Everyday I’m Shuffling: College Football Playoffs, Conference Realignment and Penn State

I’m finally back from along family vacation where I was blissfully unaware of any major news during that time, so let’s catch up on a few items:

(1) College Football Playoff Details Dripping Out and Confusing Everyone – About a month ago when the FBS commissioners plus Notre Dame announced that they agreed upon a new college football playoff system, it seemed fairly straight-forward with a 4-team playoff, semifinal sites rotated among 6 bowls to be played on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and a selection committee choosing the participants in the semifinals and top bowls.  The first caveat, however, was that certain bowls would have ironclad contractual tie-ins, specifically the Big Ten and Pac-12 with the Rose Bowl, the SEC and Big 12 with the Please Choose the Sugar or Cotton So I Can Stop Calling This The Pompous Champions Bowl, and the ACC with the Orange Bowl.   I wrote back in November prior to a playoff being on the radar that any proposed elimination of automatic qualifier (AQ) status from the BCS system would simply be a matter of semantics and that contractual tie-ins would not go away.  In essence, the removal of AQ status only affected the Big East (which didn’t have a contractual tie-in with any top bowl).  In fact, the new system goes a step further and protects the contractual tie-ins in years where those top bowls aren’t semifinals regardless of ranking.  That is, if the Rose Bowl isn’t a semifinal in a given year and a Big Ten team is a semifinalist, the Rose will have a Big Ten replacement no matter what record or ranking such replacement has at the time (whereas the current BCS system requires any non-champ replacement needs to be in the top 14).  On the flip side, in the years that the Rose Bowl is a semifinal host and the Big Ten champ isn’t in the top 4, then that Big Ten champ will go to one of the other top 6 bowls.  From this point forward, being a “power conference” means having a guaranteed tie-in with a “contract bowl”, while “access bowls” provide variable at-large spots that may or may not provide access to the non-power conferences in a given year.

At the same time, what was initially thought to be a simple rotation of semifinal games among the 6 top bowls may end up being much more complex.  The new Rose Bowl deal with ESPN indicated that Pasadena might only host 2 semifinals over a 12-year period (as opposed to 4 if there was an even rotation).  It has been speculated that the I’m Really Really Really Sick Of Calling This The Champions Bowl would similarly host fewer semifinals.  That didn’t make too much sense to me until SportsBusiness Daily reported an extremely important detail yesterday: the Big Ten and Pac-12 will split $80 million per year in media revenue from the Rose Bowl for the years that the game is NOT a semifinal host, while the revenue during semifinal years would be distributed in a manner to be determined with the rest of the new playoff system.  No wonder why the Big Ten and Pac-12 (and the SEC and Big 12) aren’t really that keen on giving up their top bowl tie-ins very often to semifinal games – they could be taking a haircut on a guaranteed $40 million payday in the applicable years.

The SportsBusiness Daily report also indicated that the commissioners expected to have the Rose Bowl and Allstate AT&T Chick-fil-A Breakfast of Champions Bowl host semifinals in the same years, which perplexes me to no end. What’s the point of doing that?  Would this mean that there could be years where there isn’t any semifinal on New Year’s Day when those two bowls aren’t hosting semifinals?  Why would a TV partner paying billions of dollars for this playoff (which is basically the entire impetus for this playoff being created in the first place) not want at least one semifinal in prime time every New Year’s Day?  By the same token, why would such TV partner pay for any semifinal games played on low-rated New Year’s Eve when most of America is outside of their homes getting hammered and not near a TV?

How the “access bowl” slots will be filled is also up in the air.  The goals of a selection committee, bowls and TV networks aren’t always going to be aligned here.  A selection committee will presumably want to award bids based on merit, bowls want teams with the best ticket buying traveling fan bases and TV networks want the most attractive national brand names.  (The latter two usually have a strong correlation, but there are certain exceptions.  Iowa, for example, is gold for bowls with how Hawkeye fans travel, yet a TV network would likely prefer bad-traveling-but-big-TV-ratings-draw Miami if it came down to a choice between the two.)

Then, we get to the selection committee itself.  I’ve warmed up to the concept a bit over the past month or so, but I still have a ton of reservations on how it’s going to work.  Is this structurally going to end up being an end-of-the-year poll only using 10 to 20 people as opposed to 115 people?  If so, why is that an improvement over the current usage of the Harris Poll?  (Note that I firmly believe that the use of the Coaches’ Poll where there are blatant conflicts of interest should be eliminated from any sort of selection criteria.)  How is strength of schedule going to be taken into account?  (In my humble opinion, SOS is politically correct code for “only the 5 power conferences matter”. When looking at the SOS rankings last year, the only school outside of the 5 power conferences plus Notre Dame that made it to the top 50 was Tulsa, which had a murderer’s row non-conference schedule of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Boise State.  Big East champ West Virginia was only at #51 even though it played LSU as a non-conference opponent.  Anyone that thinks that SEC teams are going to get docked for playing cupcakes in their non-conference schedules are completely misguided – SOS rankings help the SEC even MORE than subjective human polls.)  I know a lot of college football fans believe that many pollsters fill out their ballots blindly every week and distrust the polls accordingly, but I’m honestly much more worried about the disproportionate power of 1 committee member vote that can’t be mitigated by a large poll pool.  This is a situation where we really won’t know how well the selection committee concept will work until we see it in action.

To be clear, I’m very happy with the new playoff system overall. I have been pushing for some type of playoff for many years that still manages to preserve the Big Ten/Pac-12 tradition of the Rose Bowl and this system largely fits that criteria.  As someone that has been following this story closely, though, I’m just curious about the details that I don’t believe the commissioners themselves know how to resolve as of yet.

(2) All Quiet on the Conference Realignment Front – When the Orange Bowl signed a new deal with the ACC that provided the conference with all of the bowl’s media revenues, that removed any doubt regarding the ACC’s place in college football’s power structure.  I feel like the proverbial broken record here in continuously saying that the ACC is much stronger than what football fans give them credit for.  The ACC’s on-the-field record in BCS bowl games is irrelevant here: a league with academically prestigious schools (many of whom are flagships) that own or have large shares of their own home markets isn’t going to get booted out of the elite club.

