DESTIN, Fla. — It used to be Bill Hancock’s job to Johnny Appleseed his way across the country, extolling the virtues of the Bowl Championship Series.
Now Hancock, the executive director of the NCAA’s new football playoff format, is singing the praises of the College Football Playoff, which comes on line Jan. 1 with semifinals in the Sugar and Rose bowls and the first College Football Championship Game on Jan. 12 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
This week Hancock’s traveling show brought him here to the Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting, paying homage to the past but spreading the new gospel of college football.
“I promise you the BCS will be looked back on fondly because of all the good things it did for college football,” he said. “And if this playoff can be as good for the game as the BCS was, it will be successful.”
Even before the first down of the CFP is played, there is talk of expansion and the accompanying scent of controversy. If anyone who cried “Death to the BCS!” thinks the controversy will die with the old system, they’re fooling themselves.
Hancock was vehement in his insistence that the playoff will stick with a four-team playoff, but he also used to talk about the BCS’s staying power like the firmness of the earth as well.
“It’s going to be four for 12 years,” Hancock said, referring to the initial length of the CFP contract. “And there is no talk at all about any change in there.
“We landed on four because we are dead serious about protecting the regular season and the bowl system.”
Whether you believe the “sticking with four” part or not, it’s not hard to believe that college football commissioners were agreeable to protecting the bowl system that has crowned mythical national champions for decades.
The semifinals will be the traditional bowl experience for participating teams, which will spend a week or so in New Orleans or Pasadena or the other CFP semifinal cities: Miami, Phoenix, Atlanta and Dallas. The championship game will be more like a business trip of only two or three days for the teams involved.
After picking a format, the CFP had to choose a selection committee. That group is chaired by Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long (he has been absent from the Spring Meeting because of a family health emergency) and includes New Orleans Saints and Ole Miss legend Archie Manning, former LSU assistant athletic director Dan Radakovich (now A.D. at Clemson) and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
“When I began to call prospective members last summer, no one ran away from this. Zero,” Hancock said. “I think that tells you the importance of this event and a little bit about our group. They love the game and want to give something back.”
Hancock said the committee has already met three times. During the second half of the football season it will meet in Dallas (home of the CFP headquarters) each week and will produce a Top 25 ranking similar to the BCS standings.
From those final rankings, the four CFP participants will be selected.
“We want folks to know what the committee is thinking week to week,” Hancock said. “We thought about not doing one until the last week, but we decided it wouldn’t be fair to drop it.
“The other reason is we are so rankings-oriented in college football.”
New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl couldn’t have made out better in terms of their spot in the CFP semifinal rotation.
The Sugar will always be played on New Year’s night, with the bowl getting a semifinal every three years (January 2015, 2018, 2021 and 2024).
As was the case earlier this month with the Super Bowl, New Orleans was spurned in its initial attempt to land the College Football Championship Game in January 2016. That game went to Glendale, Arizona, with the 2017 title game going to Tampa, Florida.
“Their bid was tremendous,” Hancock said of New Orleans, “but the two cities that got them were even better.”
Hancock said shortly after the first of the year the CFP will begin the process of selecting “the next two, maybe three” championship games. He hopes the process will be complete by June 2015.
A rule prohibiting a city from hosting a CFP semifinal the same season as the championship game will prevent New Orleans from bidding on the 2018 title contest, but the city could go after the 2019 game or 2020 if it’s put up for bid.
But Hancock warned he only expects the competition to land the College Football Championship Game to intensify.
“I don’t think folks understand yet how big this is going to be,” he said.
“But they will.”
Hancock said there was no intent to take the first three championship games to three different geographic regions of the country.
“We’re not going to set up a pure rotation, but we would like to take it to different parts of the country,” he said.
That includes the north.
That sounds like as it was with the Super Bowl, New Orleans will be fighting it out with the likes of Minneapolis and Indianapolis once again.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.