How the playoff came to be

Tommy Tuberville's 2004 Auburn team sparked the conversation about changing the playoff format. AP Photo/Rob Carr

Editor's note: This previously published story is being highlighted as part of ESPN's 2019 coverage of the 150th anniversary of college football.

Tommy Tuberville entered Auburn's euphoric locker room at the Louisiana Superdome, cleared out the media members and had his players huddle up one last time.

It was Jan. 3, 2005, and Auburn had beaten Virginia Tech in the Nokia Sugar Bowl to complete a 13-0 season. The Tigers hadn't been as sharp as usual in the 16-13 victory, but they found a way to win, even though they would have rather been playing for a national title one night later in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Auburn had been shut out of the championship game despite its 12-0 record, an SEC title and three wins against top-10 opponents. USC and Oklahoma, which began the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, ran the table as well. Auburn opened the season outside the top 15 and could never enter the top two, sparking outrage from SEC circles and elsewhere.

Tuberville knew the 2004 team would never be together like this again, so the Tigers coach ditched his typical postseason spiel.

"Guys, here's the deal," he began. "You guys started something tonight that will change college football. It's going to take five, 10, 15, 20 years, but because of what this group did, went undefeated, it opened the eyes of people across the country.

"How do you give a national championship to somebody when there's another team out there undefeated?"

There were actually three left out -- Utah and Boise State also had perfect records -- but only one from a major conference.

"It's going to happen," Tuberville concluded. "I don't know when, but it's going to happen."

Ten years later, it is happening. The first College Football Playoff is here, as Sunday's selections set semifinal pairings of Alabama-Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and Oregon-Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual.

The path to a playoff has been a long and rocky one, but the conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic directors overseeing the Bowl Championship Series eventually embraced change. This is the story of the playoff's evolution, from 2004 to 2014, in the words of the men charged with overseeing the game during that period.

(Note: SEC commissioner Mike Slive was unavailable to comment for the story while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.)

Auburn's exclusion from the championship game might have sparked the most anger about the BCS system, but it wasn't the first major controversy or the triggering event for a playoff push.

Mike Tranghese (Big East commissioner, 1990-2009): SEC fans would point to 2004 and Auburn not getting in, but I thought 2003 was the most controversial, when USC got left out. Following that, we didn't go back in the room and say, 'There's a problem. There's gotta be a playoff.' We really focused on tweaking the system that was in place. There wasn't any talk about the playoff, primarily because the Big Ten and the Pac-10 had been very, very consistent in their opposition to a playoff. There had been no wavering ever.

Chuck Neinas (Big 8 commissioner, 1971-80; Big 12 interim commissioner, 2011-12): About the time when Auburn was not selected and went undefeated, at the American Football Coaches Association convention, there was discussion about [a playoff]. There were some who were definitely opposed to it because they thought it would hurt the bowl system. But there was a straw vote within that meeting, and the majority was in favor.

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (Auburn running back, 2001-04): It almost felt like somebody stole your favorite dog. It was a devastating feeling and something to this day, when you talk to players on that '04 team, it still bothers them that we didn't get a chance to play for it. We're always going to feel like we were the national champs, but you still have that empty feeling that we didn't play for it on the field so we would never know.

Jim Delany (Big Ten commissioner, 1989-present): We were only six years into it [the BCS]. I thought it was a little too early to scrap it. Most people agreed with that. [Big Ten teams] had been No. 3. We had been No. 4. We just didn't think it was the right thing to do. We needed time to experience it. Whether it be for political reasons or substantive reasons, the chant from the public and part of the media was on. We contributed. The selection processes were oblique, not transparent, and the computers pretended to give more credit to strength of schedule than the polls did. We probably tweaked [the formula] too much in the early years, so we never settled in. Once we decided that the public really didn't want computers to override the pollsters, we really created a much more stable set of selection processes.