This means that the chances of Florida State, Clemson, or any other ACC schools defecting to the Big 12 or even SEC have dropped precipitously.  To be sure, the new Big 12 TV contract might end up being so massive that it’s too much for any of those schools to turn down, but then it becomes circular for the Big 12 schools themselves.  That is, if the Big 12 TV contract is truly going to be that large, why expand at all and split up the pie further?  We’re at the point where there might be little incentive for either side to make any moves other than to provide all of us here with blogging fodder to discuss during the offseason.  There is no longer any rational fear on the part of Florida State and Clemson that the ACC will no longer be part of the power group.  By the same token, the Big 12 doesn’t need Florida State or Clemson to stabilize themselves to get a larger TV contract.  The wild card is obviously Notre Dame, but I’ll agree with The Dude of West Virginia on one point: anyone that thinks the Irish are joining his/her conference for football has gone full retard.

That leaves us with some less-sexy outstanding conference realignment matters that need to be settled, mainly who the Big East will add as its 14th football member.  Air Force still seems to be the most reasonably plausible addition that would add value to the league by pairing it up with rival Navy, although the Falcons completely backed off from Big East overtures last fall after appearing very interested.  (Note that I personally believe that BYU is going to be committed to independence for awhile.  The Cougars appear to be concerned with national ESPN exposure and building up BYUtv even more than money and being independent could be a better value proposition to sell in competing against Pac-12 member Utah for recruits compared to being in the Big East or any other non-power conference.)  After that, the pickings get a lot slimmer.  Fresno State is competitive on-the-field with a solid fan base, but might be the West Coast version of East Carolina where the Big East isn’t interested in entering that market.  UNLV has a solid TV market yet is essentially the Western version of Memphis, where their football ineptitude/basketball competence means that they make more sense as a potential all-sports member as opposed to a football-only member (except that UNLV doesn’t have the geographic proximity of Memphis to make an all-sports membership viable).  Bottom line: the Big East needs Air Force pretty badly here.

(3) Little Glass Houses For You and Me – Finally, the Penn State scandal seems to continuously get worse and worse for the university in the wake of the issuance of the independent report by Louis Freeh.  This has led to calls of punishments such as the death penalty for the football program, which NCAA president Mark Emmert said is an option that is not “off the table”.

I really cannot defend anything that Penn State’s leadership, including but not limited to the late Joe Paterno, did (or more appropriately, did not do) in covering up multiple instances of child rape.  There is truly nothing more heinous than letting child rape continue on for years and years when it could have been prevented by someone just speaking up.  However, I have also seen a lot of commentators, columnists, bloggers and message board posters spend a ton of time acting sanctimonious and try to one-up each other in terms of how outraged they are.  What troubles me, and as Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal poignantly pointed out in this piece, is that there’s an argument being parroted by many people that the “insular culture” in State College that allowed a massive coverup to protect the Nittany Lion football program is somehow a unique Penn State problem.  If you believe that to be the case, ask yourself about how confident you are that your own alma mater or favorite college team hasn’t skirted or outright violated the law at some point.  How many sexual assaults by star football and basketball players have been swept under the rug over the years?  How many schools use coeds as “hostesses” for top-level recruits visiting campus where there are certain expectations of how those hostesses are supposed to provide a memorable weekend? How would you feel if your own daughter was one of those hostesses?  What about the murder of a transferring player, like in the case of Baylor in 2003?  How about sending a student to a tall video tower with 50 mph wind gusts?  Even a marching band in the SWAC can have its own insular culture that results in horrific consequences.

It’s not just about whether child rape is worse than the recruiting violations at SMU back in the 1980s that caused the NCAA to hand that school the death penalty.  Child rape is obviously exponentially more heinous and awful than anything that the NCAA has on the books (and frankly, I’m someone that believes that most recruiting rules are completely ridiculous).  However, the supposedly insular culture at Penn State where the protection of the “brand” is of the utmost importance is a culture that permeates everywhere in big-time college sports.  Chances are pretty high that your own school has some skeletons in its own closest that would bury your football or basketball program if the truth ever came to light.  This isn’t to excuse anything that occurred at Penn State, but it’s something that everyone needs to remember when trying to pass judgment on the culture in State College.  None of us are in a position to be sanctimonious here.  The culture everywhere in college sports needs to change (not just at Penn State).

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from The C-Blog)


Consensus by Committee: A College Football Playoff is Almost Here

After some apparent hiccups in the college football playoff formulation process last week, it was back on like Donkey Kong today in Chicago.  The BCS commissioners plus Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick* came to a “consensus” that they would recommend to their respective bosses (the university presidents) a 4-team seeded playoff with the “best four teams” to be chosen by a selection committee (using criteria such as conference championships and strength of schedule) and the semifinals to be played among the existing BCS bowls.

(* If anyone doubted that Notre Dame is anything but irrelevant in today’s college football world, note that every news story about the college football playoff today referred to “the BCS commissioners and Notre Dame AD” and Jack Swarbrick was the spokesman for the working group in front of the media.  Plus, Swarbrick got to bat down an Orangebloods report about Notre Dame “likely” moving its non-football sports to the Big 12, but that’s an issue we’ll explore for another day.)

Here are a couple of instant reactions about what finally appears to be the new college football playoff format:

(1) A Committee to Form the Committee – I have long been an opponent to the use of a selection committee for various reasons, such as the concern that only one or two people could end up swaying the fate of a particular team.  The random rogue committee member scares me much more than a handful of idiot sportswriters (cough, Skip Bayless, cough) that might be voting in a larger poll. However, I’ve been coming around to the thought of it where it’s at least palatable in the sense that it’s a way for the conference commissioners to kick the can down the road regarding the selection process.  Some years, it might make sense to have 4 conference champs playing in the playoff.  In other seasons, 4 SEC schools might be the 4 best teams in the country.  Maybe #5 Pac-12 champ Oregon should have gotten into the playoff over #4 Stanford in 2011, but #5 Big Ten champ Wisconsin shouldn’t have gotten into the playoff over #4 Stanford in 2010 (or vice versa).  There’s so much variability from season to season that any prescribed requirements (e.g. conference champs only, 3 conference champs plus 1 wild card, taking the straight top 4 in the BCS rankings, etc.) would have all yielded unsatisfactory results in certain seasons.

