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.
“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.
“So much of the passion of a move to a playoff is to see it earned on the field,” Scott told The New York Times. “What more clear way to have intellectual consistency with the idea of a playoff than to earn it as a conference champion?
“It would de-emphasize the highly subjective polls that are based on a coach and media voting and a few computers.”
Wow. I like that guy.
Even Kramer said much the same thing, to cbsssports.com: “It makes those conference championship games bigger. It makes the regular season bigger.”
Such a format last season would have produced semifinals of LSU-Wisconsin and OSU-Oregon.
Everybody seems to want those played on home fields, which I think is goofy, but I won't quibble.
Playing the semifinals on home fields would free up the bowls to continue their traditions — the Rose Bowl would not have to hold its nose for Oklahoma State or Louisiana State to play in its game.
And playing the semifinals on home fields would pacify those poor souls who want to keep the polls or the BCS rankings empowered. Somebody would have to decide who gets to play and host.
“There's concern about selection,” Neinas admitted. “For example, strength of schedule is not currently used. You're going to have strength of schedule in there.”
Even better news. Returning a strength of schedule element to the process would do more than protect the regular season, it would enhance September. Could motivate teams to beef up their schedules; putrid nonconference games are the bane of college football.
Some have criticized the champions-only model, saying every playoff in the world embraces wild cards.
I don't know if that's true. But this is true: No playoff in the world includes wild cards to the exclusion of champions.
Yeah, March Madness is full of at-large teams. But the champs are in, too. Baseball just added another wild-card team to its October, but a primary benefit was to enhance the status of division winners. Sure, the NFL has wild cards, and like Alabama, sometimes they win the whole enchilada. But NFL division winners aren't shut out of the process; they even get at least one guaranteed home game.
So shed no tears for second-place teams omitted from a four-team tournament. They had their at-bats.
The recent BCS meetings left everyone involved thinking change was coming.
The Big 12, which a couple of years ago helped torpedo an expanded playoff, is now on board.
“The sentiment is, the majority wants some type of four-team arrangement,” Neinas said.
“Among the majors (conferences), there's no desire to go beyond four.”
Four's plenty. Especially if all four are champions.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.