Tom Hansen (Pac-10 commissioner, 1983-2009): We were honestly, and fairly successfully, trying to improve the outcomes and measure teams. It's a very difficult thing to do in college football, to measure teams when they don't play each other very often. We were trying to get strength of schedule involved, and it never became as much of a factor as I had hoped it would. I don't think those years particularly changed the primary function of the commissioners, which was to protect the regular season, arguably is the best regular season of any American sport. That's where the tickets were sold and the majority of the television income comes, even though the postseason is valuable and lucrative both from a money standpoint and with exposure. But the regular season of college football was something that we always protected as much as we possibly could.

John Swofford (ACC commissioner, 1997-present): We reached a point after three or four straight years of tweaking it, we felt like we needed to leave it alone and people needed to get used to it and hopefully gain more confidence in it. That happened to a degree, but when you're constantly changing something, it doesn't necessarily breed comfort and confidence in the system.

Bill Hancock (College Football Playoff executive director, 2012-present; BCS administrator/executive director, 2005-12): We would see things that could make it better, and so we'd make those changes. That led to an unintended consequence, which is people not understanding how it worked. And it became to where it appeared to be too complicated, when in fact it was third-grade math: Take three numbers and average them. But it appeared to people that it was too complicated, and layered on top of that were fans who were disappointed because their teams didn't get in. Well, that happens in every sport.

In 2003, Tulane president Scott Cowen spearheaded an effort to increase BCS access for teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences (now called the Group of 5), as well as BCS revenue distribution. He testified before a U.S. House committee, advocated for an eight- or 16-team playoff and criticized the BCS. In 2004, the BCS commissioners approved a double-hosting format, which increased the number of spots in BCS bowls from eight to 10, therefore creating more opportunities for teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences. The changes sparked by Cowen's campaign went into effect in 2006 and helped programs like Boise State, TCU and Utah rise to national prominence.

Boise State's dramatic win against Oklahoma in the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl marked a milestone for college football's little guys. Three years later, the Fiesta Bowl featured two teams from non-AQ leagues in TCU and Boise State. A year later, TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

Karl Benson (Western Athletic Conference commissioner, 1994-2012; Sun Belt Conference commissioner, 2012-present): We talked about how Year 1 of the new system that started in 2006, how important was it from a team from one of the non-AQ five to break through and play in one of the BCS games. The stars were aligned for the Group of 5 to have Boise State play in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. It was the hype and the Cinderella and the underdog, everything leading up to that game.

That really was able to launch the non-AQ five into a period where we took advantage. Even Year 2, when Hawaii made it [to the Sugar Bowl]. And then you had TCU, Utah and Boise State. The Boise State win may go down as the most exciting, but the TCU win over Wisconsin [in the 2011 Rose Bowl] solidified that the non-AQ five, we had a place in postseason history. We became a regular part.

In October 2005, the BCS hired Bill Hancock, the longtime director of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, as its first full-time administrator. Commissioners previously had served as BCS coordinators, but Hancock took over operations of the system.

Swofford: It just grew to the point where we couldn't continue to pass it year to year with one of us. When you're in that role, it was literally like having two jobs. It just got too big, and the demands were too much.

Hancock: My role was being out front for the communications part and serving as spokesperson but also the behind-the-scenes part of just making sure the trains ran on time. [The BCS] wasn't a hard thing for me to defend at all. I loved talking to people about it, even people who didn't agree, because I recognized what a lot of people had forgotten, which was that, before the BCS, No. 1 and 2 almost never met in a bowl game. That seems terribly quaint now, but people look back and say, 'What?' A whole generation of fans doesn't remember the old bowl system.

After the BCS title game in January 2008, ACC commissioner John Swofford, also the BCS coordinator, said he would lead a "thorough" evaluation of a plus-one playoff model. In April, Swofford and SEC commissioner Mike Slive proposed the plus-one model, beginning in the 2010 season, to their colleagues at a BCS meeting in Hollywood, Florida.

The plan received little support from the others, and the BCS model remained for the 2010-13 cycle.

Swofford: It was about a two-minute conversation where it became very evident that we were lone voices and went nowhere. But at least it got it on the agenda. It really struck me at that point how little support there was in the room. I would hope there would have been more. Mike [Slive] and I were very disappointed in that. And then going out into the press conference and having to in essence say we talked about this but it's status didn't develop.

Delany: There was no conversation to be had. If there was some support, it was no more than a conference or two.