This is the dilemma.  We, as college football fans, generally want to have concrete criteria in terms of determining the national champion.  However, most of us also care about the practical outcome, where putting 4 teams into a playoff that the average fan can plainly see are not the best 4 teams in the nation is bothersome, as well.  I’ve long said that what fans really want is an objective computer program that spits out the exact same result as a subjective human poll.  We hate the thought of using the results of a human poll because of the perception that there might be bias, but we generally agree with the results of that same human poll because it reflects what we have seen with our own eyes.  When push comes to shove, the general public (and the powers that be and TV networks) cares more about the output (the outcome of which 4 teams are in playoff) than the inputs (the criteria in choosing such teams).  The use of a selection committee is a further extension of the output-focused approach.

There are few suggestions that I have for the use of a selection committee:

  • Appoint one representative from each FBS conference to the committee along with having a pool of 10 or so “at-large” representatives.  This would make the committee compact enough that there can be in-depth discussions among its members, but large enough to mitigate the vote of a representative that has eaten too many paint chips.
  • Do not allow committee members that have a conflict of interest (e.g. an SEC representative discussing an SEC school) to discuss or vote on the applicable school.
  • Similar what the NCAA Tournament does, allow the mainstream media to participate in an extensive mock session of the selection process so that the public can understand what exactly happens in the war room.
  • Make all data that the selection committee will use in the selection process, such as computer rankings and strength of schedule calculations, available to the public every week throughout the season.

I’m still a little bit skeptical about using a selection committee, but I can wrap my arms around the concept a little bit better today compared to last month.

(2) Where the Rose Bowl Stands – Big Ten and Pac-12 fans had a bit more interest in the actual logistics of where the semifinals would be played because of the potential implications on the Rose Bowl.  While there was initially a plan to slot the semifinal games according to bowl tie-ins (e.g. a #1 Big Ten team would play the #4 team in the Rose Bowl), it appears that flex option is unlikely according to Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports.  Instead, the semifinals would rotate among the BCS bowls on a regular basis.  (Note that no one should be surprised if 1 or 2 other bowls, such as the Cotton and/or Outback, would get elevated and become part of that rotation.)  When I asked Teddy Greenstein about this last month, he indicated that this was also the preferred course of action for the Big Ten athletic directors.

It initially surprised me that the Big Ten didn’t support the flex option, but it makes sense if you think about the downside risk.  Many people have been focused upon the prospect of a top 2 Big Ten or Pac-12 team always getting slotted into a semifinal in the Rose Bowl, which would actually enhance the stature of the game even more than today.  However, there’s the flip side that a non-semifinalist Big Ten or Pac-12 champ could get kicked out of the Rose Bowl.  If USC were to go on a run like it did in the early-2000s, for instance, the Big Ten champ could end up outside of the Rose Bowl for several seasons in a row.  My longstanding general theory about the thinking of university presidents is that they about maximizing their take in the worst case scenario more than shooting the moon in the best case scenario, and this guarantee that the Rose Bowl will be a Big Ten vs. Pac-12 affair (even if they might not be conference champs) fits such thinking.

Personally, I hope that there will at least be a provision that a Big Ten and/or Pac-12 semifinalist will get slotted in the Rose Bowl whenever the semifinal is being hosted there.  The same would go for the Big 12 and SEC with their “Champions” Bowl (which will hopefully be the Sugar Bowl) when it’s a semifinal host.

There will still be further critical details to be hammered out such as the revenue distribution (where it appears, as expected, that the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC will keep the lion’s share of the money by applying plausibly justifiable on-the-field criteria) and where the Big East stands in relation to the power conferences, but it’s nothing short of amazing that a 4-team playoff has gone from a pipe dream 6 months ago to possibly a week away from approval.  Considering that it took over 100 years for college football to institute a #1 vs. #2 national championship game, we’re moving at warp speed.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Christian Science Monitor)

The More Things Change, the More Things Stay the Same: Thoughts on BCS Bowls as Semifinal Sites and a 12-Team Event

In an update to last week’s news that the powers that be in college football are finally instituting (or more precisely, are submitting to their respective university presidents for approval) a 4-team playoff system, both Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com and Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated have reported that the early leader for the format for such playoff is the use of the contractual conference tie-ins for the 4 current BCS bowls to slot the semifinal games. For example, if a Big Ten team is ranked #1, it would host the #4 team in the Rose Bowl, while an SEC team that is ranked #2 would host the #3 team in the Sugar Bowl. This is a way to preserve the relationship between the Rose Bowl, Big Ten and Pac-12 (and for that matter, the relationships that other conferences have with their respective bowls) while still having a 4-team playoff. I wrote a college playoff proposal last week that incorporated this concept. Mandel has also reported that the powers that be would like to elevate two more bowls to BCS status (or whatever status we’re going to call it when the term “BCS” is dropped, which is a 99% certainty). In practicality, this would really only add 2 more BCS bowl bids to the system with 12 bids for 6 games (compared to 4 BCS bowls and national championship game currently providing 10 bids).

A few thoughts on this:

1) Get ready for the Big Ten and SEC to start agreeing a lot more – Many of the media reports regarding the formulation of a college football playoff have positioned Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and SEC commissioner Mike Slive to be massive rivals. However, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports indicated that they were generally in agreement regarding the major principles of a playoff system during the BCS meetings. In reality, there’s very little reason for the Big Ten and SEC to be far apart. While Delany and Slive might have differences in opinion regarding how to implement the playoff system at a high level, they fundamentally have the same financial and fan base underpinnings (which is why both of those leagues are so powerful compared to the rest)*. For instance, as much as the Big Ten might prefer on-campus semifinals, the use of bowls as semifinals protects the Rose Bowl, which the countervailing interest of the conference. On the flip side, the SEC would have received a larger benefit from the use of on-campus semifinals than any other conference over the course of the BCS era. The point is that the Big Ten and SEC can work well in either format since they both have great home game attendance yet also travel well to neutral sites and bowls.

