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He claims to not remember much of how it went, the day the "p-word" was finally discussed officially – and shot down emphatically. But Mike Slive recalls what happened afterward.

As several of his peers explained publicly why they were not at all interested in Slive's proposal to change college football's postseason structure, the SEC commissioner stood in the back of the room with ACC commissioner John Swofford, the other proponent.

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"I remember having a sour look on my face," Slive said. "Because that's how I felt."

It was only six years ago, in April 2008. But as the College Football Playoff era kicks off this week, it's perhaps difficult to recall just how we got here. Or how much the powers who ran the game opposed a playoff at the time. For many years as the Bowl Championship Series lurched along, they avoided even uttering the word "playoff" – and not just publicly.

"It was pretty rigid within the (commissioners' meeting) room for a good while," Swofford recalls.

On that April day in 2008, the model up for discussion was actually the "plus-one" rather than an actual playoff. The debate was very brief. The vote was even quicker: No.

But in retrospect, the mere fact there was official consideration of radical change was a critical moment. Regardless of the outcome or the model, when the commissioners discussed the idea that, as Slive put it, "four is better than two," it carried meaning.

The revolution failed, but evolution came faster than anyone on that day would have predicted.

"It was the precursor to where we ultimately ended up," Swofford says. "Its time just had not come."

***

The "plus-one" model wouldn't have been so much a tournament as a postponement of the team selection process (and the controversy) until after the bowls rather than after the regular season. Using the BCS formula, a much-maligned mashup of human polls and computer rankings, two highest-ranked bowl winners would have been matched to play for the national championship.

Regardless of the model, college football wasn't ready. Or at least, those who controlled college football weren't.

A "creative tension," as Slive puts it, had always existed between those who thought the BCS postseason structure was an end and those who believed it was only a first step toward something more. Various controversies related to the selection process – one year it was those computers, the next it was those blasted voters, some years it was all of the above – had gradually heated the temperature of the public conversation beyond uncomfortable.

Slive says he became a proponent of change in 2004, when the BCS formula passed on undefeated Auburn and in favor of fellow unbeatens USC and Oklahoma.

"It was incomprehensible to me, knowing what this league is like, that somehow Auburn could not play for the national championship," Slive says. "That was a great football team."

Auburn was very good, but the SEC actually wasn't exceptionally strong that season – certainly not what it has become, both in perception and reality. No matter. Forever more, the conventional wisdom in the South was the Tigers were snubbed. And a commissioner's mind was set on change, no matter how long it took.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs says he first heard Slive broach the subject that "four is better than two" during a meeting of SEC athletic directors sometime in 2005.

"He made the comment, 'I am very open-minded and I want to hear what other people think, but if somebody asks me what the best direction for college football is, it's to add an extra game, to do the 'plus-one' model,' " Jacobs says. "(The controversy involving Auburn) was over, but it wasn't over for him. It was just getting started."

Slive said similar things in interviews during the two years he spent as the BCS coordinator, a duty rotated among the commissioners. And when the annual BCS meetings rolled around in April 2008, Slive was ready to do more than talk. What happened in the room depends on who's remembering – or not – but the idea was doomed to fail, at least at that moment.

The agenda item was not scheduled for a vote, just a discussion. But it wasn't long before the debate ended with an up-and-(mostly) down referendum. Slive wanted the "plus-one," and was open to different models. Swofford wanted change, too. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and then-Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen did not, and so it wasn't going to happen.

In retrospect, Swofford and Slive probably didn't expect to gain approval. Swofford says his realistic expectation was getting "close to half" of the votes. But the discussion, and even the loss, was significant: For the first time, commissioners were on record considering a change to the postseason. Call it a plus-one, a playoff or the "p-word," but there was a crack in what had seemed a solid wall.

"I thought at that point in time that it was evolving," Swofford says. "I don't know that I could tell you that I could see than that it was going to happen, but I could see progress in the discussion and people's thinking."

***

Not quite four years later, the morning after Alabama beat LSU to win the BCS championship – the SEC's sixth consecutive crystal football in a streak that would reach seven – the conference commissioners met and expressed new openness to change. A few months later, when they announced the formation of a four-team playoff, the easy conclusion was that the all-SEC BCS title game was a catalyst.

Slive had decided he wanted a playoff when one of his teams was left out; everyone else climbed aboard when all of their teams were left out.

"I think that's when the conversations began," Slive says. "I never ascribe motives to other people, but I hear people say that. With the timing I can understand why people say that."

A few months later, when they announced a four-team playoff, set to begin in 2014, there were plenty of reasons. Much had changed since the ill-fated 2008 proposal.

Opposition to the BCS had increased from simmer to boil. The Fiesta Bowl had been embroiled in scandal. Politicians had threatened to get involved. A president-elect had endorsed an eight-team tournament. Conferences had undergone dramatic realignment in membership – and in some cases, leadership (notably, Larry Scott replaced Hansen in what had become the Pac-12).

The creative tension had become extreme pressure – and it was only growing. "BCS fatigue" was a term the commissioners, tired of trying to defend the system, actually used. All of the sudden, they used the word "playoff," too. And then they created one.

"I don't think there was any one thing that really turned it," Swofford says. "It was gradual. In college athletics, from a national perspective, that seems to be the way things happen: gradually. … The ongoing public beat toward the playoff, that drummer ultimately played a role.

"The process, I think, was one of just getting the idea out there and it taking a while for people to become comfortable with it in the (commissioners' meeting) room. We stayed persistent, but not in a way that killed the idea."

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