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A four-team playoff in college football? What a fantastic thing that would be

by Berry Tramel Published: March 3, 2012

IRVING, Texas — Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas figures to be off the job by July 1. But Neinas thinks college football will look different by June.

Neinas believes that within a few months, we'll have an expanded college football playoff, some version of a four-team tournament.

And Neinas is among the growing number of leaders with a certain idea for the parameters: conference championship required.

“I like the idea, if you're going to take four, take four champions,” Neinas said. “They're not hard to identify.

“The selection process is one that would concern me. The easiest is taking four conference champions.”

Past and present college football power brokers have said the same thing in recent days: Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott and former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer. Kramer invented the BCS; some would say he invented the modern SEC, too.

I've got to tell you. This is very unsettling. College football leaders talking with wisdom. It's so rarely happened throughout history, I don't know quite how to respond.

But the idea of a four-team playoff, with conference champions only — maybe you set a criteria for independent Notre Dame, maybe you don't — would be a fantastic development.

It would be the juice equivalent of the NCAA Tournament going to a 64-team bracket. Would be the marketing equivalent of baseball playing World Series night games. Would be the competitive equivalent of the NFL sharing television revenue.

College football would enter a brave new world, in which many more teams would have a shot at a national championship. A world in which results, not opinions, would rule.

The other day, sitting in Neinas' Las Colinas office, I asked him the downside to such a playoff.

“Don't know of any,” Neinas said.

The upside?

“Looking at it very broadly, we've agreed, we've got to do something to maintain public interest,” Neinas said. “We want a vibrant postseason. We have to explore ideas that will make it better. There's obviously strong support of a four-team arrangement.”

Vibrant postseason. Wow. What a concept.

I'm no playoff nut job. I can see the benefits of the bowl system, and I can see the pitfalls of a runaway playoff system.

That glorious 64-team bracket, for example, no longer exists. It's an unwieldy 68-team bracket, no doubt headed for 96 or some such number. Some trains are hard to stop.

But vibrant postseason sounds good to us all. Playoff rebels. Bowl aficionados. Doesn't matter.

Neinas said the postseason is not the No. 1 mission of college football decision-makers.

“The main goal is to protect the regular season,” Neinas said. “No. 2, we want to have a vibrant postseason, and that includes bowl games.”

The four-team, champions-only format would do both. The most recent Big Bowl, matching LSU and Alabama, made a mockery of the regular season. The game of the year was reduced to irrelevancy. Didn't matter who won.

LSU played its way into the national title game. Bama got there through politics. Campaigns, marketing, polling, pundits. All the trappings that make politics and college football's current postseason so distasteful.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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