The powers that be, conference commissioners and presidents, approved a playoff Tuesday. Finally. Hooray!
Here are my thoughts on the details that are known.
The semifinals will rotate among six bowls. Three games will be played on New Year's Eve, three on New Year's Day. The selection committee will pick all the teams for the six bowls, but because of the bowl tie-ins they will be obligated to take the champions from the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC. The championship will be held the first Monday six or more days after the semis—"Championship Monday". Regarding New Year's Day Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said, "We're gonna take it back for college football". They did, but they've also occupied New Year's Eve. Like many of you, I've juggled watching the Peach Bowl and celebrating the new year. It doesn't work well, especially when Tech loses. Come 2014, New Year's Eve and Day will be a two-day, all-day, football holiday. Step aside family and friends.
Two of the three "contract" bowls are known. The Rose Bowl and the Champions Bowl—the month old arrangement between the Big 12 and SEC. The ACC has yet to announce the third, but according to Teel, "Swofford says bowl tie-in will include opponent pool for #ACC champion. Hello, Notre Dame?" A tie-in pool is second fiddle to a permanent conference partner, but there's no one available and respectable enough to go exclusive with. The solution isn't horrible (like playing Notre Dame every year would have been), and it's the best the ACC can do. Teel also says Notre Dame would have to be at least 12th nationally, which makes me believe the logic will be something like: ACC–ND if ND >= 12th, otherwise, ACC–highest ranking available non-ACC team. The ACC will either maintain the status quo and send its champion to the Orange Bowl, or it could strike a new arrangement. The Peach Bowl wants in at some capacity, and it has a good history with the ACC. The folks in Orlando also recognized the amount of money about to be dumped on the table, and approved a makeover for the Citrus Bowl.
Three large questions loom. How will the pot be chopped? What will selection committee look like, and how will it operate?
There's a sub-committee comprised of John Swofford (ACC), Mike Slive (SEC), Jim Delany (Big Ten), Bob Bowlsby (Big 12), Craig Thompson (MWC), and Jon Steinbrecher (MAC) tasked with analyzing playoff revenue distribution. So, two-thirds of the group are represented by "power" conferences.
CBSSports.com reported one proposal being considered by the commissioners is, "dividing the revenue based on the league's past performances, specifically Top 25 finishes in the final BCS rankings since 1998, the first year of the BCS." That sounds like a decent idea until you consider how much effort, or lack thereof, went into those polls either by human voters only interested in determining the top two teams (the primary goal of the BCS), or by flawed computer algorithms. CBSSports.com compiled two conference rankings, one weighted by top-25 finish, another just by total of top-25 finishes. In both analyses, the SEC and Big Ten are first and second respectively. The Big 12, ACC, and Pac-12 are 3rd-5th in weighted finishes, and the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 are 3rd-5th in top-25 finishes. The Big East places 6th, more than double the points behind the 5th place finisher, in each projection. Surprised at how the ACC stacks up? Me too, and even though I don't agree with the logic it's an acceptable solution.
Whatever the method is, I expect the result to be the same: current "non-BCS" leagues and the Big East on the short end of the stick.
Details on the selection committee are scarce. We know it will seed the playoffs, and select the 8 teams for the remaining 4 bowls. Additionally, Notre Dame Commissioner Jack Swarbrick did note that from midseason on the committee will release weekly standings of its top 20. We know conference champions will be prioritized, but not guaranteed anything. We don't know who will be on it, or what information (if any) they will use to determine their rankings. Selecting unbiased individuals would be ideal, but it's not realistic. Hopefully any bias will factor down, or out, with a diverse enough group. I hope it's a group "football people" charged with watching as much of the regular season as humanly possible, not a bunch of university officials with a plate full of other responsibilities. I'm OK with them having something similar to the BCS rankings at their disposal to help with their decisions. In most years the BCS failed because there was no way to immediately overcome the shortcomings of the algorithm, or there were more than two undefeated teams. Changes to the BCS formula were retroactive and didn't have the foresight to address future issues. Human intervention was missing. Now people can rationally think through scenarios like Miami/FSU in 2000 and Colorado/Oregon/Nebraska in 2001. If there's a year with five-or-more: undefeated teams, one-loss teams, or teams with a similar record, then that's when people will want to expand the field.
Virginia Tech fans should be happy with the format of the playoff, and college football's new postseason. I am at least. The ACC will have a contract bowl and access to the playoff. Since joining the ACC, the Hokies would've probably made the field-of-four just once (2007). But that's not a fault of the system. Being the most consistent team in an league best known for its parity probably won't earn us a playoff spot, nor should it. We need to start winning marquee non-conference matchups, and quit stubbing our toe out of the gates. Being selected as part of a four-team field is more accessible for Tech than being one of top-two teams in the BCS rankings. A popular sentiment among some Hokies is Tech doesn't stand a chance of winning two playoff games. I disagree. Any team good enough to have a perfect or near-perfect regular season will be good enough to compete for a championship.