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The Sports Guy: It’s about time

Common sense triumphed on Tuesday when college football was dragged kicking and screaming from the dark ages of tradition and into the modern championship era by announcing that, starting in 2014, a four-team playoff would determine the national champion. For decades we’ve been told that this very sort of thing was unfeasible.

Isn’t it amazing how the prospect of billion-dollar windfalls turns NCAA naysayers into solution enablers?

We’re stuck with one more year of the BCS. After that, a selection committee akin to the NCAA basketball tournament’s process will convene and choose the top four programs in the nation and seed each of them for semifinal and national championship games.

Sure, there will undoubtedly be squabbles over why team No. 5 deserved to be viewed as team No. 4. There’s no assurance that an undefeated Boise State or Hawaii will be treated any better under the new agreement than they were under the old model, but the important thing is that it’s a starting point. The playoff mechanism is now in place.

And just like its older brother, the NCAA basketball tournament, I doubt it will be too long before expansion arrives and a four-team playoff becomes an eight-team playoff. In fact, staring down the road, I wouldn’t be surprised at an eventual 16-team format.

If you build it, they will come. If you give ESPN the rights to televise it, it will arrive all the faster.

It’s not that I harbor some deep grudge against the bowl system. Contrary to the sky-is-falling rationale that for years told us a playoff would ax the tradition of the bowls, it seems as though they have plans to continue. The sun still rose in the east this morning and Democrats and Republicans show no signs of crossing the aisle to shake hands and work in the best interest of the country.

In other words, in all other areas, it appears to be business as usual as I sit here and type this on a Wednesday morning. Although, in the wake of the announcement, there’s at least a small chance that the seismic shifts that have occurred on the college football landscape might — might — slow down, at least within the Big Six conferences. Nobody’s going to fault Wyoming or any other school in the land of the mid-major conference from listening to offers from the Big Six and a chance to move up to a more lucrative conference television contract and revenue stream.

And that really is the $64,000 question as the sun rises on day one of the major college football playoff era — what does this decision mean to the mid-major conference? Can member schools from the Mountain West or Conference USA receive a fair evaluation in the eyes of a selection committee? Or does the committee become a layer of bureaucracy behind which the powerbrokers can hide while keeping an undefeated Boise State or its like out of the national title picture?

If the answer is the latter, then all we’ve accomplished with Tuesday’s decision is to mute the debate about the levelness of the playing field for a few years. After that, the cries for an expanded format will build so that represenation from the smaller conferences will be possible. Everyone loves to cheer for Cinderella once the clock starts ticking toward midnight.

Look, I’m not saying a playoff system will end the ills of major college football. It won’t. Heck, it might even create a few more now that there’s a clearly defined path to the crystal football, but those are problems for another day.

For now, college football fans everywhere should be rejoicing in the fact that finally, at long last, we have a playoff. Finally, it will be decided on the field, just as it is at every other level of football, just as it is in every other collegiate sport.

College football has a playoff. It’s about time.

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