Hancock: I wouldn't classify it as short, but it wasn't a two-day discussion, either. It was 2-3 hours.

"You guys started something tonight that will change college football. It's going to take five, 10, 15, 20 years, but because of what this group did, went undefeated, it opened the eyes of people across the country. How do you give a national championship to somebody when there's another team out there undefeated?" Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn coach

Tranghese: It was a pretty extensive conversation. I know I voted against it and everybody assumed I was anti-playoff, but no one bothered to ask me why I voted that way. There were a variety of different problems with a plus-one, and I thought the model that John and Mike [Slive] were promoting wasn't one I was interested in. It was something different than the BCS, but it really wasn't a playoff. I think computers have a place, I think they're important, but I was always uncomfortable with the computers making the final decision. What Mike and John suggested was continuation of the use of the computers, and I was adamantly opposed to that.

A couple people wrote that if I had voted the other way we would have had a plus-one. It's ridiculous. The Pac-10 and Big Ten voted against it and they weren't going to do it. Our group was not controlled by a vote. It was a voluntary association. It didn't matter how I voted. Other people voted against it for different reasons than me. I was cast as an anti-playoff person, which was a joke.

Craig Thompson (Mountain West commissioner, 1999-present): People were hesitant to change because, for those five conferences, it was successful. They were playing in major bowls. They were making a lot of money and playing in the highest realm. A lot of the conversation centered on, 'We're the ones bringing the Rose, the Sugar, the Orange and the Fiesta into the mix. We're giving up something.'

Dan Beebe (Big 12 commissioner, 2007-11): We gave an audience and thought about it. Having served at the FCS level [as Ohio Valley Conference commissioner from 1989-2003], where I was part of the playoff, I thought the week-in and week-out pressure on the Power 5-level football player was such that they deserved the reward [of bowl games] at the end of the season. If the experts wanted to vote on who were the top teams, that was fine with me.

Swofford: There was a feeling coming out of that that maybe we can build on this. It's one of those things where perseverance was a part of it as well and not letting the conversation die.

On Jan. 2, 2009, Utah clobbered Alabama 31-17 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish the season at 13-0. The Utes, champions of the Mountain West, were the nation's only unbeaten team that season. In February 2009, Craig Thompson went to Washington, D.C., met with 8-10 congressmen and then told reporters he would propose an eight-team playoff.

In April 2009, Thompson formally presented his playoff plan to the BCS group in Pasadena, California. It was rejected.

Thompson: My plan was [an] eight-team [playoff], selection committee. There was very little traction. A lot of it centered on, 'Presidents don't want it, can't happen, two semesters, prolonging the season, too many games, protecting the bowls.' Some of the same rhetoric that we've heard about why we can't expand currently beyond the four.

Beebe: [Thompson] certainly wanted a playoff, which would have been best for his membership. He was with members that didn't have as much at stake with the regular-season attendance and the regular-season interests. The student-athletes in the Mountain West certainly had some level of statewide interest and pressure, but I wouldn't say it was like the Power 5-level conferences.

Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame athletic director, 2008-present): I think everyone's presidents were tired of getting inquiries from congressmen and trustees and everybody else. We approached this from the outs in, toward the common notion that we've got to try and find a way.

In June 2009, Tom Hansen retired as Pac-12 commissioner, and the league named Larry Scott, chairman of the Women's Tennis Association, as his replacement. Mike Tranghese also retired in June 2009 after 19 years at the helm of the Big East, and John Marinatto was promoted as his replacement.

Tranghese: I had seen nothing during that time that indicated [a playoff] had any chance. There had been what I would term some limited discussion, very limited. There still seemed to be significant opposition from both the Pac-10 and the Big Ten at the time. I understood Jim's and Tom's position. The Rose Bowl, in their opinion, was worth protecting.

Hansen: The outcome would have been the same had Mike Tranghese and I still been there. I thought eventually it was going to go to a playoff because, by that time, several of the other commissioners had expressed that as well. So I wasn't surprised that, subsequently, it did go that way.