(* Think of this as the equivalent to competition between Wal-Mart, which happens to be based in SEC country, and Target, which is headquartered in Big Ten territory. They are rivals and the two largest players in their market by a large margin, but when you break it down, they make their money the exact same way by leveraging their large footprints to control costs with suppliers in order to provide discounted prices to their customers. Wal-Mart and Target might be high profile competitors in the marketplace, but on big picture economic, trade and labor issues, their interests are completely aligned. It’s the same way with the SEC and Big Ten regarding the college football postseason. The SEC is Wal-Mart and the Big Ten is Target.)

It’s really the Pac-12 that needs the benefit of the Rose Bowl even more than the Big Ten since the Pasadena connection masks the fact that the West Coast league has the worst bowl lineup top-to-bottom compared to any of the other power conferences. (Yes, even worse than the ACC.) If the Rose Bowl were eradicated tomorrow, the Orange, Sugar and Fiesta Bowls would still fall all over themselves to get a Big Ten tie-in, but the Pac-12 isn’t in that same position. That’s why the supposedly “reactionary” Jim Delany was more open-minded in his comments regarding a playoff last week than the typically-lauded “visionary outsider” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (who took a much more strident and hardline view about the Pac-12 protecting its Rose Bowl connection).

Regardless, when the discussion turns to how the playoff revenue is split and which conferences get multiple BCS bowl bids (which will make any differences between the FBS conferences up to this point look like minor spats), the Big Ten and SEC are going to be brothers-in-arms. They have the same approach: “Bowls want us, so we should get the bids and the revenue.”

2) Multiple BCS bowl tie-ins are possible (if not probable) for the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 – Is it possible that the BCS could actually add more bowls yet still cut down the access to the non-power conferences (which may or may not include the Big East now)? Absolutely.

Mandel indicates that there’s a proposal that there would be 6 BCS bowls with at-large bids needing to meet some type of rankings threshold (e.g. top 15 in the final BCS rankings). There would also be a cap of 3 teams receiving bids each year from any single conference. The Cotton Bowl is usually assumed to be next in line for elevated status and I’d bank a Central Florida bowl (either the Capital One or Outback) getting a nod, as well. (See my reasons in point #3.)

Thinking like a free marketer here, is where any reason for the Cotton or Capital One/Outback Bowls to pay a massive amount to receive elevated bowl status but actually get worse matchups (in the eyes of a bowl organizer that needs to sell tickets and a TV network executive that needs viewers) than they do now when they have desirable Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 teams locked in today? That really doesn’t make much sense if you’re actually running those bowls. Outside of a chance at getting Notre Dame every once in awhile, the Capital One/Outback Bowl is going to want Big Ten and SEC teams while the value of adding the Cotton Bowl is diminished almost completely if a Big 12 team isn’t playing there. Access to Pac-12, ACC and non-power conference teams really doesn’t do anything for them (and they certainly don’t want to be losing the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 teams that they would have received in the current system to other bowls in the new system while having to simultaneously increase their payouts).

In fact, the main benefit to the Cotton and Capital One/Outback to getting elevated to BCS status is to be guaranteed the teams that they have been contracting for over the past several years but haven’t been getting in reality. For instance, the Capital One Bowl is supposed to get Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2 under its contract, yet it has actually received Big Ten #3 vs. SEC #3 every single season since 2005 because both the Big Ten and SEC have sent a second team to the BCS bowls annually. So, the Capital One can pay up to guarantee to get those Big Ten #2 and SEC #2 tie-ins back every year, which is an acceptable trade-off for likely not getting to host any semifinal very often as that’s going to be an extremely high profile bowl matchup. (Under this system, the phantom 2010-11 Sugar Bowl matchup between Ohio State and Arkansas, where the win has since been vacated and both participating head coaches have been fired, would have been played at the Capital One Bowl. Who wouldn’t have wanted that game?!)

On the flip side, why would the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 give up high profile bowl tie-ins that they already have guaranteed in hand today and send them up for grabs in an at-large system? That doesn’t seem too likely, either. Even if the Big Ten and SEC in particular would benefit the most from a flexible at-large arrangement in the majority of seasons, it’s still not the same as having guaranteed tie-ins.

As a result, I’d envision that the BCS bowl system would look like the following:

Rose Bowl: Big Ten #1 vs. Pac-12 #1
Sugar Bowl: SEC #1 vs. at-large
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 #1 vs. at-large
Orange Bowl: ACC #1 vs. at-large
Capital One/Outback Bowl: Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2
Cotton Bowl: Big 12 #2 vs. at-large*

(* The Cotton Bowl currently shares the SEC #3/4 tie-in with the Outback Bowl. If the SEC has to choose to drop a tie-in, I believe it would let go of the Cotton as opposed to one of the Florida-based bowls since pairing up with a Big Ten school is more lucrative and the Sunshine State is unambiguously an SEC market. In contrast, the state of Texas has a strong SEC representative in Texas A&M but is still a Big 12 state overall. Now, if the new system allows the SEC to have a third contractual tie-in, then more power to them and they could and should take advantage of that in a heartbeat.)

