In my last post, I went over four proposals that the FBS commissioners were evaluating to add a plus-one national championship game to the BCS system. What is apparent is that the firmest resistance to a plus-one is coming from the Big Ten (led by Jim Delany) and the Rose Bowl.* When I wrote my “BCS Final Four” seeded plus-one proposal last year, I stated that “for any college football postseason proposal to have even a whiff of a chance of succeeding, forget about “fairness” and think like Jim Delany.” It might be even more pointed this year where the Big Ten and Rose Bowl are specifically the biggest obstacles to getting a plus-one proposal passed. In theory, the other conferences and BCS bowls could just roll over those two entities with a super-majority, but the reality is that while everyone technically has an equal vote, they don’t have equal voices… and Delany has the biggest voice of them all. Even “Death to the BCS” author Dan Wetzel stated that with the plus-one debate coming down to Delany versus everyone, he would take “Delany as no worse than even money”. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to see a plus-one system that doesn’t have the backing of the Big Ten regardless of the support of everyone else.
(* Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott appears to be much more open to a seeded plus-one system, although still not wanting to give up the Rose Bowl.)
As a result, the purpose of this post is to try to find a compromise that could at least be plausibly acceptable to the Big Ten and Rose Bowl in real life. What I’m not trying to do is find a system that is “perfect”.** Personally, out of all of the college football postseason proposals that I’ve written over the years (which includes an 8-team playoff using the bowls, an unseeded plus-one and a semi-seeded plus-one), my favorite is the BCS Final Four mentioned above that would likely be the most popular with the masses, as well. However, my feeling is that we’re not going to see something that straightforward and simple if we get a plus-one at all. Therefore, I acknowledge that the compromise proposed here isn’t a clean system, where it might look wonderful in some seasons and be controversial in other years. The goal is to find a plus-one formula that I think Jim Delany would actually agree to while making the fans and TV networks happy the vast majority of the time.
(** I put this caveat in virtually every BCS proposal and still invariably get a comment to the effect of, “This idea SUX AZZ. We need a 16-team playoff with every conference getting an auto-bid or else it’s worthless.” While I sympathize with the sentiment for massive change, it’s just not realistic and, therefore, not worth writing about in my view.)
One model that drew traction among Big Ten and Pac-12 athletic directors is to have the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange host #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 semifinal games on a rotation while the Rose Bowl would “opt out” of the semis and keep a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup annually. What’s unclear is whether the Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents along with the Rose Bowl are actually on board with this (as those are the real decision makers as opposed to the ADs). Most observers seem to believe that the Rose Bowl keeping a Big Ten/Pac-12 game would be enough, but I take a narrower view of what is “acceptable” to the people in Pasadena. While the Big Ten and Pac-12 tie-ins are certainly critical, there’s also a matter of the Rose having an elevated status compared to the other bowls. It’s one thing if the Rose is the #2 college football game of the year after the national championship game, but my impression is that being only the #4 game of the year at best after the national title and the 2 bowls that are semifinal hosts isn’t what they’re bargaining for.
So, how do we create a plus-one that doesn’t systematically turn the Rose Bowl into a consolation prize behind the other BCS bowls? As with the BCS Final Four, we should have a “less is more” approach:
THE HALFWAY THERE COMPROMISE
The main principles of this system:
(1) Traditional Rose Bowl – The Rose Bowl always takes the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions.
(2) Cotton Bowl is added as a 5th BCS bowl – Under this system, the Cotton Bowl would share the Big 12 tie-in with the Fiesta Bowl (to be further explained in point #4).
(3) Quasi-Semifinals Using 4 Highest Ranked Auto-bid Recipients Outside of Rose Bowl Participants – 2 of the BCS bowls besides the Rose Bowl will hold games featuring the 4 highest ranked teams that received BCS auto-bids outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs in a seeded format. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll call them “Quasi-Semifinals” and assume that the auto-bids are the same as today (6 AQ conference champs, top 4 teams in the BCS rankings, top ranked non-AQ conference champ provided that it’s in the top 12 and a top 8 Notre Dame team*). In a season like this one where the Rose Bowl does not have any top 4 teams, there would actually be 2 true semifinal games with #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 games.
(* AQ status may technically disappear, but as I’ve stated before, it will likely be a matter of semantics since the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC will continue to have virtual AQ status with their contractual bowl tie-ins. The Big East is really the only conference with a real risk of facing a major loss if the BCS system changes dramatically.)
(4) Quasi-Semifinal Site Tie-in Preferences – The Quasi-Semifinals will rotate on an annual basis between the 4 BCS bowls besides the Rose Bowl and receive preferences to get games that involve their conference tie-ins. For example, if the Sugar Bowl were holding a Quasi-Semifinal this year, it could take #1 Auburn vs. #4 Stanford since it has the SEC tie-in. The higher ranked team gets priority if both Quasi-Semifinal sites have a claim to the same game (i.e. if there is a #1 ACC champ vs. a #4 SEC champ, the Orange would get that game over the Sugar). The Fiesta and Cotton would host Quasi-Semifinals in opposite years, so they can rotate the Big 12 tie-in.
