When the 11 BCS conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director gather Wednesday in Chicago, the whole of college football will have its collective eyes trained on the Windy City.
This first of two meetings serves as the most important benchmark yet in the BCS’s already ticking death clock. The 12 gathered in Chicago will be tasked with compromising on what will become its replacement — a four-team playoff. In April, this same group felt strongly enough about the prospect of a four-team format that it formally introduced it as a recommendation to its member conferences and schools.
Having discussed the proposals among the athletic directors and presidents within, the 12 will now come together to finalize a playoff plan, the first major structural change to the college football postseason since the BCS replaced the Bowl Alliance in 1998.
And perhaps more fascinatingly, the 2014 season will see the most drastic change to the overall landscape of college football since the now renamed Divisions I, II and III were created in 1973.
In one of the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport’s 42 conference rooms, college football will change, and probably for the better. But what is left to discuss? And why do they hold all of these meetings in airport hotels?
Among the most important decisions are these (we’ve broken these down more extensively here):
- How do we choose the teams?
- What teams even qualify for the system?
- Where should we play the games?
- What’s Notre Dame’s relationship with the BCS? The other independent schools?
- When are we playing these games?
But the thing that might be on the minds of these 12 not-angry-but-certainly-perturbed men is how their own conference (or school in Notre Dame’s case) can best benefit from a playoff. It’s no mystery that the BCS has been unkind to some of the players who will sit at that conference table. Certainly, the Big Ten’s Jim Delany and the SEC’s Mike Slive will have much to say in this regard. So too will interim Big East commissioner Jim Bailey, who will certainly look to deflect any proposal that includes the words “selection committee.”
For easy reference, we’ve broken down each conference, with the mindset with which each will likely enter these pivotal meetings.
ACC: Conference commissioner John Swofford has long been in favor of changing the status quo in college football, and will likely be a vocal participant in these two important meetings. The conference will likely stand for preferential consideration given to conference champions, with certain criteria dictating the selection of participants, but might agree with a selection committee format.
Big East: A perceived weak link in the BCS equation, the Big East is ready to make its voice heard at these meetings, but how do they get that done? Bailey is likely to push for a conference champion-only system, but likely vehemently against a selection committee, which would — in the minds of the Big East member schools — stand to pass them over every time.
Big 12: Faced with the torment of Oklahoma State being left out of the BCS last season, the Big 12 favors a selection committee to pick the four teams for a playoff. The conference is also understandably with the SEC in believing in a “best-four” as opposed to just “top-four,” and would want that committee to not be restricted to picking conference champions only.
Big Ten: The tradition of the Rose Bowl dictates much of the Big Ten’s choices coming into the meetings. Commissioner Jim Delany and the conference would most be in favor of a “plus-one” format, but in light of the almost certainty of a four-team playoff, the conference would be in favor of a transparent selection committee that values conference champions, but is not exclusive to them. The conference has been less than committal on any one line of thought.
Pac-12: Like the Big Ten, the added weight of the Rose Bowl dictates much of commissioner Larry Scott’s lines of thought. Scott has even gone as far to suggest the recently announced SEC-Big 12 Champions Bowl agreement puts the “plus-one” back on the table. Scott, too, however, recognizes the undeniable push toward a four-team system. He and the conference will likely support a system that favors conference champions. Scott is on record as believing committees to select such a playoff would be too subjective.
SEC: “1-2-3-4” would be the motto of the Southeastern Conference. Home to the last six BCS champions, the SEC is understandably set in its ways. Not in favor of a selection committee, just the four best teams in a playoff with no conference championship requirement, even if those are all SEC squads. They could be convinced a selection committee is necessary at these meetings, but would be fine to go without one.
Non-AQ conferences: The conferences have long called for changes, and will be in the camp of the Big Ten, in favor of a selection committee that likely favors conference champions, but does not require it of them. Teams from the MWC like TCU, Boise State or Utah would have likely benefitted from that model in the past.
Notre Dame: Say what you will about one school having so much say at the table, but the Fighting Irish will certainly not go down without a fight to preserve the chance that they can get into the playoff without having a conference of their own to win. They are happy with the playoff idea, so long as they can qualify for it.
ACC [1, 2]
Big East 
Big Ten [1,2, 3]
Big 12 [1,2]
SEC [1, 2]
Overall [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]