3) The likelihood of a Central Florida bowl getting BCS status – Expanding on the prior point, here are a few reasons why I believe either the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl is going to be elevated to BCS status:

a) Big Ten and SEC tie-ins – These are the conferences running the show and the main common relationship that they have is that they love Florida-based bowls. To the extent that the semifinals are going to be played outside of the Midwest, the Big Ten is going to have a lot less heartburn with using the Central Florida bowls that are the conference’s strongest tie-ins outside of the Rose Bowl compared to, say, using the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. Both the Big Ten and SEC can get on board with this (and I’ve said before, when they agree on something, that’s usually what gets done).

b) People WANT to travel to Central Florida during Christmas break regardless of whether there’s a bowl – The Capital One Bowl has had horrific facilities for many years, yet they’ve still managed to attract both of the best conference tie-ins (Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2) and provide the highest payout outside of the BCS system since the very beginning of the BCS era. Why? Because it’s freaking Orlando! The wife and kids would rather go to Disney World than Dallas, college kids would rather go to Daytona Beach than Atlanta, and retired alums would rather be in warm weather Florida (where they probably already live) than cold weather Indianapolis. Central Florida is the easiest sell in terms of the overall vacation experience during the holidays of any bowl (and that’s why the Capital One has continued to receive such great funding and tie-ins despite the horrible facilities). Just like a mansion in a terrible neighborhood won’t be as valuable as a tiny apartment in a great neighborhood, the greatest stadium in the world in a less than desirable winter vacation destination can only do so much competing against subpar facilities in a place that most people love traveling to. Location, location, location.

c) ESPN (owned by the Walt Disney Company) is likely paying for this new playoff – Why is this important? Well, have you ever been to Disney World on New Year’s Eve? I went almost every year with my family growing up and one thing that you’ll notice is that a significant portion of the people going to the parks, staying at the hotels and generally emptying their wallets on all things Disney that week in between Christmas and New Year’s happen to be football fans attending the Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls, all of which are an easy drive from Disney World.

So, do you see why ESPN is currently willing to pay a premium for the Big Ten and SEC tie-ins for the Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls and then have them played all at the same time on New Year’s Day? These are massive fan bases that travel from out-of-town (note that local teams aren’t necessarily the best thing for the primary purpose of bowls, which is to attract out-of-town tourists) and spend tons of money at Disney World while people at home watch the games on Disney-owned ABC/ESPN/ESPN2. It’s a synergy of one big business for Disney (college football on TV) with another big business (theme park admissions and hotel revenue during the holidays).

I think both of the Central Florida bowls already have large enough financial war chests to win a bidding war for a BCS bowl slot regardless of any ESPN consideration, but rest assured that its helps significantly if Disney happens to be pushing one site over another when they’re spending $600 million to $1 billion per year on a playoff. It’s going to be a contest between the better stadium in Tampa and the more attractive vacation destination in Orlando.

4. Revenue sharing will likely be about bids to the “12-team event” overall instead of the semifinals specifically – Let’s have a quick reminder about how much of a bonus that a conference receives when it has a team that makes the national championship game today: $0.

To be sure, such conference will receive an amount equal to a BCS bowl bid (or if such conference already has another BCS bowl bid, then a partial additional share for the national championship game bid), but the point is that LSU garnered the exact same amount of revenue for the SEC last year in the national championship game as Wisconsin got for the Big Ten by going to the Rose Bowl and Alabama netted the exact same payout for the SEC as Michigan earned for the Big Ten by going to the Sugar Bowl.

Thus, when I see proposals from fans online suggesting that a conference that makes it to the semifinals will receive $50 million while a conference that doesn’t make it will only receive $10 million, I shake my head and wonder how many fans actually learned how college sports money works after witnessing massive conference realignment moves over the past two years. Simply put, what has happened in the past is a pretty good guide to what will happen in the future, and what the past says is that the power conferences want very little to do with variable pay based on merit and, instead, want to maximize guaranteed dollars for themselves whether their respective champions in a given year are ranked #1 or #100. Even in the mighty SEC, which would have been a beneficiary of a variable pay system over the past several years, wants guaranteed money as opposed to shooting the moon in a season like last year when it had the top 2 teams. A school such as Mississippi State needs to be able to pencil in x amount of guaranteed postseason dollars at the beginning of every year for budget purposes, which it can’t do if most of it is based upon whether one or more of its conference-mates end up in the top 4 at the end of the fall. Do you think the SEC wants a system where the difference between receiving $50 million or $10 million could be dependent upon a freshman placekicker hitting a field goal in an overtime game so his team ends up at #4 instead of #5? Would the Big Ten want that? Any of the other power conferences?

University presidents are already a risk averse group by any normal standard, so this scenario simply won’t fly, especially when the current system has such clear revenue guarantees. Contrary to the belief of most fans, schools aren’t looking to hit a massive jackpot in the years that they win the national championship. Instead, schools want to know that they are going to receive a large sum of money whether they are 12-0 or 0-12.

As a result, the most likely revenue sharing approach going forward is likely to be effectively the same as today: all bids to the new 12-team event, which encompasses the semifinals will be treated the same financially (just as all bids to the current 10-team event, which encompasses the national championship game, are treated the same financially). This obviously puts a massive premium on having contractual tie-ins, since any conference with a contract with a BCS bowl is going to receive a full share of the new postseason money, whether it sends a team to the semifinals or not. It also shows, once again, the elimination of AQ status is really only a matter of semantics for all of the current AQ conferences except for the Big East (which currently doesn’t have a contractual tie-in with any BCS bowl and most likely won’t be getting one in the future). The Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 are all going to receive at least one full postseason share annually (and if they have multiple bids or tie-ins, then they’ll get multiple shares) no matter what, while the non-AQ conferences would only receive full shares if they actually make it to semifinals or receive an at-large BCS bowl bid*. The non-AQ conferences will receive more money in total compared to today’s BCS system, but no one should expect the revenue disparity to change much from the current 90/10 split between the power leagues and non-power leagues**.

(* My educated guess regarding the Big East is that it will be treated as a “tweener” for revenue purposes. The Big East would no longer receive an amount that’s equal to the other power conferences since it does not have a contractual tie-in, but still get an amount larger compared to the other non-AQ conferences based upon the fact that the Big East is a “founding member” of the BCS system.)

