by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

So, maybe the sun is rising above Marblehead after all!

(In a college football sense, that is).

While we await the commencement of yet another likely-to-be-unmemorable bowl season, for the first time in memory there is reason to believe that something better and much more fulfilling for college football fans is on the horizon.

That is, some form of a legitimate a playoff could be coming in the very near future.

Word has leaked within the last week of a shift in college football’s tectonic plates, wherein some of the former no-playoff crowd seems to have changed its tune. We’re not talking about a full-scale tournament; instead, expect something along the lines of a Final Four, or the long-discussed “Plus One” arrangement in which two semifinal games would be played within the current BCS structure, with the winners to advance to the finale. It’s not as good as it could be, as we and others (specifically Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and his cohorts who penned the excellent Death to the BCS book last year) have lobbied over the years, but “Plus One” would definitely be a move in the right direction.

The shift in sentiment was echoed last week by Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby, an influential member of the Pac-12 delegation. Bowlsby noted that the Plus One scenario was “inevitable,” which was echoed by NCAA President Mark Emmert, who added that changes were likely to be forthcoming in the BCS anyway because of conference realignment, and that the Plus One model was “entirely possible.”

Before going further, it should be noted that Emmert’s influence in the process is not much more than ours at TGS; the BCS was created in the first place by the major conferences specifically to continue to keep the NCAA out of the loop in the college football postseason. But when an influential AD such as Bowlsby begins to beat the Plus One drums, it’s significant.

The reason? Sources tell us the Pac-12 delegation, in particular, has changed course on the entire Plus One concept, thanks in part to the visionary leadership provided by its relatively new conference commissioner, Larry Scott. Which is a significant departure from the past and an extremely important development in the process, as the “Pac” has long been tied at the hip to the Big Ten and its commissioner, Jim Delany, due mainly to the Rose Bowl.

For what it’s worth, Delany and the Big Ten are reportedly rattling their sabres as usual, threatening to bow out of the entire BCS if anything resembling a Plus One or form of playoff were to be instituted. In the past, Delany had been able to intimidate the old Pac-10 into following his lead. Along with Notre Dame (which has a seat at the BCS decision table), the trio always constituted a formidable blockade to any playoff or Plus One discussions. Indeed, the Plus One idea, championed by the SEC and ACC, was close to happening a few years ago until the Big East peeled away at the last minute and aligned itself with Delany, the Big Ten, and the anti-Plus One crowd.

But, apparently, the difference now is that the new-look Pac-12 is no longer in lock-step with Delany on the issue, and Notre Dame’s influence is on the wane. The masses have seen the light, and have appropriately balked at another recent BCS development in which there was discussion of a big-time scale-back to only the one national title game and no more. That movement, as reported on these pages a few weeks ago, was championed by none other than Delany and the Big Ten, which saw a scale-back as an opportunity to not only keep the Rose Bowl in its New Year’s Day catbird seat but also to open the possibility that the other major bowls would be more likely to invite the ticket-gobbling Big Ten schools rather than be forced to accept any Big East, ACC, or “BCS Busters” into the big-bowl mix.

There are other recent developments which suggest a shakeup of the BCS is imminent. In particular, the aforementioned and ongoing conference shuffling which last week took a new and wild turn when the Big East announced expansion across the width and breadth of the continent, adding Boise State and San Diego State (San Diego State in the Big East?) from the Mountain West to its football mix, and Houston, SMU, and UCF for all sports. The plan, at the moment, is for that new alignment to begin in 2013, but many informed observers believe the arrangement is fraught with potential hurdles, especially if the BCS decides to either scale back or do away with the automatic conference title qualifier provisions that have kept the Big East in the big-bowl mix in recent years.

There is always some wiggle room for schools to change their minds in such deals; look at the recent example of TCU, which was supposedly ticketed to join the Big East in 2012, yet began to have second thoughts when Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia plotted their exit strategies from the loop, stalling accompanying TV negotiations with ESPN. TCU thus switched course and cast its future lot with the Big XII, a much better geographical fit, instead. But if the lure of an automatic BCS qualification spot is removed, Boise and San Diego State, in particular, might also have second thoughts about making the switch. As it stands at the moment, those two are looking at the Big East solely in football terms, with their other sports projected to align elsewhere (the Broncos with the WAC, the Aztecs with the Big West).

Indiscriminate conference switching, such as Boise and SDSU aligning with the Big East, is one of several negative byproducts of the current BCS structure which has invited consequences that are hardly beneficial to college sports as a whole, with many long-time alliances and rivalries now fractured.

Granted, the considerable ills of the bowl system, exposed expertly by Wetzel & Co. their Death to the BCS book, would not necessarily abate with the addition of a Plus One scenario. Indeed, most of the bowls should be able to continue to operate in their normal manner, although, according to many (including Wetzel and ourselves), that’s hardly a good thing. But Plus One would at least be a step in the right direction for all concerned, especially the fans, who have been clamoring for something like this for years. Good also for the schools, which should experience an extra windfall not solely limited to the Big Ten.

The current BCS arrangement runs through 2013, but discussions on the future of the BCS, involving the conferences and Notre Dame, are set for next year. By all indications, change is in the air. And college football is about to stand up to the bullies who have pushed it around for decades.

Sorry, Big Ten and Notre Dame, but it looks like you’re not going to be able to dictate the terms of the debate much longer. Stay tuned.

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