(5) Other BCS Bowls Select Teams Like Today Except for (a) 3 BCS Bids from Conference Allowed and (b) Ranking Priority – The 2 BCS bowls that aren’t hosting Quasi-Semifinals in a given year would generally select teams in the same manner as today (i.e. conference tie-ins and first dibs on replacing tie-ins from that conference if they make it to a Quasi-Semifinal, at-large pool consists of teams in top 14, etc.). However, the cap on BCS bids from a conference would be raised from 2 to 3 in order to garner more Big Ten support (and the SEC would be on board, too). At the same time, the bowl with the higher ranked tie-in (or applicable conference tie-in replacement team) would get the first at-large selection.
(6) Two Highest Ranked Winners of Their Bowls Advance to the National Championship Game – I’ve kicked around the idea of having another BCS ranking after the bowls are completed to determine the #1 vs. #2 matchup, but I’m wary of strength of schedule components being altered during the bowl season (as it opens up way too many avenues to be attacked if bowl matchups are set up in a way that helps or hurts a team computer-wise). I actually feel relatively comfortable setting it up where simply the two highest ranked winners of their bowls advance to the national championship game because between the Rose Bowl and the two Quasi-Semifinal Games, there 3 games with auto-bid vs. auto-bid matchups based on merit (so there aren’t at-large teams that are simply there to sell tickets based on name brand or traveling fan bases).
Again, if this system was in place this year, it would be fairly simple as #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 games would be set into place. Assuming that the Orange and Cotton would be the Quasi-Semifinal hosts, the bowl lineup would look like this:
Rose Bowl: #10 Wisconsin (Big Ten champion) vs. #5 Oregon (Pac-12 champ)
Orange Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 1): #1 LSU (SEC champ) vs. #4 Stanford (top 4 auto-bid)
Cotton Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 2): #2 Alabama (top 4 auto-bid) vs. #3 Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ)
Sugar Bowl: #13 Michigan (at-large bid 1/SEC champ replacement) vs. #23 West Virginia (Big East champ)
Fiesta Bowl: #8 Kansas State (at-large bid 2/Big 12 champ replacement)* vs. #15 Clemson (ACC champ)
(* I’m assuming that the Fiesta Bowl would have taken Kansas State to preserve its Big 12 ties instead of Virginia Tech, who received the Sugar Bowl at-large bid in real life.)
Where this system would have really come into play was last season, where the bowl lineup would have turned out this way:
Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin (Big Ten champ) vs. #2 Oregon (Pac-12 champ)
Sugar Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 1): #1 Auburn (SEC champ) vs. #7 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ)
Fiesta Bowl (Quasi-Semifinal 2): #3 TCU (non-AQ auto-bid) vs. #4 Stanford (top 4 auto-bid)
Orange Bowl: #13 Virginia Tech (ACC champ) vs. Connecticut (Big East champ)
Cotton Bowl: #6 Ohio State (at-large bid 1) vs. #8 Arkansas (at-large bid 2)
Depending upon your point of view, 2010 would have been either awesome (3 BCS bowls had an impact the national championship race, including the Rose Bowl) or horrible (no true semifinals). The Rose, Sugar and Fiesta would all actually have been fairly evenly matched.
Personally, I like this setup (even though it’s not as clean as the BCS Final Four) and, at the very least, it’s better than what we have now. It’s almost like a return to the 1990s Bowl Alliance, but with a plus-one national championship game held afterwards, so the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl trifecta would be participating in the end. The main disadvantage is that if a plus-one system is not seeded, there could be mismatches on paper. For instance, the Rose Bowl could theoretically feature a #1 vs. #2 game or, alternatively, have a #2 vs. #14 matchup. That’s simply something that’s going to happen at times under this system. (Of course, no one gets bothered by the fact that the NCAA Tournament isn’t re-seeded after games are played, so one Elite Eight could feature a #1-seed vs. #12-seed while a different one could be a #1-seed vs. #2-seed. The Final Four teams usually all have played very different levels of competition in their regional brackets.) Once again, the purpose of this proposal is to find a compromise that the Big Ten and Rose Bowl would agree to as opposed to one that’s perfect. There’s certainly a nostalgic part of me that wants to see the Rose Bowl and the other major bowls become blockbusters again, which is what this system could virtually guarantee.
So, add the Halfway There Compromise to the pile of BCS bowl proposals out there for your holiday enjoyment. One of these days, a plus-one proposal is going to click with all of the powers that be (and it might be sooner rather than later). In the meantime, Merry Christmas, everyone!