(** I’ll repeat an analogy that I’ve used before: think of the semifinals as the Oscars and the other BCS bowls as movie theaters. The Oscars should be based upon merit regardless of box office revenue, where movies such as “The King’s Speech” and actors like Daniel Day-Lewis get rewarded. Likewise, the college football playoff semifinals should be based upon merit without regard to conference affiliation or popularity. However, a free market society should also not force movie theaters to show Daniel Day-Lewis movies when Tom Cruise vehicles and terrible Transformers sequels sell 1000 times more movie tickets. By that same token, bowl games that exist for the purpose of selling tickets, drawing TV viewers and bringing legions of tourists into their towns should be able to freely choose teams and conferences that, well, sell tickets, draw TV viewers and bring legions of tourists into their towns. Many fans have tried to assign a higher purpose to the bowls, which is a mistake.)

Now, there might be a bonus for the conferences that make it to the national championship game since that’s technically a separate “bowl” game beyond the 12-team event. However, based on the tea leaves that I see along with past actions, that bonus is likely going to be relatively small compared to the guaranteed revenue in the 12-team event. The very fact that the leading proposal is to use the traditional BCS bowls with their tie-ins supports the notion of guaranteed revenue as opposed to variable pay. The Rose Bowl would only find out in December whether it’s going to be hosting a semifinal or not, so it can’t feasibly come up with a payout that’s worth twice as much within a couple of weeks if a Pac-12 or Big Ten team happens to be ranked #1 or #2. That points to all BCS bowl bids (which includes the semifinals) being worth the same.

Those are all of my thoughts for now. I’ll be back soon with new posts on the WAC being the worst victim of conference realignment (along with shuffling among Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt and Colonial Athletic Association) and tweaks to my latest college football playoff “flex wild card” proposal.

P.S. My long-time readers and Twitter followers know that (1) I’m a massive Chicago Bulls fan and (2) Derrick Rose is my man crush to end all man crushes. So, when D-Rose went down for the season on Saturday with a torn ACL, it was legitimately one of the 5 worst sports moments of my life (if not in the top 2). The last time I had ever felt a pit in my stomach that badly sports-wise was when Illinois lost the 2005 NCAA National Championship Game to North Carolina, but even then, I could reconcile that the Illini had their chance to get to the very end without outside factors intervening (along with providing the best sports memory in my lifetime next to the last minute of Michael Jordan’s performance in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals). The Bears losing Super Bowl XLI to the Colts was fairly terrible personal experience for me, too, yet I could also comfort myself in knowing that the Colts were the better team overall and that there was the Chicago crutch of Rex Grossman at quarterback. (Unleash the dragons!) My 2007-08 Rose Bowl trip was more like playing with house money – the Illini weren’t expected (and probably didn’t deserve) to be there and even a thrashing at the hands of a bunch of ineligible USC players can’t kill the buzz of actually getting to be in Pasadena at that time of year. (While I’m a playoff supporter, I also fully understand and appreciate why the Big Ten and Pac-12 protect the Rose Bowl so much. Comparing the Rose Bowl to the other BCS bowls is the equivalent of comparing The Masters to the PGA Championship – they might technically have the same major status, but they are no way, shape or form equal in stature and prestige.)

In the case of the Bulls, though, they had a legit championship-caliber squad (which doesn’t come around very often) that won’t even have a chance to even attempt to fulfill its potential. Maybe the Miami Heat would have ultimately beaten the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the fact that there won’t be any opportunity at all to see both teams go at it at full strength is shame. (The Bulls could certainly get past the Sixers in the first round and maybe hang with the Celtics or Hawks in the second round. Even without Rose, the Bulls are still the best defensive team in the NBA, which is going to keep them in games. Beating Miami over the course of 7 games without the offensive firepower of Rose, though, would be a miracle. I’ll certainly be cheering for it to happen, but I’m also going to be realistic about it.) Even worse, I’m now going to have to worry whether Derrick Rose is ever going to have the same type of athleticism when he comes back from his injury. Frankly, the only sports-related discussions over the past few days that haven’t made me want to lock myself in a dark room alone and nurse bottle of Jameson have been the comments on this blog, so I thank all of you readers out there for that.

As bad as I might be feeling right now along with other Bulls fans around the world, I could only imagine what Rose himself might be feeling right now with the long road ahead. Let’s pray for his speedy recovery (and somebody somewhere to knock off the Heat).

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Yahoo!)

Picture Me Rollin’ in a College Football Playoff: Is it a Hologram or is it Real?

A few years ago in writing one of my myriad college football postseason proposals, I noted that while the general public supported a college football playoff as an abstract concept, the problem was that no one could agree upon what the playoff should look like.  With the countless proposals that I’ve seen in the comments to this blog and online elsewhere (along with fierce debates as to what would be best), that has certainly proven to be the case.

However, as the powers that be of the college football world gather around at the BCS meetings in Hollywood, Florida starting Wednesday to discuss a college football playoff, it seems that the top people following the business of college sports (Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune, Brett McMurphy from CBS Sports, Pete Thamel from the New York Times, Ralph Russo of the Associated Press and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com) have come to a general belief that there will be a 4-team playoff with the semifinals hosted at neutral sites (which could be either current bowls or bid out to other venues).  The most progressive proposal of having semifinal games being played at on-campus sites from the Big Ten and Jim Delany (who also proposed the supposedly reactionary proposal of the 4 Teams Plus format that would have sent the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs to the Rose Bowl no matter what) seems to be dead.  A proposal that only conference champs would be included in the playoff also seems to be on life support.  Instead, we’ll likely see some type of format that will take the 3 highest ranked conference champions and then the next highest ranked team as a wild card (who could be a conference champ, non-champ or independent).

Now, pretty much all of the reporters and their BCS sources caveat their statements that different proposals are still in play, whether it’s the unseeded plus-one (where the bowls are played with traditional tie-ins and then the national championship matchup is decided thereafter) or the 4 Teams Plus.  As Brett McMurphy noted, the unseeded plus one would actually be the format that would cause the least amount of consternation for the commissioners themselves, yet the public has been conditioned so heavily with the expectation that there will be a 4-team playoff that anything less than that is going to receive massive blowback.  In previous years, the commissioners might not have cared, but the atmosphere is such that they want to get a system into place that will have enough public support that discussions about the postseason format can legitimately be avoided for the next decade plus.

