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Major breakthroughs made toward football playoff

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Mark this day on your calendar, college football fans: April 25, 2012.

It's when several major impediments to creating a college football playoff — namely, protecting the Rose Bowl and concerns about devaluing the regular season — appeared to dissolve.

Every conference commissioner who spoke after Wednesday's Bowl Championship Series meetings expressed some level of optimism regarding a playoff. The sport clearly is on the cusp of a new system that will please the vast majority of its fans.

"There is an expectation that there will be significant change," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said.

Officials hope to leave Thursday with two or three playoff proposals that commissioners will take to university presidents, chancellors, athletic directors and coaches.

Delany said he also will visit college campuses to get feedback from student-athletes, saying he wants "the perspective" of those who have and have not played in a Rose Bowl.

He called the Rose Bowl "a really important part of the Big Ten culture," likening it to other college sports institutions that have survived postseason format changes, such as the ACC basketball tournament and the SEC football title game.

Delany said the last major change, the creation of the BCS and a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 championship game in 1998, brought the favorable "unintended consequence" of adding interest and intrigue to the regular season.

"I'm hoping we will have an equally good one this time," Delany said.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive previously called the playoff negotiations a marathon, saying the parties were two-tenths of a mile into a 26.2-mile jog.

Now, he said: "I think we've got 20 miles done."

BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock has run 15 marathons and cautioned with a chuckle: "The 20-mile mark is the toughest. But we have conquered Heartbreak Hill. I'm very pleased with the progress."

Several questions remain in the last six miles:

Where will the games be played? Bowls likely will host the semifinals with the title game bid out, like the Super Bowl.

The Big Ten plan to have the top two teams host the semis is getting shot down because of concerns about small stadiums (TCU, Oregon, Boise State), accommodating 1,200 media members and maximizing revenues. Plus, SEC teams have won six straight BCS title games without having to don long sleeves. They don't want to start now.

How will the top four be selected? The BCS could stick with its oft-criticized combination of polls and computer rankings or create a selection committee.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott favors only conference champions being eligible, saying that's a "more objective, less subjective" method.

But given that SEC foes Alabama and LSU played for last year's title, Slive countered: "This is not a tournament. This is trying to figure out who the best teams are and let them play for the national championship."

How will revenue be distributed? Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson predicted those discussions will be "contentious."

But the greater spirit is one of compromise, even unity. It's stunning, really, considering how commissioners traditionally have fought for self-interests.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick summarized the world view, saying: "The most important thing for Notre Dame is that college football remains strong. There will be a place for us in the postseason; there always is."