Larry Scott: I didn't come into the role in July 2009 with a predetermined notion or a great sense of what the issues would be. I only knew as a fan that there was pent-up frustration with the BCS and that it was controversial. I started in July of 2009 with a 100-day listening period. I met with all our presidents and ADs and faculty and others, people on the national scene, including my fellow conference commissioner colleagues. I met with broadcast partners.

When I had my first board meeting in October 2009, I outlined a five-year plan for the conference where several long-held positions I felt we should re-evaluate and consider changes. One of them was expansion. We probably should consider expanding. Another was I felt we should consider our own TV network. One of them was I felt we should really consider a playoff and evaluate that, if we could do it in a way that would preserve the importance and the special relationship we have with the Rose Bowl.

I had determined that, not conclusively that we should have a playoff, but it's something we should be open to and engage in conversations about it, and I supported that as an overarching direction. It's fair to say that's when the Pac-10 position changed and we became much more open to the idea of a playoff.

In November 2009, the BCS hired Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary, to help reshape the public image of the system amid increased criticism. With help from Fleischer's public-relations firm, the BCS began a campaign highlighting its ability to ultimately pair the top two teams in a title game.

Scott: We weren't doing much to defend the system. It might be an imperfect system, but if it's your system, I was a bit startled that there wasn't much articulation of the benefits of it and the rationale for it. From commissioners, from athletics directors, from coaches, my sense was people were a bit beaten down and, for whatever reason, were not even willing to articulate the benefits of the system. Everyone had their heads pulled into the turtle shell. If you've got a system that you think is the right system, you've got to defend it and articulate the reasons for it. If you don't, you need to change it.

Beebe: I defended the heck out of it. I was on our football championship game telecast and they were asking me about it. At every turn and every chance I had, I defended where we were. The main thing was whether those in the membership, the coaches and athletic directors and others who really believed that was the best model, stood up and defended it as well as they could have.

The drumbeat for a playoff grew louder in the next year, but the attention shifted to realignment in 2010, as every major conference made membership moves. In September 2011, Dan Beebe stepped down after the Big 12 nearly dissolved for the second time in 14 months. Chuck Neinas replaced Beebe as interim commissioner.

Delany: Leadership and conferences changed. Larry Scott came in. Beebe left. In 2008, we went from Big Ten, Pac-10, Big East, Big 12, Notre Dame [opposing the playoff], to a point where most people in that group [approved of one]. The Big East was falling apart. Notre Dame was looking out for its interests. We obviously were looking out for our own. The Big 12 was in the middle of losing lots of members, so there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of conference movement. It was a shift of public sentiment and sentiment inside leagues.

Beebe: Chuck Neinas was in the interim role at that time. He favored a playoff but he and I wouldn't have agreed. Maybe he was more persuasive with the membership to go that direction, where I was pretty dead set on trying to avoid having a playoff. Jim may be right. Tom Hansen was in the same boat. Larry might have brought a different perspective.

Swofford: Those [leadership] changes did contribute. It's hard to say how much, but things settling out the way they did, it did contribute to our ability to settle on the College Football Playoff. If the [realignment] landscape hadn't settled to a degree, it would have been more difficult.

During two conference calls in October 2011, the BCS commissioners began looking at the model, since a new cycle would begin after the 2013 season. They met again in New Orleans on Jan. 10, 2012, after two SEC teams, Alabama and LSU, played in the BCS championship game.

Meetings in Dallas followed in February and March, and the commissioners decided they would propose any changes to the system by that coming summer.

Neinas: The commissioners had a meeting the day after that particular game [LSU-Alabama].That's when really the impetus was obviously strong to do something. Basically, the colleges had to get a better grasp of postseason football.

Swofford: I don't think it was because of that game, per se. That was just the point in time where I felt like it there began to be some acceptance to seriously talking about a playoff one time or another. Maybe that's the next step, and maybe we should talk more about how it would work. It was an acceptance that the status quo going forward was not going to be acceptable. We had to find the next step. Jim Delany: Our position, which had been the majority position, gave way politically, partially based on the public, partially based on the change of leadership, partially based on what was right to do. You could read the handwriting that people were more open, but there's a big difference between being open and finding something that everybody could sign off on. The reality was it would be really hard on us to be on our own, but it would be really hard on anyone else not to have everybody involved.