The critical question for me (and likely for the powers that be) continues to be revenue… or more importantly, how the college football playoff revenue is split.  As I’ve stated several times before, the fact that a playoff system might garner two or three times as much TV money as the current BCS system is meaningless unless we have an understanding as to how such revenue is distributed.   Let’s put it this way: the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and Notre Dame aren’t giving up the 90/10 split in postseason revenue that they have today in order for the non-power conferences to receive all of the financial upside of a playoff.  The challenge is finding a system that provides guaranteed income advantages to the power conferences that makes contractual sense and without sounding off blatant antitrust alarm bells (even if the legal reality is the chances of the power conferences losing an antitrust case are remote).

I place the emphasis on guaranteed income because university presidents, even ones in conferences that have had a lot of on-the-field success such as the SEC, would rather guarantee themselves a baseline level of income in down years as opposed to shooting the moon in years where they win the national championship.  As a result, don’t expect there to be super financial rewards (if any) for conferences that make the playoff compared to what a league would receive would receive for making the Rose Bowl or other BCS (or whatever the equivalent will be) bowls.  Highly variable pay based upon on-the-field performance of individual teams (or whether the placekicker hits a field goal in overtime) simply isn’t how university presidents roll, folks.

That issue of how to split revenue is why I don’t believe we can completely take an unseeded plus-one or a variant of the 4 Team Plus format off the table, even if neither would make much of the general public very happy.  For instance, think of a scenario where the 4 Team Plus format was altered where it wasn’t just the Big Ten and Pac-12 that were guaranteed Rose Bowl access.  On top of the Rose Bowl, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 champs could have “contractual tie-in” spots (since auto-qualifier status is technically being eliminated) in the other quasi-semifinals (let’s say that they’re rotated among the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Cotton Bowls) along with a wild card that is the next highest ranked team other than those champs.  Would SEC commissioner Mike Slive still have the same negative reaction in that scenario?  How about the ACC and Big 12?  I don’t think this scenario would end up happening, but also don’t believe it’s that crazy if you’re thinking like the commissioner of one of the power conferences.

To be clear and reiterate what I’ve said previously, what I’d personally like to see is the “BCS Final Four” proposal that I wrote about nearly a year and a half ago, which is pretty similar to the 4-team playoff with neutral semifinal sites proposal on the table.  The main difference that I proposed then was that the semifinals would be rotated among the BCS bowl venues but would be separate from the BCS bowls themselves.  The semifinal sites in any given year would then get preferences to host the conferences that they have contractual tie-ins with if they are in the top 4.  So, in the years where Pasadena is a semifinal site, the Rose Bowl (the venue, NOT the game itself) would get assigned a semifinal matchup with a Big Ten and/or Pac-12 team if applicable.  We could even make Pasadena a permanent semifinal site where it could host both a semifinal and the Rose Bowl annually.  This as a way to at least throw something towards the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl triumverate that preserves their relationship but doesn’t take away a permanent Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup in the Rose Bowl (the game) itself while still allowing top 4 Big Ten and Pac-12 teams regular trips to Pasadena for semifinal games.

As someone whose high school and college years spanned the Clinton era in the 1990s, I have fantastic memories of listening to Tupac Shakur and watching the old traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 Rose Bowl when it was the biggest college football game of the year, but I can understand if many people don’t want either of them to come back onstage in 2012.  I have a melancholy feeling about all of this since I’ve pushed for a playoff for such a long time on this blog, yet I also don’t want to see the Rose Bowl unalterably become a consolation game.  It’s the price of progress in college football.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Freshness)

Playoffs?! The Final Four College Football Playoff (or Plus-One or “Event”) Options and Why “Four Team Plus” Helps More Than the Rose Bowl

In what is the biggest leak to come out of the smoke-filled BCS conference rooms yet, USA Today obtained a document provided to the conference commissioners that outlines the four college football postseason options that they are focusing upon.  (The complete document can be found here.)  So, here are what the powers that be are looking at right now:

1. Current BCS System with Adjustments – Basically keep everything as is now except for actually stacking the deck even more in favor of the power conferences by (a) eliminating automatic qualifier (AQ) status EXCEPT for contracts between conferences and bowls (AKA only the Big East would lose AQ status in reality) and (b) eliminating the cap on the number of participating schools from each conference.  Even as someone that fully believes Brett McMurphy’s statement from last week that although there are technically twelve voices in the room regarding a college football playoff, the only six that matter are the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12 and Notre Dame, this “we’re keeping the status quo and screwing the little guys even more” option seems to be thrown out there as posturing and won’t be taken seriously.

2. Original “Plus One” – It’s what I’ve called the “unseeded plus-one” up to this point, where all of the bowl games are played as normal and then select the national championship option thereafter.  I’ve written about unseeded plus-one and semi-seeded plus-one options previously.

3. Four Team “Event” (heaven forbid anyone calls this a “playoff”) – The “seeded plus-one” or four team tournament that most fans think of when discussing college football playoff scenarios.  There are some various sub-proposals here using neutral site, bowl and campus site options.  My “BCS Final Four” proposal from over a year ago, which is personally the college football postseason format that I’d use if I were the Grand Pooh-bah of Sports, essentially looks like option 3(B) on the BCS document.

4. Four Team Plus – The Rose Bowl would always take the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions, even if they are in the top 4.  Then, the 4 highest ranked teams outside of the Rose Bowl participants would play in 2 other games.  The national championship matchup would then be determined after those games are played.

Wait a second… that “Four Team Plus” option sounds really familiar.  Here we go:

The Halfway There Compromise: A BCS Plus-One Proposal that the Big Ten and Rose Bowl Could Live With

Every once in awhile, the blind squirrel that writes this blog finds the nut.  I wrote that Bon Jovi-fueled masterpiece back in December when the thought of a college football “event” still seemed like a distant dream.  I’ll re-emphasize here what I stated in that older post: the point of that proposal is a compromise, NOT a perfect solution.  As I’ve stated above, if it were up to me, I’d go with the BCS Final Four option.

