By RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
CHICAGO (AP) - College football has always relied on polls and bowls to crown a national championship. It is an inexact science that has left many fans frustrated and wondering why they can't settle it on the field _ like every other sport _ with a playoff.
Finally, the people in charge agree with the people in the stands.
A major college football playoff, albeit a small one, is closer than ever to becoming a reality.
The BCS commissioners have backed a plan for a four-team playoff with the sites for the national semifinals rotating among the major bowl games and a selection committee picking the participants. The plan will be presented to university presidents next week for approval.
Once the presidents sign off _ and that seems likely _ major college football's champion will be decided by a playoff for the first time, starting in 2014.
The Bowl Championship Series is on its death bed. Even the name is likely to go away.
"We are excited to be on the threshold of creating a new postseason structure for college football that builds on the great popularity of our sport," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Wednesday.
All 11 commissioners stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind Swarbrick, who read the BCS statement from a podium set up in a hotel conference room.
The commissioners have been working on reshaping college football's postseason since January. The meeting Wednesday was the sixth formal get-together of the year. They met for four hours and emerged with a commitment to stand behind a plan.
"I think we're very unified," said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who for years had been a staunch opponent of even the smallest playoff.
For decades, major college football didn't even try to organize a championship game. The top teams played in marquee bowl games and if it happened to work out that No.1 and No. 2 squared off on New Year's Day, well, all the better. When all the games were done, the voters in the AP poll would crown a champion and so would the coaches who vote in their poll. Sometimes there would be two No. 1s.
In the 1990s, the commissioners of the major conferences came up with the idea to create a national title game, matching No. 1 vs. No. 2 every year. Eventually, that spawned the Bowl Championship Series, which was implemented in 1998. Instead of solving the problem of crowning a champion, the BCS only seemed to exasperate fans even more. Too often, using polls and computer ratings to narrow the field to two teams was all but impossible.
Like last year, when Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season, but ended up getting a second crack at the Tigers in the BCS title game _ despite having the same record as Big 12 champion Oklahoma State. The Crimson Tide validated their appearance by trouncing LSU and winning the BCS title, but many outside of SEC country were left unsatisfied.
Under the commissioners' proposal, Alabama and Oklahoma State likely would have played in one semifinal while LSU played Pac-12 champion Oregon in the other.
No doubt many will wonder, "Why only four?"
"I'm sure it won't satisfy everyone," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. "Until you have an eight-team or 16-team seeded playoff, there will be folks out there that aren't completely satisfied. We get that. But we're trying to balance other important parties, like the value of the regular season, the bowls, the academic calendar."
The commissioners refrained from providing many specifics of the plan in their announcement.
Scott did say the two semifinals would be worked into the existing major bowls and the site of the national championship game will be bid out to any city that wants it, the way the NFL does with the Super Bowl.
People with firsthand knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press that the semifinals of the proposed plan would rotate among the major bowls and not be tied to traditional conference relationships.
They also said that under the plan a selection committee would choose the schools that play for the national title.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the commissioners did not want to reveal many details before talking to their bosses.
"I am delighted," said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, whose push for a four-team playoff in 2008 was shot down. "I am pleased with the progress we have made. There are some differences, but we will work them out. We're trying to do what is in the best interest of the game."