COMMENTARY: Four-team playoff not perfect

The bureaucrats who oversee major college football finally saw the light this week. Actually, what they saw was something in the light: a whole bunch of $100 bills — more than 300,000 of them — bearing an artist’s conception of Benjamin Franklin.

Even I can do that math. A collection of 300,000 Benjamins equates to $300-million, the absolute minimum a television contract will command for a major-college playoff. Although the public has been craving some kind of alternative to the clunky process of determining a national champion since the mid-1980s, the common-sense consensus reached in Chicago on Wednesday was not about satisfying the public. It was about acknowledging a potential money tree the size of an adult sequoia.

Still, the playoff most of us want lurks on the horizon — perhaps as “soon” as the 2014 season — and if greed was the motivation in embracing progress, so be it.

A likely format will be to seed four playoff teams in two of the four BCS bowl games, with the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange alternating in a cycle. The two winning playoff teams then will vie for the national championship in a neutral city that submits the most attractive bid.

Because the playoff participants figure to be determined by a selection committee, controversy is a given. Worthy teams will be snubbed, athletic directors will whine, coaches will wail, and sports commentators will revel in the treasure trove of whining and wailing that follows a snub. Count on it.

Fans on the West Coast will suspect East Coast bias. Fans in the South will bemoan any playoff field with fewer than four SEC representatives. Everybody disinclined to cheer for old Notre Dame will demand a federal investigation if the Fighting Irish crash the party of four.

So, no, it’s not perfect. I believe an eight-team field funneled through four New Year’s Day bowl games is preferable to a four-team field funneled through two of them, and I’d rather championship game be played on the campus of the highest remaining seed. But as 11 conference commissioners (along with Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick) were huddling up in an attempt to tweak the status quo — their four-hour meeting in Chicago was their sixth meeting of the year — nobody bothered to consult me for my expertise.

At least the determination of a national champion will be settled on the field, under an old-fashioned format that seems reasonable: A team that scores more points than its opponent will be crowned No. 1.

No post-season polls, no split decisions, and no beg your pardons, just the promise of a Rose Garden.

With such clarity still more two years away, questions abound. Who will participate on the selection committee? Will the coaches’ poll remain a factor, and if it is, will coaches finally be held accountable? What about computer rankings, and the relative strength of schedules?

Last, and least: What are we to call this four-team playoff ?

The Final Four is off limits. (The “Football Final Four” sounds too much like a spin-off of the NCAA basketball tournament, which is the idea, of course, but admitting that is another matter.)

Bill Hancock, the gentleman who works the thankless job as BCS director with patience and good humor, has volunteered “The Four-Team Deal.”

Keep trying, Bill. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was “Casablanca.” (The lead role of Rick, Bogarted by Humphrey, originally was assigned to Ronald Reagan.)

The “Fantastic Four” has a ring to it. Too much of a ring. Marvel Comics owns the copyrights to that term.

The “Fab Four” also has a ring to it, but that ring always will be associated with the four Liverpool kids who began changing the course of pop culture 50 years ago.

The Quintessential Quartet? Too many Q’s. The Fearsome Foursome? It’s already taken, and even though some of the guys that took it are no longer alive, they will remain Ram tough 100 years from now. Can’t go there.

My contribution? The Four Horses. It’s steeped in college-football lore — Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen,” under coach Knute Rockne, put the sport on the national map — and implies grace, endurance, and strength.

How are engines measured? By horsepower.

Case closed, your honor.

The playoff format ostensibly agreed upon the other day still faces some hurdles. A 12-member BCS Presidential Oversight Commitee, which meets next week, must approve it. Although passage is expected to be rubber-stamped, there’s something about that group’s name — the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee — that suggests trouble, with a capital T.

Presidents gathering as a committee to ponder BCS oversights: Hoo boy. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a fly on the wall of that room. (Then again, I suppose I could consider $300-million.)

Better to concentrate on the long-range picture. Better to think of Jan. 1, 2015 as the New Year’s Day that will serve as as major college-football’s first dalliance with a playoff.

So here’s to the Four-Team Deal, the Fantastic Four, the Fab Four, the Quintessential Quartet, and the Fearsome Foursome.

Most of all, here’s to the Four Horses.

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