College football appears to be on the brink of a four-team, seeded playoff format, conference administrators announced Wednesday. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is all right with the setup, but it took OSU's vice president and his Big Ten compatriots a while to get to that point.
"We kind of evolved, just like the final recommendations evolved," he said. "The status quo was fine with us. The regular season is the best it's ever been, so initially the status quo was fine with us. When we realized we had no choice, we moved to review the plus one. We've looked at it hard and it will work.
"Then we moved to the one-through-four model and started to look at it and began to embrace it."
Smith said a number of specific issues will be important as the conferences try to firm up plans. Details for selection into the four-team tournament are still to be worked out, as a selection committee is expected to be chosen that will use a to-be-determined set of criteria.
"We felt very strongly that if we were going to have it, it had to have a human element to it in some form or fashion," he said. "The polls are good, but there's weakness in the polls. We felt strength of schedule was important; otherwise everyone's nonconference schedule would be very interesting. And then we felt that there should be some credit to conference champions in some form or fashion."
In addition to those issues, Smith pointed out there are other stumbling blocks to be cleared before everything is set in stone. Among those, dates and sites must be chosen and a decision must be made on how to split up the money earned by the playoff.
Smith said Ohio State and the Big Ten feel strongly that the bowl system must be used to stage semifinal games, which reportedly is part of the agreed upon plan.
"We still feel that playing the semifinals in the bowl games is very important," he said. "The bowl system is good. It's solid. The bowl structure, the local organizing committees are organized to host these events. They know how to do it. They know what the kids need. It won't be like bowl games because let's say you play on Saturday, you'll go in on Thursday, play on Saturday and go home. You won't be going down on Sunday and staying the whole week. It's a whole new ballgame.
"So we feel in the Big Ten that the bowls know how to do this, and the semifinals are so important."
Smith was also one of those in favor of on-campus sites hosting early playoff rounds, a Big Ten idea that was ditched early in the process.
"We realized we probably couldn't win the campus sites option, which was a great idea, but none of us at the end of the day after we went through it thought we could win enough votes to win that," he said. "I would have absolutely loved it. I think it would have been cool, but we realized we couldn't get the votes.
"As you go through this process, you're evaluating what is possible and what is not. I think that's why you saw all the conferences from the beginning, you heard a lot of stuff and you saw people shifting positions because the collaboration was going on. We were part of that. We shifted positions as the collaboration was going on. You hear pros and cons and what's realistic."
As a result, the discussions have been among the most complex Smith has been a part of, especially given the different constituencies at play. Conference commissioners have been doing much of the negotiating, and the plan must be ratified by university presidents next week, while athletic directors must keep the wishes of their coaches and student-athletes in mind.
In other words, fans shouldn't think anything is in place until the contracts are signed, but Smith is optimistic things will get done.
"There is a lot to be done," he said. "I'm sure the commissioners have done a lot of work that we haven't seen yet on the details side and that will evolve, but we have time. We're going to meet the timeline for when we have to deal with the TV part, but the games themselves, we have time to hammer out a lot of the details, so it'll work."
Cincinnati On Tap: Ohio State published a news release Wednesday in which athletic department said it was in discussions with the Cincinnati Bengals and Hamilton County officials to bring the 2013 football spring game to the Queen City's Paul Brown Stadium.
The move would be necessitated by the fact the school will be in the midst of a $3 to $5 million project to replace the acrylic covering on the Ohio Stadium's original concrete found in the seating areas. The covering keeps moisture out of the concrete laid in 1922 and must be replaced every decade or so, and it is starting to wear in many portions of the seating bowl.
As a result, the stadium would be unable to host the spring game, and Smith said the school had looked at holding the game in Columbus Crew Stadium and Massillon, Ohio, before settling on trying to make it work in Cincinnati.
"Of course we prefer to have it at home in the ‘Shoe," said Smith, originally a native of Cleveland. "Urban and I have discussed it. We've been to Cleveland – with intent. I talked to Thad about playing in Cleveland and we played Cleveland State there. We did the two for one deal with Toledo and played in Cleveland (in Cleveland Browns Stadium in 2009).
"As we talked about it, we just felt like it's Cincinnati's turn. We need to have a presence in Cincinnati. We hadn't been there in a couple of years, so we decided that it made sense. Cincinnati has a large stadium and we just haven't been down there in a while, so it seemed like the right thing to do."
The stadium will still be open for 2013 commencement.