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College football will have a 4-team playoff in 2014

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College football will have a 4-team playoff in 2014

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Playoffs and tournaments long have determined champions of every college sport from baseball to bowling. The exception was major college football. That ended Tuesday. Come 2014, the BCS is dead. A committee of university presidents approved a plan for a four-team playoff put forward by commissioners of the top football conferences. For years, the decision-makers had balked at any type of playoff because they said it would diminish the importance of the regular season. If only two teams had a chance to win a championship in the postseason, even one loss could be too many. That made for some very high stakes regular-season games. As recently as 2008, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive proposed the type of plan adopted Tuesday, and it was quickly shot down. Four years later, minds changed. The 12 university presidents stood shoulder to shoulder on a stage at a news conference in a posh hotel in the nation's capital and delivered the news. "It's a great day for college football," BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said. "As soon as the commissioners realized they could do this and protect the regular season, the light went on for everybody." The move completes a six-month process for the commissioners, who have been working on a new way to determine a major college football champion after years of griping from fans. The latest configuration is certain to make even more money for the schools than the old system -- and not satisfy everyone. "There were differences of views," said Virginia Tech President Charles Steger, who headed the BCS presidential oversight committee. "I think it would be a serious mistake to assume it was a rubber stamp." Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman was the most notable holdout. He had said he preferred the status quo or a tweak of the Bowl Championship Series. Perlman said the playoff still wouldn't be his first choice, but he was not going to stand in the way of progress. "This is the package that was put forth and we will strongly support it," he said. Instead of simply matching the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams in a title game after the regular season, the way the BCS has done since 1998, the new format will create a pair of national semifinals. Many college football fans have been clamoring for a playoff for years, and the BCS has been a constant target for criticism. Lawmakers have railed against it. A political action committee was formed, dedicated to its destruction. The Justice Department looked into whether it broke antitrust laws. Even President Obama said he wanted a playoff. Now it's a reality. No. 1 will play No. 4, and No. 2 will play No. 3 on Dec. 31 andor Jan. 1. The sites of those games will rotate among the four current BCS bowls -- Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar -- and two more to be determined. One of the new sites will likely be wherever the newly formed bowl created by the SEC and Big 12 is played, Slive said. The Cotton Bowl, played at the 1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has long wanted to be part of the BCS and is expected to make a strong push to be in the semifinal rotation. The winners of the semis will advance to the championship on the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the last semifinal. The first "Championship Monday," as it was called in the BCS release, is set for Jan. 12, 2015. The site of the title game will move around the way the Super Bowl does, with cities bidding for the right to host. The teams will be selected by a committee, similar to the way the NCAA basketball tournament field is set. The men's tournament has 68 teams, and 37 at-large bids. The football committee will have a much tougher task, trying to whittle the field down to four. This season, 125 schools will play at the highest level of college football. Among the factors the committee will consider are won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team is a conference champion. The selection committee will also play a part in creating matchups for the games at the four sites that do not hold a semifinal in a given year. "I think it's tremendous progress," Washington State coach Mike Leach, a playoff proponent, said in a telephone interview. "Five years ago there wasn't even dialogue about a playoff. Instead of diving in the water, they dipped their toes in. I think it's' going to be ridiculously exciting and it's going to generate a bunch of money. I wish they dived in." The BCS had given automatic qualifying status to six conferences, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 and Big East. That allowed those leagues better access to the big, high-payout games than the other five conferences, such as the Mountain West and Conference USA. Automatically qualified status is gone and the commissioners believe the new system will create more interesting games beyond the ones that determine the national title. "What the system now is, several semifinals, championship game and some access bowls. By creating a couple of access bowls, people will be able to play high-quality opponents in big venues with big brands," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. No one has put a hard number on it yet, but this new format figures to more than double the TV revenue of the current BCS and Rose Bowl contracts. Those pay out about 155 million annually. The commissioners want to lock in this format for 12 years with a television partner. The current four-year BCS deal with ESPN runs through the 2013 season. The new format will be presented to potential TV partners in the fall, starting with ESPN. "I think we have found what we think is the right place and it stabilizes the postseason for a length of time that I think is healthy for the game," said Slive, whose members have won the last six BCS championships. There are still some details to work out -- such as who will be on the committee and what new bowls will be involved in the semifinal rotation -- but all the decision-makers are on board. Lower divisions of college football already have a playoff, but the highest level has always used bowls and polls to determine its champion. Those days are coming to an end. "We believe this new format will be good for student-athletes, for the alumni and for our institutions," Steger said. "It's a best of both worlds result. It captures the excitement of the playoff while protecting the regular season."

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”