team playoff and now the decisions have come down to how they implement the plan. It seems that on-campus sites have lost all traction at the negotiating table and neutral-site games reign supreme.
Mark Schlabach at ESPN gives us a bit more news, as the current BCS bowls are being targeted as the host sites for the semifinals, with a caveat for tradition. From Schlabach:
Sources told ESPN.com that the commissioners are leaning toward incorporating the existing BCS bowls into a playoff. Instead of designating two BCS bowls as the host sites for two semifinal games before a particular season, the sites wouldn't be determined until the four participating teams were named.
An interesting turn of events.
Instead of designating the semifinal locations in advance, the playoff would wait until the final round of games are played to determine where teams go. Teams in the top two spots would get to go to their conference tie-in BCS bowl game to "host" a semifinal.
That means an SEC team in one of the top two spots would host at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A Pac-12 or Big Ten team in the top two spots heads to the Rose Bowl to host. A Big 12 team in the top two spots hosts at the Fiesta Bowl and an ACC team in the top two spots plays host at the Orange Bowl.
On the surface, that sounds good; those bowls still get their traditional teams into the fold instead of being forced down in the pecking order to select a lesser team. The power brokers are working hard to retain a sense of continuity between conferences and their longtime bowl tie-ins.
However, there are a handful of problems that have to be addressed should this be the move for the future of the game. Given the unique nature of this past season's problem, we must address that first. Two SEC teams finished in the top spots: LSU and Alabama. The problem here becomes what to do with Alabama.
LSU heads to the Sugar Bowl to take on Stanford, but the Crimson Tide are without a "home site" for their semifinal. If the Tide are sent to Glendale, they would be playing in the home site of their opponent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
No, it is not a true home game for the Pokes, but that is their home site. For the Fiesta Bowl, that is a great trade, as it gets to host a semifinal in a year where its tie-in team does not actually have the home-field advantage. For Alabama, it's playing at a site that is not exactly ideal for its fans.
Another issue here: Where do hosts with no home bowl play? The Big East, Notre Dame and all non-BCS conferences do not have home bowl sites. While it has yet to happen, the rules should account for these teams finishing in the top two spots.
Who do they uproot to play their semifinal game? Much like in the case of Alabama, the smart money may be on playing at the opponent's home bowl site, but that is not exactly a reward for the teams who finished in the top two spots.
The last issue to be addressed here is what to do with the teams that get displaced. If the Pac-12 is hosting a Big 12 team in the Rose Bowl for a semifinal, what becomes of the Big Ten opponent that normally plays in the Rose Bowl? This was one of the reasons the BCS Championship game was created—to eliminate the displacement of teams when the title game rotated to their site.
Under this scenario, the bowls who lose out on their tied-in team should be okay. The Orange Bowl losing out on a third- or fourth-place ACC team can select from the available squads to fill its slots. Given the nature of the Orange Bowl recently, the game might be able to get a more intriguing matchup just drawing from the available pool.
The Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl do not provide much of a displacement issue but the Rose Bowl, with its two team tie-in, would be brushing aside a Big Ten or Pac-12 champion nearly each time it hosted a semifinal. That's a trip to one of the two BCS bowls that is not hosting a semifinal that season.
Juggling that displacement with the other teams being selected for the bowls is going to give commissioners headaches. Not because it is difficult, but because every conference wants to make sure they see a piece of the big-time bowl action. When a Big Ten team misses out on the Rose Bowl so USC can host a semifinal against a fourth-ranked SEC team, that means the Orange or the Fiesta will be looking to pick that team up, instead of looking to add a non-BCS team or grab another opponent.
There are plenty of wrinkles to iron out in this plan. However, this is a great start to get the bowls incorporated in the plan and make sure that the games are played on the big stage.