After years of clamoring for a college football playoff, fans get their wish this season and for at least the next 11 after that.
But it might not be exactly what many of you had in mind.
An 8- or 16-team tournament would have been more inclusive and potentially more captivating, but college presidents instead opted for a four-team, three-game playoff system which they believe will be an improvement over the Bowl Championship Series.
Unlike the BCS, which was in place from 1998 through last season, there will be two national semifinal games, with the winners advancing to the championship. And unlike the BCS, a committee — not a convoluted and confusing computer formula — will determine the participants.
The College Football Playoff (CFP), which has set up its headquarters in Dallas, might not be immune from controversy, however.
If one team hypothetically finishes unbeaten and six finish with one loss, the committee will need to somehow decide which of the one-loss teams to invite to the four-team playoff and which to exclude, considering factors such as strength of schedule and common opponents.
The committee will release a top 25 poll every Tuesday for the next six weeks. To coincide with the CFP’s first top 25, we offer 25 questions and answers to familiarize readers with the new playoff system.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question: How will the committee select the four teams invited to the playoffs?
Answer: The process will be similar to the one used for selecting schools for the NCAA basketball tournament.
Beyond won-loss record, the CFP says it will consider strength of schedule, conference championships won, head-to-head competition, comparative outcomes against common opponents “and other relevant factors that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.”
The CFP says committee members “will have flexibility to examine whatever data they believe is relevant. They will also review a significant amount of game video.”
Q: Are there any conference restrictions regarding what four teams can be selected?
A: No. There is no limit to the number of teams that can be chosen from one conference, unlike the BCS system. The committee will select the top four teams and seed them, with the top-seeded team playing the No. 4 seed and the No. 2 seed meeting the No. 3 seed.
Q: So who’s on this committee?
A: A mix of prominent people who have been involved in college athletics, plus former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Air Force Academy superintendent Michael C. Gould.
The others on the inaugural committee: Athletic directors at Arkansas (Jeff Long), Southern California (Pat Haden), Clemson (Dan Radakovich), West Virginia (Oliver Luck) and Wisconsin (Barry Alvarez).
Also serving: former NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt; former USA Today college football reporter Steve Wieberg, ex-Stanford/Notre Dame/Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former Nebraska coach and athletic director Tom Osborne.
Former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, one of 13 people originally named to the committee, said he will not participate this season because of a medical issue. So the committee will have 12 members this season.
Most committee members will have three-year terms, but some will serve a shorter or longer term to allow for a rotation of members. The committee members won’t be paid, but their expenses will be reimbursed.
Q: But what about potential conflicts of interest with the committee members? Will schools with committee members have an advantage over others?
A: That’s not supposed to happen. Committee members will be recused from voting on a team if they or an immediate family member works for the school “or has a professional relationship with that school.”
They cannot be present for deliberations about their schools but they can be asked questions about their schools.
That means all of the current or former athletic directors will not be able to vote on their current or most recent school. Also, Gould will not be permitted to vote on Air Force (his alma mater) and Rice will not be allowed to vote on Stanford, where she has served as a professor and provost.
Q: When will the committee start releasing polls?
A: The committee’s ranking of 25 teams will be released every Tuesday night on ESPN for six consecutive weeks, beginning this week.
The two national semifinal matchups will be announced at 12:45 p.m. Dec. 7, and the final top 25 poll — and the matchups for the other marquee bowl games — will be disclosed at 2:45 p.m.
Q: So what happens to the Associated Press poll?
A: It will continue to be released, but unlike past years, it no longer will have any bearing in determining a champion. Nor will the computer rankings that were used by the BCS. Only the CFP committee’s poll will carry weight in determining matchups.
Q: When will the semifinal games be played and what network will televise them?
A: Both semifinals will be played on the same day, either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. This season’s semifinals will be on Jan. 1 in New Orleans and Pasadena, California.
The championship game will be played on a Monday night, with the 2015 game scheduled for Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
ESPN will carry both semifinals and the championship game for all 12 years of the contract.
Q: Where will be the semifinal games be played?
A: The semifinals will alternate among six bowls: The Orange (South Florida), Sugar (New Orleans), Rose (Pasadena), Cotton (Arlington), Fiesta (Glendale, Arizona) and Peach (Atlanta), with each hosting four semifinals over the next 12 years.
The Orange Bowl semifinals will be played on Dec. 31 in 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024.
Q: And where the championship game will be played?
A: Three championship games have been awarded: to North Texas in 2015, Glendale in 2016 and Tampa in 2017.
Q: Will Sun Life Stadium get a championship game?
A: Possibly. Sun Life (and several other stadiums) lost out to Tampa for the 2017 game, but South Florida plans to bid for the championship in years it’s not hosting a semifinal. Cities are not permitted to host the title game and a semifinal during the same season.
Sun Life Stadium officials hope South Florida’s attractive winter climate, the ongoing renovations to the stadium and the region’s rich college football history will help it snag at least one title game during the 12-year contract.
But competition is stiff, both from the five other bowl cities in the playoff rotation, and several other markets that are not, including Tampa, the San Francisco Bay Area, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Orlando, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
If Sun Life Stadium is awarded a championship game at some point during the 12 years, it would also host the Orange Bowl that year.
Q: How will it be decided which playoff teams will play in which bowls?
A: Geography will be considered, especially for the top two seeds. For example, when the national semifinals are played in the Orange and Cotton Bowls — which will happen next season — the Seminoles most likely would be sent to the Orange Bowl if they are the No. 1 seed.
