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College football playoff is a clear case of ‘I told you so’

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph taken by AP Images for Allstate University Alabamplayers salute head coach Nick Saban as

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph taken by AP Images for Allstate, University of Alabama players salute head coach Nick Saban as he lifts the AFCA National Championship Trophy following the Crimson Tide's 21-0 shutout win over the LSU Tigers at the Allstate BCS National Championship in New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The win gives Alabama its 14th College Football National Championship, finishing the season 12-1. (Cheryl Gerber/AP Images for Allstate)

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:30AM

“I’ve never been a big college football playoff guy. But there’s a simple way to stage one without losing the color and tradition of the bowls.

Here’s how it would work: Designate four New Year’s Day bowls as the quarterfinals and follow that up with a ­Final Four the next weekend and a true national championship game a week later.

Three more games. Two more weeks.

If an eight-team playoff were incorporated into the bowl system, college football would have the best of both worlds.”

— Herb Gould, Chicago Sun-Times, Oct. 26, 1999


Innovation often is evolutionary. Some people will resist change because they like things the way they are, or because they want to make sure the change is good.

For example, I resist change in music. Give me Benny Goodman and the Grateful Dead. You can have hip hop and grunge and ya da ya da.

When it comes to the way college football crowns its champion, I’m more receptive to change.

That’s why I’m getting a big kick out of the change in college-football playoff stance by my friends at the BCS, the Big Ten and the newspaper with the second-largest circulation in Chicago.

After telling you and me for nearly 20 years that a playoff would be the end of the college-football world as we know it, they’ve finally figured out that that’s not true.

In the next few months, college football officials are expected to announce a four-team playoff will debut in 2014. This “progress’’ was made possible because the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl troika finally has decided that since it’s going to happen, they need to roll up their sleeves and get into the smoke-free room where the decisions are made.

That way, they’ll be able to broker the best deal for themselves.

One key question that must be resolved is where to play the games. Another is how to choose the four teams for the playoff.

Hats off to Jim Delany, the most dynamic commissioner in the history of college sports, and his Big Ten ­associates for proposing home games in the Midwest in the winter. That was brazenly brilliant.

LSU at Wisconsin in December or January? Ohio State vs. Alabama at Soldier Field? That would level the playing field — after the snow was shoveled. Don’t expect that to happen, but it’s a great bargaining tool.

If I were feeling cynical, I’d say, isn’t it interesting that some hard-core traditionalists suddenly want to trash the bowl partners they’ve been defending?

The other sticking point seems to be whether the four playoff slots should be awarded to the nation’s four best teams, or whether the nation’s best conference champions should move forward. On that front, it seems like one slot has to be available to an at-large team.

Imagine the howls, for ­example, if Alabama had been left out of the mix last fall — before it went on to win the national championship.

Here’s the reason I find all of this stuff amusing today: I explained the best way to do this long ago. In 1999, and many times since then.

A four-team playoff is progress, but it creates an unwieldy selection process. It also complicates where the games wind up being played.

The eight-team playoff simplifies things. Then you can have six conference champions, plus two at-larges. There’s no better way to enhance the regular season than to say, “Win your league and you’re in the playoff.”

And if you have four New Year’s Day quarterfinals going on, it’s easier to tell LSU or USC, “No virtual home game for you in New Orleans or Pasadena. You’re going to Miami or Phoenix.” Or to tell their opponents: “Tough.”

I bring this up knowing full well that the eight-team tournament is still probably 12 or 15 years away. The four-team playoff is another solid evolutionary step. Clumsy, but no complaints here.

It was the same deal in the 1990s, when I knew college football wasn’t ready yet for a four-team playoff, let alone an eight-team solution.

That’s fine. Innovation takes time. But just as sure as there’s going to be a four-team arrangement announced soon, the eight-team plan will be the next step in the evolution. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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