Start of playoff sends college football into ‘a new era’

For the first time in 17 years, the college football season opens without the BCS to kick around.

The controversial and convoluted formula that determined the two teams to play for the national championship has been replaced by a committee that will select and seed a four-team field for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

“We enter into a new era,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the playoff, who previously held the same position with the BCS. “It’s remarkable to say those three words: College Football Playoff.”

Long demanded by fans, the playoff is by most accounts a welcomed and overdue change for college football. But the shift from a rigid mathematical formula to a committee’s subjective judgment will require some adjustment, too. The BCS was a known commodity. The playoff is an unknown.

So here goes, a season-opening primer on how this newfangled thing will work:

Q: Who will choose the four teams for the playoff?

A: The selection committee is described by Hancock as "an all-star team of 13 people of high integrity who know the game, love the game." The committee is chaired by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and includes four other current ADs: Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, USC's Pat Haden, West Virginia's Oliver Luck and Clemson's Dan Radakovich. Also on the committee: former coaches Tom Osborne and Tyrone Willingham, former star quarterback Archie Manning, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Air Force Academy superintendent Mike Gould, former NCAA executive Tom Jernstedt, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former USA Today sports writer Steve Wieberg.

Q: What criteria will the committee consider?

A: "It's all common-sense stuff — strength of schedule, head-to-head (results), comparison of common opponents and whether you won your conference championship," Hancock said. "Each committee member will work within those parameters to make their individual decisions." Members can use any other data they wish and are expected to review video of games, Hancock said.

Q: Can a team reach the playoff if it doesn’t win its conference?

A: Yes. Conference championships will be taken into consideration, but aren't a prerequisite or a guarantee. There are no automatic qualifiers for these playoffs.

Q: Is there a minimum or maximum number of teams that can be chosen from a single conference?

A: No. "The committee will select the best four teams, period, no strings attached," Hancock said.

Q: Will the selection committee rank teams during the season?

A: Beginning Oct. 27, after the ninth week of the regular season, committee members will convene in Dallas on Mondays and Tuesdays for the next five weeks to come up with top-25 rankings that will be announced Tuesday nights on ESPN. "This process will not be a matter, as has been done in college football forever, of everybody submitting lists of top 25 teams and somebody putting it into a computer and averaging the numbers," Hancock said. "This will be much more sophisticated and deliberative." As Hancock described it, the committee will conduct seven rounds of balloting, evaluating six to eight teams at a time, to arrive at its top 25.

Q: When will the playoff field be announced?

A: The committee plans to unveil the bracket at 12:45 p.m. Dec. 7. The committee's No. 1 team will play its No. 4 team in one semifinal, with the Nos. 2 and 3 teams meeting in the other semi. The winners will play for the national championship.

Q: When and where will the playoff games be played this season?

A: The semifinals will be played Jan. 1 in the Rose and Sugar bowls. The championship game will be played Jan. 12 — a Monday night — at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Q: Where will the semifinals be played in future seasons?

A: The Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta and Peach bowls — the top six bowls in the new pecking order — will rotate as semifinal hosts, each hosting a semifinal once every three years. The Orange and Cotton bowls will host the semifinals for the 2015 season, the Peach and Fiesta for the 2016 season.

Q: Where will championship games be played in future seasons?

A: The championship games for the 2015 and 2016 seasons will be played in Glendale, Ariz., and Tampa, Fla., respectively. The sites of the championship games for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons will be decided next year through a bid process, similar to the way host cities are chosen for the Super Bowl. Atlanta plans to bid to bring the championship game of the 2017 season to the new Falcons stadium.

Q: Does the NCAA run the playoff?

A: No. The playoff is controlled by the FBS conferences and FBS independents.

Q: Who will televise the playoff?

A: ESPN acquired broadcast rights to all College Football Playoff games through 2025.

Q: Will the playoffs generate more money than the BCS did?

A: Yes — at least twice as much.

Q: Who gets the money?

A: The revenue will be distributed to the 10 FBS conferences and independent institutions. The ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 will receive the largest amounts — a "base" of about $50 million per conference this season. The other five FBS leagues will split a combined $75 million. Conferences, in turn, will distribute the money to their members. In addition, conferences will receive another $6 million for each team they put into the playoff and $4 million for each team they put into another top-six bowl.

Q: And finally, when will chatter begin about expanding the playoffs from four teams to more?

A: It already has. "I sort of think maybe someday we'll go to eight teams," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. Hancock insists the playoff won't expand during its 12-year contract. But the BCS folks, including Hancock, used to dismiss the possibility of a four-team playoff, too. And here it is.