By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — SEC Commissioner Mike Slive came here four years ago with a plan to remake the Bowl Championship Series by creating two national semifinals to determine which teams played for the national championship.
Not only was Slive's proposal shot down by his fellow commissioners, he wasn't even allowed to call it a playoff.
Now, for the first time, all the power brokers who run major college football are ready to have its championship decided the way it's done from peewees to the pros. And the way fans have been hoping they would for years.
"I've always tried not to use the dreaded P word," Slive said Thursday. "But now we're all using it. So what the heck."
Yes, major college football is on the verge of implementing a playoff, its own version of the final four. Two semifinals and a title game.
"I'm very stunned," said former Alabama running back and Cleveland Browns draft pick Trent Richardson, who won two BCS championship games with the Crimson Tide.
There's still plenty left to figure out, though. First of all, where and when to play the games and how the bowls fit in. After that, Slive and his cohorts have to come up with a way to select the four teams. The new postseason format would go into effect for the 2014 season.
As for the 14-year-old BCS, it's on life support. Any chance that it survives past the next two seasons? "I hope not," Slive said.
"This is a seismic change for college football," BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said after the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame's athletic director wrapped up three days of meetings in south Florida.
Hancock said the commissioners will present a "small number" of options for a four-team playoff to their leagues over the next month or so at conference meetings. He estimated that between two and seven configurations are being considered.
It'll be up to each conference to determine which plan it likes best. The commissioners will get back together in June and try to come up with a final version, and eventually the university presidents will have to sign off on it. Hancock has said they'd like a new format ready for presidential approval by July 4.
And he warned that if no agreement is reached, the fallback could be sticking with an overhauled version of the old system, which aims for a No. 1 vs. No. 2 championship game.
But that's a long shot.
"It's great to get to a point where there seems to be general consensus that a four-team, three-game playoff is the best route to go," Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said. "The next challenge obviously is figuring out a format that brings consensus where we can truly make that work. The more this narrows, the more challenging it gets."
Figuring out when to play the games should be easy.
The commissioners all agree the college football season needs to wrap up as close to Jan. 1 as possible. That would mean semifinals soon after Christmas and the title game within a few days of the calendar flipping.
"One of the goals is to make the postseason a celebration of college football," Slive said. "And to focus in on a reasonable time frame that is consistent with a reasonable bowl season. And then be able to have a championship game and semifinals at a time and a place that would allow us to really celebrate college football at a time when people are thinking about college football, which is in and around the end of December and early January."
Where is the best place to celebrate college football? That figures to be a heated debate.
Slive has made it clear he's not a fan of playing semifinals on campus, a plan the Big Ten has presented and the Pac-12 supports.
"I'm a big proponent of it," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. "That was the choice we made in our conference with our championship game. Collegiate atmosphere. Guaranteed sellout. We've said all along preserving the regular season is important. What better way to emphasize the importance of the regular season then having a chance to earn a home game? It's a proven NFL model."
Slive prefers playing the games at neutral sites, the way the NCAA basketball tournament does.