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BCS Presidents Approve Football Playoff System


College football fans are belting out a one word chant this morning: Finally. As in finally, there's a post-season playoff at the sport's highest level. Yesterday, a committee of college presidents approved a four-team, three game plan. When it starts in 2014, it'll end major college football's isolation as the only big time team sport that does not decide its championship with a playoff. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: College football fans, up off your knees. The begging is over. OK, maybe not completely over - four teams don't make for a very big playoff. But big enough for the university presidents who approved the 12-year deal, like Virginia Tech's Charles Steger.

CHARLES STEGER: A four team playoff doesn't go too far, it goes just the right amount.

GOLDMAN: A selection committee, not those blasted computers of the last 14 years, will choose and rank four teams. The committee will pick 'em based on things like how tough the team's schedules were and whether the teams were conference champions. The luster of college football on New Year's Day returns as the two semifinal games play out on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. A championship game follows at a neutral site in a city that's the highest bidder.

The semis will rotate among six existing bowl sites. That was one of the goals of the conference commissioners who hammered out the plan over the past six months, keep the existing bowl system largely intact. They also wanted to keep the regular season relevant, where every game matters as teams vie for limited postseason spots. Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany says commissioners achieve that with their modest four team playoff.

JIM DELANY: We think the more robust the postseason is the more negative effects it has on the regular season. And right now the regular season is the best in sports and we intend to keep it that way.

GOLDMAN: The plan passed its first acid test. It got Dan Wetzel to say this...

DAN WETZEL: It's a great day for America. College football finally has a playoff.

GOLDMAN: Sportswriter and author Wetzel hates the Bowl Championship Series, the post-season system being replaced by the new playoff, as much as anyone. The title of his book, "Death to the BCS," is a pretty good indicator. Wetzel can't not be a critic. He says the plan has shortcomings. But overall, he says the playoff is a huge step for the conference commissioners who came up with the plan.

WETZEL: It's a very conservative group of people making these decisions, and the bowl industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying them to stick with the status quo. So for them to make at least this much of a statement and move the game forward and set up a playoff of any kind is a dramatic move for college sports.

GOLDMAN: Wetzel says several factors contributed to the move - last year's Fiesta Bowl scandal revealed employees had curried favors from college football officials and made illegal political contributions. Wetzel says the revelation weakened the bowl industry's position. He also says fans got smarter about the system and more demanding of change. And the conference commissioners finally embraced the promise of billions more in revenues from a playoff.

Still to be decided - how to divide that revenue. Also, will schools from smaller conferences have access to the playoff? For now though, fans - from the bare-chested face painters in the stands to President Obama - can stop clamoring for a playoff and start preparing for one in two more years.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.


WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.