A college football playoff is coming to a season near you, provided the sport's power-brokers do something they haven't always done.
So says OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, one of those decision-makers.
An expansion of the current two-team playoff to a four-team format is in the works and could be decided this summer. But the proposed models are many, and the agendas are many for the various conferences and schools.
“I do think people are genuine and sincere in trying to move change forward,” Castiglione said. “People are willing to accept change, but how much change are they willing to accept?
“May not lead to a perfect solution. Perhaps a perfect solution is unattainable. We, all of us, the public, may just have to be OK with that for now, because it is a step in the right direction.”
Castiglione said the Sooner priority is clear: protection of the regular season. He said President David Boren, and the Big 12 as a whole, agrees.
Preservation and enhancement of the regular season is vital to Castiglione.
“If our regular season is strong, our postseason will be strong, too,” Joe C. said. “If we make this all about the postseason, we will have made one of the colossal errors in college football.”
What does preservation or enhancement of the regular season mean? Castiglione admitted the answer is abstract. But he tried to explain.
“Every Saturday matters,” Castiglione said. “The idea that when we host football games on our campuses, it's important. We don't have that in college basketball right now. Whether that is a fair or an unfair comparison …
“The games need to matter in the minds of the stakeholders in college football. That's what draws television ratings and ticket-holders. That's what draws attention to the sport in general.”
Some of the proposed models include limiting the four participants to conference champions. Which would certainly promote the regular season. However, that comes with ramifications.
What about Notre Dame? What about an elite runner-up, like Alabama in 2011 or Texas in 2008? What if the Big 12, with no championship game, has a tie for the title?
“One thing has to be understood,” Castiglione said. “Each model creates a set of consequences. The group has to be willing to accept those consequences. That is where it gets difficult.
“Some people want certain things protected. My cautionary statement is we must continue to discuss and think it through and allow the process to take place before you put a stake in the ground that can't be moved.
“It will be most difficult getting enough votes to support a single model.”
But Joe C. did admit that the discussions have gone too far, the public appetite for a four-team tournament has grown too anticipated, for college football to not do something.
And once the format is adopted, the debate starts all over again with the decision on a selection process. Thankfully, Castiglione said, that's the chicken-egg order. Most decision-makers agree that the model needs to be established before the selection process, be it the old BCS rankings, a revamped BCS formula or even some kind of selection committee.
Speaking of which, part of OU's eventual pitch will include a strength of schedule component, “true and understandable,” Joe C. said. A separate strength of schedule component was part of the BCS through the 2003 season but was discarded, and the sport has seen fewer and fewer worthwhile nonconference games since.
Other issues Castiglione addressed concerning the expanded playoff:
* There is no movement to totally scrap the bowl system. Whether that means the entire three-game playoff is within the bowl system or only partially or even not at all, who knows?
“I'm a traditionalist,” Castiglione said. “There's something very special about college football. And the bowl system has served the best interests of college football for 80, 90 years.”
Joe C. even said the major bowls could end up better off, even if the national title game is played outside their auspice. The major bowls could be enhanced if they are freed from regulated matchups — avoiding games like Oklahoma-Connecticut in the Fiesta, Georgia-Hawaii in the Sugar or Wake Forest-Louisville in the Orange.
* Access to the four-team field will include the minor conferences like the Mountain West and Conference USA.
“There has to be some understanding there's access for everyone, as there is now,” Castiglione said.
But that doesn't mean the minor conferences will have ready access to the major bowls, as they do now.
* Using selection criteria that includes preseason rankings must be addressed. A “key flaw,” Castiglione called it.
* Conference and school officials have at least talked about a model that does not include the Pac-12 or the Big Ten, should those leagues decide they prefer to stay with their traditional Rose Bowl alignment rather than venture into a four-team playoff.
“Inside the room, we understand they want to protect something unique,” Castiglione said.
* Campus sites aren't totally out of the equation. While Castiglione said that previous reports are true — campus sites for the semifinals create all kinds of logistical problems — it's also true that semifinals played on neutral fields, be they bowls or not, could create ticket-buying problems. A team in a league with a championship game could be asking its fans to travel to three out-of-state games in a four- or five-week span.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.