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College Football Playoff Format Coming Into Focus

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SEC commissioner Mike Slive gets what he wants. (Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty Images)
SEC commissioner Mike Slive gets what he wants. (Photo by Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty Images)
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The college football world has taken a break from the latest round of realignment rumors to wait for the powers that be to decide on a format for the new playoff system under discussion that will replace the BCS.

On Wednesday, reports began to emerge that the conference commissioners reached a consensus, which was in question at times as battle lines were drawn between the SEC/Big 12 alliance and the Big 10/Pac-12.

Here's the initial report on the structure of the playoff format currently under consideration (Spencer Hall added his take over at the mothership): reported Wednesday that the commissioners recommended the first major college playoff consist of a four-team bracket to be picked by a human selection committee. Weight will be given to conference champions. There are details to clean up, like who those humans will be and how much weight is enough weight. But the overriding conclusion was that the conference that has dominated the game in the BCS era will have at least as good a chance in the playoff era. Maybe better.

The conference referenced there is the powerful SEC. In recent weeks, the largest issue was whether the four-team playoff would involve the conference champions from the four major leagues or if it would take the top four teams in the country (also at issue was whether the semifinal games would be held on college campuses).

For SEC commissioner Mike Slive, it was important to him that his league have the ability to send two teams to the playoffs -- an understandable position after LSU and Alabama played for the national title only months ago.

While the conference is typically seen much in the same way that Texas is around the Big 12 -- perfectly willing and capable of bringing tremendous power to bear to protect their interests, it appears that Slive opted for more subtle tactics to bring any dissenters around to his way of thinking:

In the crucial last few weeks, one source inside the meeting rooms remarked on Slive's thoughtful input. Instead of actually banging his shoe, the commissioner would wait until everyone had spoken and then offer his insight. Think of an elderly Steve Jobs advising the computer industry. People tend to listen.

Perhaps it's time to add "Plays well with others" to the already-impressive SEC resume.

But not everyone loves the four-team format. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott acknowledged that many favor including more teams in the playoffs:

Until you have an eight-team or 16-team seeded playoff, there will be folks out there that aren't completely satisfied. We get that. But, we're trying to balance other important priorities, like the value of the regular season, like the importance of the bowls, like the academic calendar, that make that not feasible at this point and time.

The FCS manages it somehow, so the feasibility concerns strike a false note, but at least a playoff is some type of positive change. Baby steps.

The next issue the conference commissioners will have to address is the size and nature of the selection committee, which will have tremendous power in determining the four teams that will compete for the national championship -- even more power than such a committee would have in an eight-team or 16-team playoff format given the limited spots.

Official approval for the new playoff structure should come down soon, as the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee meets next week.