Scott: I think Jim [Delany] realized pretty early on that our position might change and the Big Ten couldn't be an outlier. As long as the Big Ten and Pac-10 were aligned, we could prevent it from happening, but he didn't want the Big Ten to be on its own. I think he saw the handwriting on the wall with our changing position.

In April 2012, the BCS commissioners met in Florida and began to look at models for a four-team playoff. During the next two months, they discussed and debated several elements that would go into the new postseason model.

Scott: Was it going to be a four-team playoff or something different? Are the semifinals going to be within the bowl system or outside? Should being a conference champion be a qualifying criteria or not? Those were some things that were vigorously debated. Should the traditional bowls in the BCS be guaranteed certain slots or not? The philosophy about the championship game: Should that rotate among prior goals or new venues? Revenue sharing. How would that work? Access for teams outside the five [major] conferences. And, keep in mind, during this time, there was still realignment going on, so that created some additional complications.

Delany: We wanted to be part of the larger situation, had interests to protect. A number of us felt like we could do this, but we weren't going to do it without making sure we had a [selection] committee, without making sure it was in the bowl system, without making sure the Rose Bowl wouldn't continue to be relevant. So there was this compromise between the four best teams and using conference champions and strength of schedule as the major tiebreakers.

Hancock: The group had really, really rallied around the four-team tournament. But the conventional wisdom was that the semifinals would be on campus. And at the April meeting in Miami, the athletic directors advisory group was there, and those ADs said, 'Don't do it. We strongly recommend against it.' It was a real eye-opener. Their reasons ranged from the political to the practical. It would have been a tremendous advantage, of course, for the No. 1 and 2 seeds to play at home. On the practical side was the loss of the pageantry and the bowl experience for the athlete. They wouldn't have the same experience playing on New Year's Day in Norman, Oklahoma, as they would in Pasadena. But also, there was the humorous: Northern-tier ADs said their stadiums have been winterized. So we had the political, the metaphysical and the practical.

Bob Bowlsby (Big 12 commissioner, 2012-present): The commissioners were working together very well. They were productive meetings. I walked in the first meeting, and Mike Slive and Jim Delany were sitting next to each other after months of publicity about how they weren't getting along. So from the very beginning, I thought it was a pretty collegial process. There's always pushing and shoving over access issues and revenue-sharing issues, and there certainly was some of that. But it was very professional, and I never had the impression that once we made the decision it was going to fall apart.

Swofford: There were some times in those discussions where you'd get worn down a bit and wonder, 'I don't know whether we can get this resolved or not.' But we'd step back away from it and once we got reasonably deep into the conversations, there was a sense that, 'Look, we've come too far. We've got to work this out. We're letting down the entire college football community.' And that's what drove us.

On June 20, 2012, the commissioners met in Chicago and unanimously voted to recommend a four-team playoff with a selection committee, beginning in 2014 and lasting for 12 seasons, to the BCS presidential oversight committee. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, speaking on behalf of the group in the Camelot Room of the Hotel InterContinental, announced, "We have developed the consensus on a four-team, seeded playoff."

Swarbrick: The simple story is that Hancock had lost his voice and [Swarbrick is viewed as] the most Switzerland-like, so it made sense probably for me to do it. People would read too much into one or the other commissioners doing it.

On June 26 in Washington, D.C., the presidential committee unanimously approved the four-team model, which would include semifinal games at bowl sites and championship games at rotating neutral sites. The presidents also approved dates for the playoff games, the term of the agreement and a revenue-sharing model.

The playoff was born.

Tranghese: I thought someday there would be a playoff, but I had no idea when. I was just surprised that all of a sudden, there was such unity among the group. For the good of college football, no matter what system they employ, it didn't do anybody any good to have the major conferences be at odds.

Scott: I had a tremendous sense of satisfaction because I felt like we were doing something great for fans and great for the sport of college football. But I probably did not have as great a sense of the historical significance and relevance because I'm not one of the guys who was at this for 20 years.

