Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean
In 2007, University of Florida President Bernie Machen spent five months crusading for a national championship football playoff.
Then, after a one-hour meeting with his fellow university CEOs at the SEC Spring Meetings that year, Machen exited a boardroom and said:
In effect, his SEC counterparts patted Machen on the head and told him to calm down. They persuaded him to enjoy what he had (the Gators owned both the football and men's basketball national championships at the time) and work within the system, trusting that the rest of college football eventually would see the light.
Five years later, a national championship football playoff has dawned, with the four-team format going on line after the 2014 regular season. Fittingly, Machen was the SEC's representative on the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee that approved this watershed development on Tuesday.
It took visionaries and/or squeaky wheels like Machen to get the football rolling. Although he was considered a bit of a rogue at the time, Machen recognized well before most of his peers that the BCS needed more than an annual tweak. The process had to be reinvented.
Credit the SEC for being at the forefront of all this. A year after Machen was shouted down by his league colleagues, SEC Commissioner Mike Slive started dropping hints about various playoff possibilities.
And Slive never relented, even when his conference was winning six straight national titles.
It's been a long time coming. And even for those of us fence-sitters who are not completely sold on the universal need for a playoff, the prospect of settling things on the field among four teams instead of between two is intriguing.
Money is at the heart of this. I know you're surprised. The BCS currently generates about $180 million from its contract with ESPN, but many believe that a four-team playoff could be worth double that - maybe more.
Throw into that the high-stakes bidding by neutral sites to play host to the championship game and the figure goes much higher.
But let's be careful about wanting too much of a good thing. Already, some are talking about using this format as a stepping-stone to an eight- or even 16-team playoff. Quick, somebody throw a penalty flag. The bigger the playoff field, the less emphasis on the regular season. And that would be a major mistake.
Last season was a case in point. Over four glorious weeks in October and November, no fewer than nine teams that had serious national championship aspirations lost games and fell out of the conversation.
Under an eight- or 16-team playoff format, most of those teams still would have qualified, turning these regular-season showdowns into mere speed bumps. The importance of the regular season must be preserved.
One ticklish detail that must be ironed out deals with the makeup of the committee that will weigh all factors and identify the playoff participants. With only four teams to be selected and seeded, unlike the 68 that qualify for the NCAA basketball tournament, potential members of this committee will be vetted like Supreme Court nominees.
Look for some combination of thick-skinned former coaches, current and former conference commissioners and perhaps former players.
And a Ouija board wouldn't hurt.