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June 21, 2012

Uncertainty of playoff format fueling anxiety in college athletics this summer

By: Jimmy Robertson

Normally, in the summertime, the buzzwords are “sun,” “sand,” “beach,” and “water.” But sitting in Jim Weaver’s office recently, the two of us came up with four others – “uncertainty,” “access,” “fairness,” and of course, “money.”

Those words refer to the college athletics landscape this summer. Actually, last summer, too. It just seems like it wouldn’t be summertime if there weren’t discontent in the world of college athletics.

Most of you know the situation. Internet chatter and media reports continue to surface about Florida State and Clemson being disgruntled and contemplating a move to the Big 12 Conference. Those schools’ reported reasoning centers around money, as the Big 12’s television deal is better, though only slightly. Also, speculation has those two schools trying to get in better position for the yet-to-be-decided college football playoff format.

This type of gossip has rattled some in Hokie Nation, with many concerned about the future of an ACC without two of its better football programs. Weaver has heard the concerns, but expresses optimism about the future of the current conference.

“Judging from our ACC meetings in Amelia Island [Fla., in May], I don’t think anyone is leaving,” Weaver said. “Also, I know Chuck Neinas [former interim Big 12 commissioner, who recently gave way to Bob Bowlsby], and I know he’s a straight shooter. When he says the Big 12 is comfortable with 10, then I believe him.”

The uncertainty – there’s that particular buzzword – of what shape the new college football playoff format will take on has put everyone on edge. Conference commissioners continue to mull various proposals and plans, though everyone pretty much agrees on a four-team format.

The question is – which four teams? Or, in other words, who gets “access” – another buzzword? Are conference champions included, or just the four “best” teams? How would you include the conference champions when there are five major conferences (excluding the Big East) and only four teams make the playoff? Is it fair for a conference champion to get left out? Hence, the buzzword “fairness.”

Also, who picks the four teams in this format? And how does Notre Dame fit into the mix? The Irish want access, too, of course.

So is “access” fueling all this speculation?

“I think that’s a very good question,” Weaver said. “And I think it is.”

Weaver agrees with most presidents and faculty representatives who want a four-team playoff, saying there aren’t enough dates because of exams and classes to make an eight-team arrangement work and be done by the first week of January. He liked the concept of a “Plus-One” model – a format that Tech head coach Frank Beamer supports as well – in which the No. 1 team in the BCS standings would play No. 4 and No. 2 would play No. 3 in two of the four major bowls, with the winners playing an additional game for the national championship. But he said the definition of a “Plus-One” has changed.

“Today, it’s to take all the bowl games in the BCS – Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange – and play them,” Weaver said. “Then, after those four games are played, hopefully within the week after Christmas and not later than New Year’s, then take a Plus-One. You take a selection committee or a ratings service – I don’t know how you get to it – but you select two out of those four winners to play for the national championship.”

Weaver expressed skepticism that this particular model would garner any support. He and his ACC colleagues want the conference champion to be included in any format.

“If you earn the championship in your league, you ought to be a participant,” he said.

Of course, we haven’t even talked “money” yet – the final, and maybe the most important, buzzword. Everyone wants access because the payout figures to be huge. Some in the television industry are saying between $400 and $500 million for a four-team format. But who gets how much? No one knows.

In fact, no one knows anything.

“What you’ll see in the next six weeks or maybe two months is a lot of jockeying to serve self or self’s conference, in my opinion,” Weaver said. “I hope, when it’s all said and done, that the decision that is made is the best for college football and helps the most institutions, and that there is the greatest amount of access in the limited amount of time we have to do this.”

Until that time, guess what we’re left with? Uncertainty. It’s the word that figures to create discontent in college athletics for the rest of this summer.