Q: How will matchups be decided for the marquee bowls that aren’t hosting national semifinals?
A: In the case of the “contract” bowls (Orange, Rose and Sugar), the bowls and the conferences with which they are contracted will determine the matchups, based on the selection committee’s final poll.
For example, in the eight years when it does not host a national semifinal game, the Orange Bowl will get the ACC champion.
If the ACC champ is involved in the playoffs, the OB instead would get the next-highest-ranked ACC team in the final CFP poll against the highest ranked nonchampion from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame.
The champion (or next-highest ranked) teams from the Big 10 and Pac-12 will meet in the Rose, and the Big 12 and SEC will square off in the Sugar.
For the “host” bowls (Cotton, Fiesta and Peach) the matchups will be determined by the selection committee.
Q: OK, so we know the Orange Bowl will have an ACC team during the eight years when it doesn’t host a semifinal. But who will the opponent be?
The opponent generally will be the highest-ranked available team from the SEC (but not the conference champion), Big 10 (but not the conference champion) or Notre Dame, based upon the selection committee’s rankings.
But here’s the catch: Notre Dame cannot be selected for the OB more than twice over those eight years. Also, the SEC and Big Ten each must have at least three OB appearances over those eight years.
So there might be some years when the ACC team isn’t playing the highest-ranked available team from the SEC, Big 10 or Notre Dame.
Q: But if the Orange Bowl ends up with a regular-season rematch, can it force the committee to come up with a different matchup?
A: Yes, but all involved parties (ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Notre Dame and the Orange Bowl) must agree. If it’s an attractive matchup, the OB wouldn’t necessarily oppose a rematch.
Q: Will the Orange Bowl continue to be played at night?
Often, but not always. For its four semifinals, the games will be played at 5 or 8:30 p.m., with the committee and ESPN deciding which slot to give the Orange and which slot to give the Cotton.
For its eight nonsemifinal games over the next 12 years, two will be on Dec. 30 at 8 p.m., two will be on Dec. 31 at 8 p.m., two will be on Dec. 31 at 1 p.m. and two will be on Jan. 1 at 1 p.m.
Q: Where does the new system leave the nonmarquee conferences?
A: The highest-ranked champion of the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as determined by the selection committee’s final poll, will play in one of three host bowls (the Peach, Fiesta or Cotton) that are part of the national semifinal rotation.
It would be difficult to imagine a team from one of those conferences being selected for the four-team playoff, though it’s not prohibited.
Q: What happens to the ACC champion during years the Orange Bowl is hosting a national semifinal?
A: If the ACC champion isn’t part of the four-team playoff, it would play in the Fiesta or Peach bowls.
Q: How often will committee members meet?
A: The group will meet weekly, in the Dallas area, on Mondays and Tuesdays, then will reconvene Dec. 6 to determine the playoff teams and the pairings.
Q: Will the committee members actually submit ballots for their top 25?
A: Yes. Here’s how the process will work, and commit this to memory, because there will be a quiz later:
Each member will create a list of the 25 best teams in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
Each member then will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
Each member then will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.
Q: Who will select the matchups for the more than two dozen bowl games that aren’t part of the semifinal rotation?
A: Individual bowls will continue to select those matchups. Most have conference tie-ins.
For example, the inaugural Miami Beach Bowl on Dec. 22 at Marlins Park will match BYU against an American Athletic Conference team. The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 23 at FAU Stadium will match a Conference USA team against a Mid-American Conference team.
Q: Why is the committee releasing polls so far in advance of selection of the four playoff teams?
A: “That's what the fans have become accustomed to, and we felt it would leave a void in college football without a ranking for several weeks,” Long said. “Early on there was some talk that we would go into a room at the end of the season and come out with a top four, but that didn’t last long.”
Each week, the ranking process will begin from scratch, with no weight given to the previous week’s rankings.
Q: How can fans buy tickets to the championship game?
A: The CFP says there are two ways: A) Through a random drawing in which 1,000 tickets are made available in February of the year before the championship game.
Winners of the drawing have the right to purchase two tickets. The random drawing for this season’s title game is closed.
B) Through a “Team Tix forward market” in which 2,500 tickets are made available though Nov. 24.
Fans may make reservations to purchase tickets for any particular team, with prices determined by demand. Then if that team qualifies for the national championship, that fan will be able to purchase tickets at face value. See collegefootballplayoff.com for more information.
Q: Will the committee members be expected to attend games?
A: The CFP says “members will not be expected to attend games in person” but “they will be expected to watch video extensively.”
Q: How much is ESPN paying for TV rights to the CFP?
A: Quite a lot: $7.3 billion for 12 years. That’s an average of about $608 million per year and includes $215 million per year that was already committed to the Orange, Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls.
Conversely, the most recent contract with the BCS paid almost $2 billion over four years — $495 million per year for five games.
With Brent Musburger demoted to the SEC Network, Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit will call the championship game for ESPN this season and for the foreseeable future.
Q: How much revenue will the CFP generated and how will it be distributed?
A: The system will produce about $500 million per year. After about $150 million in expenses are deducted, the five major conferences will split about 75 percent of the remaining money, which will amount to about $50 million per league each year over the 12 years.
The nonmarquee “Group of Five” conferences will get around 25 percent, about $90 million a year ($18 million per league). Notre Dame will receive about one percent, or less than $4 million, and other FBS independents get about 0.5 percent of the deal.
Conferences will receive an additional $6 million each year for each team it places in the semifinals and $4 million for a team in one of the three at-large bowls. Notre Dame would also receive that payout if it’s selected.