ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
WASHINGTON — Playoffs and tournaments long have determined champions of every college sport from baseball to bowling.
The exception was major college football.
That ended Tuesday. Come 2014, the BCS is dead.
A committee of university presidents approved a plan for a four-team playoff put forward by commissioners of the top football conferences.
The new system doesn't go too far, Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said.
"It goes just the right amount," he said.
The move completes a six-month process for the commissioners, who have been working on a new way to determine a major college football champion after years of griping from fans. The latest configuration is certain to make even more money for the schools than the old system.
"There were differences of views," Steger said. "I think it would be a serious mistake to assume it was a rubber stamp."
Instead of simply matching the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a title game after the regular season, the way the Bowl Championship Series has done since 1998, the new format will create a pair of national semifinals.
College football fans have been clamoring for a playoff for years, and the BCS has been a constant target for criticism. Lawmakers have railed against it. A political action committee was formed, dedicated to its destruction. The Justice Department looked into whether it broke antitrust laws. Even President Obama said he wanted a playoff.
Now it's a reality.
No. 1 will play No. 4, and No. 2 will play No. 3 on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The sites of those games will rotate among the four current BCS bowls — Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar — and two more to be determined.
The winners will advance to the championship on the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the last semifinal. The first championship Monday is set for Jan. 12, 2015.
The site of the title game will move around the way the Super Bowl does, with cities bidding for the right to host.
The teams will be selected by a committee, similar to the way the NCAA basketball tournament field is set. The men's tournament has 68 teams, and 37 at-large bids.
The football committee will have a much tougher task, trying to whittle the field down to four. Among the factors the committee will consider is won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. This season, 125 schools will play at the highest level of college football.
"I think it's tremendous progress," Washington State coach Mike Leach, a playoff proponent. "Five years ago there wasn't even dialogue about a playoff. Instead of diving in the water, they dipped their toes in. I think it's' going to be ridiculously exciting and it's going to generate a bunch of money. I wish they dived in."
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.
There are still some details to work out — such as who will be on the committee and what new bowls will be involved in the semifinal rotation — but all the decision-makers are on board.
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.