Since its 1998 inception, the college football Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has become the most hated postseason event in the country – even drawing a 2011 Department of Justice investigation for possible violation of antitrust laws. Relying on a mix of human polls and stat-crunching computers to determine the annual title-game matchup, the series also uses a sequence of convoluted contingencies that decide which top teams get to compete in high-stakes bowl games, an opaque process that inevitably outrages fans and even caused President Obama, in 2008, to argue for a change to the system. Now, change we can believe in has arrived. In 2014, college football is taking a page from the NCAA March Madness playbook and debuting its first-ever postseason bracket: the College Football Playoff.
The playoff will feature the four highest-ranked teams in the country, as selected and seeded by a 13-person selection committee (which includes Condoleezza Rice), in New Year's Day semifinal matches and a title game to follow. Ahead of the transition, we caught up with Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS, who will be in charge of the new playoffs. "Time's change," Hancock told us. "The fans want a bracket."
We asked Hancock to explain why the playoffs were the right decision and what college football fans can expect next season. Here are his responses.
Why get rid of the bowl system now?
The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) agreements were for four years – so every four years, the group of commissioners and university presidents got together, studied the matter, and made a decision about the future format. When the fourth BCS contract was about to expire – the one that will end after this season – the group got together and said, 'How can we make this better? What's in the best interests of the athletes and the game?' And look, many of these fans would like us to try a playoff. Can we do it and still adhere to the three principles? And it was a matter of hundreds of hours of discussions and evaluations and modeling that resulted in the decision on June 26, 2012, in the meeting of the presidents in Washington, D.C. And, oh man, it was a momentous day for college football.
These are people accustomed to making important decisions under scrutiny, and only after a long thoughtful contemplative period of study and debate, and that's what happened in our process. I think we had maybe a dozen meetings, and three times that many conference calls. You just don't take a step like this without thorough research and evaluation and debate.
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