CHICAGO — The Super Bowl already owns an entire weekend in this country.
Super Bowl Sunday has practically become a national holiday and it takes most of Saturday to prepare the dips, argue about the NFL football matchup and get a head start prepping for the game-day commercials.
Now college football is making its move to fortify a stronger spot in the American sports landscape.
Michael Kelly, the chief operating officer for the new endeavor that will crown a national college football champion, Monday described a format that is more than a big football game.
Speaking at the Big Ten Conference media day event at the Hilton Chicago, Kelly claimed not to be exaggerating when he called the newly aligned bowl structure and four-team playoff as, “The next greatest iconic sporting event on American soil.”
What Kelly described is more than a one-game wonder. It’s a new way for college football to build toward an attention-grabbing climax with a new ranking system, a 13-person selection committee (real people, not computers) and consecutive triple headers on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that involve six major bowls.
Two of those games will be semifinal showdowns within the national championship playoff structure, setting the stage for the national title game, always to be contested on a Monday night.
“We’re looking to bring a sports holiday to a national holiday,” he said, pledging that this event will, “own New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.”
This is the first year for a talked-about playoff system, one that can actually include a concise national championship bracket.
The 2014 bracket would show the four teams in the semifinal games — both to be played on New Year’s Day — one as the Rose Bowl, the other as the Sugar Bowl.
Those winners would advance to the national championship game to be played Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
The bowls earning the semifinal matchups would change from year to year with the Orange, Cotton, Peach and Fiesta bowls also in the mix. The national championship sites change, too, with Arizona already on tap to host the 2015-16 game and Tampa Bay lined up for 2016-17.
Kelly, who was senior associate commissioner of the ACC and who has served as President of three Super Bowl host committees, says the new format has achieved its goal of creating a playoff system while preserving the bowl structure.
“This will be culturally significant,” he predicted. “There will be watch parties.” A variety of other related events will be announced in late August, Kelly said.
That means Kelly believes college football fans will be watching these developments as the season unfolds:
The rankings: A 13-person committee will unveil its Top 25 rankings beginning on Oct. 28. The rankings will continue for seven weeks. The committee’s ultimate goal, of course, will be to pick the best four teams based on strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results vs. common opponents, championships won and other factors.
The committee has already been picked and includes former head coaches Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin, Tom Osborne of Nebraska, former quarterback Archie Manning and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The unveiling: Kelly said there will be a “Selection Sunday” which will reveal the four national championship playoff participants, plus the other major bowl matchups. He said it will begin with an announcement of the top four at about 11:45 a.m. (Central) and will conclude by 2 p.m. Sounds like three or four hours of programming.
The revenue: Quite naturally, there’s a lot of money involved. In 2012, ESPN paid $7.3 billion over 12 years for broadcasting rights to all seven games (both triple headers and the title game). Kelly plowed through the numbers but said each of the five power conferences can figure on about $50 million per league per season with extra money going to leagues that have contracts with the Rose, Sugar and Orange bowls.
For the Big Ten, it means an annual payday of about $90 million.
The plan has its skeptics and already there is speculation about expanding it to include more teams. For now, though — and beginning this season — college football is ready to hatch its plan to build excitement during the regular season while rolling toward a big finish in the bowl season.