Swarbrick: I was struck by the amount of goodwill, because a lot of people were speculating that this commissioner or this conference had this as an absolute issue, and this one had this -- and there really was very little of that. Everybody understood how important it was to sort of maintain the relationships because we've got to work together on a million things and approach this collegially, and we really did.

Hancock: It was decided in a business setting, at a rectangular table with 26 people, but there was an undertone of sentiment that, goodness gracious, look what we have done. I went to tell the commissioners that the presidents had made the decision. Everybody shook hands. The whole process was collegial. There were some tough negotiations. The real beauty of it was nobody got everything they wanted.

The whole thing went really fast after June 2012.

During the next few months, the group continued to discuss issues like revenue sharing and access for teams from the former non-automatic qualifying conferences.

Benson: Once the format was set, then we turned our attention to the selection procedures, the revenue sharing. Our Group of 5 then became more active to make sure that the revenue sharing was equitable, or at least there was a bigger share of the revenue that would be going to us. When you think about the previous financial model, there was $15-20 million a year going to the five conferences under the old format. Today, there's $75-80 million going to the five of us. It didn't come without some hard negotiation, and I credit Mike [Slive] and Jim [Delany] for their leadership to get us to a point where everybody was able to sign off. We knew that we had to get to that endgame. We couldn't risk some other format, some other model, that didn't include us. We knew we needed to remain under the CFP model. There was a very concerted effort by the big five [major conferences] to keep us.

It will take a very, very special season by one of our five [Group of 5] to get to the top four. We're appreciative of the access of the highest-ranked champion. The revenue was important, but it was more important to stay in the system and have a place.

"A couple people wrote that if I had voted the other way we would have had a plus-one. It's ridiculous. The Pac-10 and Big Ten voted against it and they weren't going to do it. Our group was not controlled by a vote. It was a voluntary association. It didn't matter how I voted. Other people voted against it for different reasons than me. I was cast as an anti-playoff person, which was a joke." Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner

Thompson: The one thing in all this that frustrates me to no end is the date we voted to go to a playoff, that same day, the group took a vote that denied our request for an automatic bid for the last two years of the BCS, 2012 and 2013. We met the criteria. I had felt all along that our performance in the '08, '09, '10 and '11 seasons with TCU and Utah -- we had played in three straight BCS bowls, we deserved the automatic bid, even just for those two years.

We have a voice, but it's not without strings. Our voice is similar and attached to others, rather than just the standalone Mountain West. We've been probably a thorn in the side to my peers at the commissioner level and to the BCS in general. We've fought for a playoff since existence.

In November 2012, the presidents approved the playoff format and its structure, revenue-sharing model, term, access points and other elements. The following April, the playoff name -- College Football Playoff -- was announced, and the management committee began sorting out the criteria for the selection committee. The criteria were set on June 18.

Thompson: The debate wasn't so much on the selection committee itself, but how do you choose the selection committee? How are they representative? Is it sitting ADs or not sitting ADs? I want to say there were 125-150 people to begin with on a master list. And long debates: Should it be 12? Should it be 15? Should it be 18? Is that too many? What is the workable number? And it fell on 13. Thirteen seemed to make sense.

On Oct. 16, 2013, the first College Football Playoff selection committee was announced. It included sitting athletic directors, former coaches, players and administrators and a former journalist. The selection committee gathered for the first time on Nov. 11 in Washington, D.C. Three days later, Hancock was appointed executive director of the playoff.

On Jan. 6, 2014, Florida State beat Auburn in the final BCS championship game.

Delany: The BCS, while it was controversial, grew the game into a national game. Before the BCS, we probably had, what, 6-12 games a year, maximum, that were national in nature: Auburn-Alabama, Ohio State-Michigan. And all of a sudden, we had two or three games a weekend that other people were watching. We had growth platforms, Big Ten Network and other networks. The value had gone up. The game had gotten better, the coaches coached better, the players played better. From '98 to this year, college football has established itself as the clear No. 2 sport in the country. If there had been no BCS, I doubt whether you would have had that kind of growth.

Tranghese: People can criticize the BCS all they want, but if there hadn't been the BCS, there would not be a playoff. The public doesn't want to hear that. We'd still be back in the dark ages.

