WASHINGTON - After 14 years of controversy and barroom debate, big-time college football will finally get a postseason playoff in the 2014 season.
The current, much-derided method for producing a champion, the Bowl Championship Series, will be replaced by a four-team playoff, the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee announced Tuesday.
The four national semifinalists will be selected by a committee, much like the NCAA basketball tournament is set. No conference will automatically qualify one of its teams.
The two semifinal games will be rotated among six bowl sites over a 12-year period, and will be played on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Those bowls have not been selected yet.
The championship game will be held at a neutral site, and cities will have the opportunity to bid on the event. The game will be played on the first Monday in January, unless it falls on New Year’s Day.
“It will be much like the Super Bowl,’’ said Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big 10 Conference. “You’ll be dealing with civic communities and I think it’ll be a national process and people have to be very energetic about it. I think it’s going to be great for the sport.’’
The committee’s approval of the plan, which was proposed by the commissioners of the BCS conferences, ended a six-month period that was filled with meetings, proposals and seemingly more questions than answers.
“Where we’ve arrived, I think, is a consensus built on compromise,’’ said John Swofford, the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The playoff selection committee’s makeup has not been determined. Its criteria for evaluating teams will include record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and whether it is its conference champion.
Swofford said he would like the committee to consist of at least 12 members, leaving leeway in case committee members must step aside while teams they are associated with are discussed. (The NCAA basketball tournament’s selection committee has 10 members.) Delany said he expected the committee to include more than 10 but less than 20 members, including administrators and possibly current or former coaches.
Most important, Delany said of the committee’s members, they must watch plenty of college football.
“You can’t pass the eye test unless you watch,’’ Delany said. “You have to use your eyes.’’
Of course, Delany said, controversy remains inevitable, as there will be debate about the teams left out of the playoff. But the presidents and the conference commissioners said they felt strongly that this was a step in the right direction.
“It’s a best-of-both-worlds result,’’ said Charles Steger, the president of Virginia Tech. “It captures the excitement of a playoff while protecting the best regular season in sports, and also the tradition of the bowls.’’
The other main hurdles include television contracts and revenue distribution models. When asked how the revenue system might change, Ed Ray, the Oregon State president, had a succinct but honest prediction.
“Up,’’ he said, smiling and pointing skyward.
No one has put a hard number on it yet, but this new format figures to more than double the TV revenue of the current BCS and Rose Bowl contracts. Those pay out about $155 million annually.
The commissioners want to lock in this format for 12 years with a television partner. The current BCS deal with ESPN runs through the 2013 season. The new format will be presented to potential TV partners in the fall, starting with ESPN.
Lower divisions of college football already have a playoff, but the highest level has always used bowls and polls to determine its champion. Those days are coming to an end.
“By making this change we felt we could enhance the regular season but at the same time provide the fans with the kind of postseason that will contribute to the regular season,’’ Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive said.