As soon as a national college-football playoff was approved last year, Chick-fil-A Bowl officials began eyeing a role for Atlanta in what will become one of the marquee events in U.S. sports. The bowl submitted a formal bid last month to become one of the rotating hosts of semifinal games. The group that will run the playoff plans to name the winners of that bid process at a meeting in Pasadena, Calif., on Wednesday. From all indications, the Atlanta bowl’s chances are good.
The four-team playoff will start with the 2014 season, replacing the controversial BCS system as college football’s method of crowning its national champion. Becoming part of the playoff would dramatically raise the 45-year-old Atlanta bowl’s stature.
In advance of the upcoming decision, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution details how the playoff will work and how Atlanta’s bowl could be transformed.
ABOUT THE PLAYOFF
What is the format? The four-team playoff will pit the No. 1 seed vs. the No. 4 seed and No. 2 vs. No. 3 in the semifinals, with the winners meeting in the championship game.
Who will select the four teams? Ah, this is sure to be the most controversial part. A selection committee — similar to that used for the NCAA basketball tournament — will choose and seed the teams based on criteria including win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and conference championships. The committee, not yet named, will have 14 to 20 members, who could be former coaches and current or former athletic directors and conference commissioners.
Where will the semifinals be played? They will rotate among six existing bowls — the Rose, Sugar, Orange and three others to be named Wednesday. Four bowls have submitted bids for the three remaining spots — the Chick-fil-A, Cotton (Arlington, Texas), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.) and Holiday (San Diego). The Chick-fil-A, Cotton and Fiesta are believed to be the favorites for the three nods, in part because of concerns about San Diego’s stadium situation. Each bowl in the rotation will host a semifinal four times in the playoff’s 12-year commitment — once every three years. The Rose and Sugar bowls will host the semis for the 2014 season on Jan. 1, 2015.
Where will the championship games be played? They will not be part of the existing bowl system and will be put up for bids by cities, similar to the way the NFL takes bids to host the Super Bowl. So far, bids have been taken for only the 2014 season’s championship game (to be played Jan. 12, 2015). Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., are the only bidders. The group running the playoff plans to name its choice Wednesday, with Cowboys Stadium believed to be the favorite. Although Atlanta did not bid for the inaugural championship game, it plans to bid for the game later, possibly for the first season (2017) in the new Falcons stadium.
What will happen with the six bowls in the semifinal rotation in the two years out of three that they don’t get a semifinal matchup? They’ll have non-playoff matchups involving highly ranked teams that don’t land berths in the semifinals. In such years, the Rose Bowl would get the best available teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the Sugar Bowl the best available teams from the SEC and Big 12, and the Orange Bowl the best available ACC team vs. either Notre Dame or a team from the Big Ten or SEC. The other three bowls in the rotation would not have conference affiliations, but geography would be considered by the selection committee in arranging their matchups. (Three of the six upper-tier bowls will be played on New Year’s Eve each season and three on New Year’s Day, provided neither of those days falls on a Sunday.)
What will the playoff be called? The name and logo are expected to be unveiled Tuesday.
Who will run the playoff? Basically, the same people who run the BCS: commissioners of the 11 FBS conferences and Notre Dame’s athletic director. That group reports to an oversight commission consisting of the president or chancellor of one school from each of the 11 conferences, plus Notre Dame. Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS, will continue in the same role for the playoff.
What happens to the BCS standings? After the 2013 season, they are gone.
ABOUT ATLANTA’S POTENTIAL ROLE
If the Chick-fil-A Bowl lands a spot in the semifinals rotation, things would change dramatically for the Atlanta game, formerly known as the Peach Bowl and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl:
Its place in the postseason pecking order would change. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is not a “BCS bowl,” meaning that in the current system it is relegated to a sort of second-tier status behind the five BCS games (Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta plus the BCS title game). A berth in the semifinals rotation would mean a surge in stature and significance for Atlanta’s bowl. “Other than being granted the rights to have a bowl game (starting in 1968), it would probably be the biggest thing to happen to the bowl in its history,” Chick-fil-A Bowl president Gary Stokan said.
Its name might change. In the current system, each bowl negotiates its own title-sponsorship deal. But in the playoff system, title-sponsorship rights were included in the TV deal struck with ESPN. What that means is: For Chick-fil-A to remain title sponsor of Atlanta’s bowl if the game becomes part of the playoff system, the company would have to make a deal with ESPN. “From what we understand, Chick-fil-A is very interested in moving up with us should we win the bid,” Stokan said. There also is an open question of whether the playoff group would require “Peach” to become part of the bowl’s name again. “We’ve heard talk that we would have to have Peach back in the title, like the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose (include their traditional name along with a corporate sponsor’s),” Stokan said. “But there wasn’t any comment about that in the bid (requirements), so we don’t know for sure if that is the case or not.”
Its method of choosing teams would change. The Chick-fil-A Bowl currently arranges its own matchup based on its contracts with the ACC and the SEC, getting the first pick of ACC teams after the BCS games make their selections and the fourth pick of SEC teams after the BCS selections. If it is part of the playoff system, the bowl would lose control of its matchup. Once every three years, it would host a semifinal, either the No. 1 seed vs. the No. 4 seed or No. 2 vs. No. 3. The other years, it would be assigned a matchup by the playoff selection committee involving two of the (arguably) top eight teams not in the playoff. (Originally, Chick-fil-A Bowl officials wanted to keep their existing ACC-vs.-SEC bowl in addition to creating another Atlanta bowl that would become part of the playoff. But that idea was squashed when the playoff group’s bid requirements precluded the possibility of such a two-bowl scenario.)
Its business model would change. Currently, the Chick-fil-A Bowl negotiates its own television and title-sponsor deals and makes an annual payout — about $7.1 million last year — to the participating schools’ conferences. In the playoff system, the bowl would lose those revenue streams and would pay 85 percent of the game’s profit (after management fee) to the playoff group for distribution to conferences.