Swofford: The BCS had its place. We've had to get here incrementally. Most years the BCS got it right, but there were certainly years where that was very, very debatable. Those years contributed [to the establishment of a playoff].

Hancock: Someone said, 'Was it emotional in Pasadena the last night of the BCS?' And it was a little bit for me. It had been my life for nine seasons. But at the same time, there was a new event to get started on the next morning.

Preparations for the first playoff continued in the spring and summer. In April, the committee revealed its criteria for selecting teams, its recusal policy, its seeding procedure, its schedule of meetings and a top-25 rankings to be issued beginning in late October. On July 14, the new national championship trophy was unveiled.

On Oct. 27, the committee held its first meeting in Grapevine, Texas. The first rankings were released the following night.

Tommy Tuberville (Auburn coach, 1999-2008; Cincinnati coach, 2013-present): We had our 10th-year anniversary [of the 2004 team] at Auburn and I was able to go. Almost every player came back, and we sat down and I gave that same talk. I said, 'Remember what I told you. Ironic that 10 years later, this has happened. You were a big part of changing the landscape of college football.' The BCS was good when you had two undefeated teams, but it wasn't good when you had three or four. That opened a lot of people's eyes, even the presidents, and the presidents were totally against this playoff deal but TV put pressure on them and the money opened their eyes, too.

There aren't too many days that go by that I don't think about that, the opportunity that we should have had to go down and play USC in the Orange Bowl. But that's life. You can always think of what could have been or what should have been or what could have happened. But I bought a national championship ring for every player, and I've got mine. Every coach got one: 2004 national championship.

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams (Auburn running back, 2001-04): I'm so glad they came up with the playoff system. Of course, Coach Tuberville and a lot of us on that 2004 team, we feel like we really kick started things to get this whole playoff thing started.

Bowlsby: We wanted to strengthen September. For many years, the schedules in September are not necessarily what they should be. [The playoff] has served to do that. It's made September much better. Everyone was concerned that we not do anything that would weaken the regular season, and I think the contrary has happened. This new system has really strengthened what was already a good October and November and made it even better. There are lots of games you could look at and say these are playoff elimination games over the course of the season. It's made it very exciting.

As the playoff selections neared, John Swofford said the system should expand to eight teams. The Big 12's hesitancy to declare one champion -- despite its "One True Champion" slogan -- generated controversy.

Bowlsby: To go a whole lot deeper into this with, say, eight teams in four games, you would play some of those games before the Christmas holiday. It's a nonstarter to have the championship game further out in January than it currently is.

Hansen: I've always predicted that the playoff will quickly expand. I know they've put a contract in for 12 years and it's supposed to stay at four, but there's no way it stays at four in my opinion. Every single American playoff has expanded both rapidly and almost exponentially, and I don't think this is going to be any different."

On Dec. 7, the selection committee announced the participants and the pairings for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Ohio State, which hadn't been in the committee's top five all season, grabs the fourth and final spot.

The Big 12, despite having two worthy candidates in Baylor and TCU, gets shut out of the playoff, prompting criticism both internally and externally about the lack of a championship game and the league bylaw preventing one champion from being endorsed to the committee when teams tie for first place.

Scott: Look at the four teams in the semifinals. Look at the way the committee went about its business in such a transparent way and the diligence they showed. It was everything we hoped for. We had a world-class group doing the work. I think they went above and beyond any work requirements or expectations we had. I think [committee chair] Jeff Long did a tremendous job in a difficult and challenging role, having to speak so frequently and openly about the process. He was very candid and forthright about a subjective process. For the first year, we feel a sense of gratitude.

Delany: In the past, you had computers and coaching polls. It was formulaic. This is a more dynamic process. When they took that assignment, they realized it would be challenging and pressure-packed. You can't underestimate personal time, the commitment and the effort these people put in. And they've been as transparent as possible. It will be inspected. I'm sure it will be tweaked by the committee. The bowl system is intact, and that's good. There's going to be six New Year's Day games. There's a playoff, which fans at many of the institutions have wanted. There's a lot of excitement, and there's growth and interest in the game.

ESPN.com's Ted Miller, Greg Ostendorf and Matt Fortuna contributed to this story.