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There's Something New This College Football Season: Playoffs


Well, here's a sign of fall coming; college football's regular season has gotten underway. Last night Georgia State won a 38-37 thriller over Abilene Christian. And there are more games on tap today and tomorrow and then a full slate of games on Saturday when many of the best teams in the country will be in action. As exciting as all of that is, though, what has fans really buzzing is what comes at the end of the season, a playoff at last. Let's talk about this with NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman who's on the line. And, Tom, how is this playoff going to work? I mean, people have been talking about this day coming for a long time.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yeah, here it is. It's pretty simple - four teams in the playoffs, two semi-final games played on New Year's Day. The winners will face off 11 days later for the chairmanship. How do we get to the final four? There's a 13-member selection committee. It's a diverse group that includes former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

GREENE: A big college football fan, we should say.

GOLDMAN: Big fan. Along with former players and coaches, administrators, current athletic directors. Now, this committee will put out weekly rankings of the top 25 teams starting in late October. The last ranking is on December 7, and that one decides which four will be in the playoff.

GREENE: OK, college football being college football, I imagine there's still some whining about how all this was worked out.

GOLDMAN: Oh, definitely. Let's see, some of the complaints - there are only four teams, top teams, the teams we always see fighting for the title, so with only four, no room for a David to upset a Goliath. With the previous system, the BCS, there often was squawking from the school shut out of the championship game, meaning the third-ranked team. Now the squawking will come from number five after the top four are decided. There's also some criticism about the weekly voting process. Individual ballots by the selection committee members won't be made public, but, David, when it comes to money - and, yes, there is money in big-time college football...

GREENE: Who knew?

GOLDMAN: Who knew? Not a lot of complaining about that, especially among the five power conferences. Their revenues, driven by ESPN's massive TV contract, reported to be more than $7 billion over 12 years. Those revenues are expected to be more than double what they were in the old BCS system.

GREENE: Wow, some incredible numbers. OK, well, who's going to be in the final four?

GOLDMAN: Well, I'm not going to predict because you're just going to come back and humiliate me.

GREENE: (Laughter) We would indeed.

GOLDMAN: But I will tell you some possibilities. Anyway let's start with defending national champion Florida State, lead by defending Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. The Seminoles only lost a few players to the NFL; they come back strong in all facets of the game. Auburn, the team Florida State beat for the title. Auburn's in the mix. So is Alabama of course. Michigan State's in there. The Pac-12 has a bunch of good teams, not just Oregon Stanford but the battle for Los Angeles, David, is on between USC and UCLA, which is a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 and possibly make the final four.

GREENE: Let me ask you about one name you mentioned, Tom Goldman. Jameis Winston from Florida State, I mean, he's very high-profile - also high-profile brushes with the law, this rape allegation in 2012 that was never prosecuted because authorities thought there wasn't a reasonable likelihood of conviction. I mean, is that - is he clear now legally for this season?

GOLDMAN: You know, right now he is. But his accuser is not going away. She hired two top lawyers who specialize in Title IX litigation. Title IX of course is the gender equity law that includes rules on how schools are required to investigate sexual assault. Those attorneys are looking at Florida State, at the Tallahassee Police Department, which was criticized for its handling of the case and Jameis Winston. The accuser's attorneys have said publicly and recently they expect Jameis Winston to be charged by the university with sexual assault under Florida State's code of conduct policy. Now that's not a criminal charge. The university doesn't comment on individual cases because of privacy laws, but if Jameis Winston is charged and it's determined he violated the code, sanctions range all the way to expulsion from the university.

GREENE: All right, one of the many things we'll be looking for as this college football season begins. We've been talking about it with NPR sports correspondent Tom Gordon. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: David, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.