BCS Presidents Approve Four-Team College Football Playoff

Big-time college football is headed for a playoff. On Tuesday, university presidents agreed to a four team playoff system that will result in a national champion, doing away with the BCS. All Things Considered host Melissa Block talks with NPR's Tom Goldman about the move

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

At long last, big-time college football has a playoff, if you want to call four teams a playoff. Today, a committee of university presidents agreed to a system that replaces the current Bowl Championship Series beginning in 2014.

NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me now. And, Tom, this is something that college football fans have wanted for years. President Obama has said he wants this championship game. What do you know about the deal?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Let me change your wording. You said wanted. Let's say clamoring for.

BLOCK: Begged for.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely, begged for. Four teams, a four-team playoff. There will be two semi-final games, and then a championship game. This all starts in 2014, in two years. It's a 12-year deal, so it runs through the 2025 season. So it will be four teams until then. The semi-final games will be held at current bowl game sites. The national championship game will be awarded to the highest bidder, and the bidding will be very high, of course.

And then there will be a rotation of the semi-final games among six bowl sites, and the rotation of the championship game that will be a neutral site. Another important thing, Melissa, a selection committee will rank the teams to play in this playoff, and, quote, unquote, "giving all the teams an equal opportunity to participate." Now, the committee will consider things such as a team's won-loss record, the strength of schedule, how tough the teams were that they played head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion.

BLOCK: Tom, I've seen the college bowl system that's been so reviled by fans, described(ph) as a cartel. There's a lot of money at stake here.

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: Walk us through what it means in this new system.

GOLDMAN: You know, we don't know. I think we can just say pretty much there will be a lot of money and a lot more money.

BLOCK: Going out on a limb there, aren't you Tom?

GOLDMAN: Going out on a limb. You know, critics always said that, you know - to the people who wanted to keep the old system - guys, let's do a playoff. There will be a lot more money. There certainly will be. And, you know, we don't know how the money will flow. But, you know, Melissa, this meeting today, it was supposed to stretch into the night. It took less than three hours. And you can bet that the conference commissioners didn't have to do much convincing of the presidents when they laid out what the money will be.

One figure that's floating out there, the Sporting News is reporting via a BCS source that a new TV deal for this four-team three-game playoff could be as high as $5 billion over 10 years. That's a lot of money.

BLOCK: Wow. Why just four teams, Tom? Why not a real full-blown playoff like we see in the NCAA basketball tournament?

GOLDMAN: You know, the presidents were asked that directly by one reporter, and, you know, because everyone would like to see, you know, tons, 64, 65, 68 teams like in basketball. The argument the BCS has always made for not having a playoff was to protect the regular season. College football regular season games are such big events. And if you're a contender and you loose one, you're often out of the running for the national championship.

With the playoff, they argued it would matter less if they lost in the regular season. You would still have a shot in the playoffs. And they thought that would water down those regular season games. They seem to be dipping their toe in the water with only four because they say it retains the importance of that regular season while making the post season more exciting, responding to the clamoring, as we said, for a playoff, and, as I said earlier, a lot more money.

There will be squawking with only four teams if yours is the fifth or sixth that didn't get in. You know, once critic, though, of the old system said it's not necessarily bad to have college football fans complaining about their teams not making it. It makes the whole process more dynamic.

BLOCK: And, Tom, this new playoff system and the championship game, that's all not going to start until the 2014 season, right?

GOLDMAN: Right. Right. We have two years to get really excited.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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