(As a reminder, I proposed that the 2 highest ranked teams that won their bowl games would advance to the national championship as opposed to having a brand new ranking after the bowls were completed.  This would eliminate concerns that teams would leapfrog each other depending upon how strong or weak their bowl opponents were or that teams that lost their games could still advance to the title game.  Once again, it’s not perfect, but we wouldn’t have a perfect system even if we had a 4-team playoff, as we’ve seen with the debates on whether it should be limited to conference champs or not.)

Most of the college football commentators out there seem to be positioning the Halfway There Compromise option as strictly out there to placate the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl.  However, if that’s truly the case, why did Big Ten athletic directors and Jim Delany openly talk about a seeded 4-team playoff using campus sites and then a neutral site championship game open for bidding, which is the antithesis of protecting the Rose Bowl and would cause the most change to the status quo (at least as far as 4-team formats go) out of any proposal?  I think a lot of college football fans are quick to point fingers at Jim Delany and the Big Ten for “selfishly” protecting the Rose Bowl, yet they need to know that their own conferences have some direct incentives to see this happen, too.

Take a step back and think about why preserving the traditional Rose Bowl in the Halfway There Compromise can help everyone else.  (Hint: 6 is more than 4.)

Guess what happens when you take the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions out of the semifinal/quasi-semifinal pool?  The Halfway There Compromise effectively opens up 2 more spots in games with national championship implications for a total of 6 without having to add another round to the postseason.  Using a trusty abacus, you can calculate that it’s a whole lot easier to accommodate 5 power conferences when there’s 6 spots available in the Halfway There Compromise than when there’s only 4 spots available in a 4-team “event”.  Even beyond the power conferences, it’s also a whole lot easier for the non-power conferences to get a spot when you take the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs out of the equation.  As a result, fans may see this proposal as a way to placate the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl trifecta, but it’s also a way to open up more access to the top tier games for both all of the power conferences and the non-power conferences below them compared to a strict 4-team “event” while keeping the postseason length to only two rounds.

Think about it: don’t you think the ACC would rather be in a system where they aren’t competing with the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs for a “quasi-semifinal” spot in the Halfway There Compromise compared to 4-team semifinals that would include those Big Ten and Pac-12 champs?  How about Notre Dame?  The Big East?  Even the Mountain West, Conference USA and all of the other current non-AQ conferences?  Granted, I don’t see the SEC and Big 12 being that enthusiastic about this plan, but who knows?  Eliminating downside risk with guaranteed money every year means a whole lot more than windfalls in great seasons where conferences shoot the moon.  Contrary to popular belief, the SEC isn’t guaranteed a spot in the national championship race and they don’t want to be left out in terms of access or money for a year if their champ ends up being ranked #5 or lower at some point.  (It has happened before and it will happen again.)

Now, plenty of people way more connected than me (such as Andy Staples of SI.com) are steadfast in their belief that it’s going to be a 4-team “event” in the manner that, well, the Big Ten ADs seemed to favor with campus stadiums as semifinal sites.  I agree that’s the most likely scenario.  However, there’s much more to the Halfway There Compromise than the knee-jerk reaction that this is all about the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl getting their way.  It may end up being just as beneficial to everyone else simply because there would be 2 more spots at the table without having to create an even larger “event”.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Gridiron Grit)

Ten Feet Off of Beale: Big 12 Expansion Rumors, Memphis to the Big East and B1G Playoff Proposal

As we adjust to a world where Eli Manning has twice as many Super Bowl rings and MVP trophies as his brother Peyton, conference expansion and realignment talk has picked up again along with a major update from the Big Ten on the college football playoff front.  (Note: I love that Peyton Manning is taking a public stance that he supposedly would be open to an incentive-based contract.  You know that his agent is just baiting Daniel Snyder to offer up a $35 million guaranteed signing bonus behind the scenes.  I have a hunch that the NFL’s 2012 season opener is going to be a Manning Bowl between the Giants and Redskins.)  Let’s take a look at these developments in order:

1. Big 12 Expansion Rumors I: The Unrealistic ACC Raid Scenario – The hot rumor going around conference realignment circles right now is that the Big 12 is supposedly targeting Florida State and Clemson from the ACC, with the source being “The Dude” from West Virginia blog Eerinsider*.  Is this really possible?  I guess there’s a smidgen of a chance of this occurring when taking into account the possible TV rights at stake in a new Big 12 deal.  The fact that Clemson has just formed an Athletic Advisory Committee that is going to review a whole range of issues has added some fuel to the fire.  It certainly wouldn’t surprise me at all that the Big 12 has attempted to lure FSU and Clemson over the past few months.

[* If your life depended upon it, which of the following cartoonish caricatures would you trust the most with expansion news?

(a) The Dude
(b) Frank the Tank
(c) The Wolf
(d) Teen Wolf
(e) Craig James

For me, it’s The Wolf all the way.]

However, I’ll repeat what I’ve stated many times before on this blog: the ACC is much much much stronger than football-focused fans give them credit for.  Believe me – it pains me to say that as someone that would love nothing more than to see Duke get sent to the Southern Conference.  The problem with all of the rumors that we’ve seen over the years about the ACC being vulnerable is that they fall into the trap of thinking like a fan or even an athletic director or coach (who might actually care about losing BCS bowls all of the time) instead of a university president (where the ACC slaps the SEC and Big 12 around in terms of academic prestige even worse than how the SEC and Big 12 beat up on the ACC on the football field).  As much as people are obsessed with football TV dollars, the difference between what the ACC receives compared to the average Big Ten or SEC school really isn’t that massive of a gap, especially in relation to the overall institutional revenue that schools like North Carolina, Duke and Virginia bring in.  The ACC schools are firmly in the “haves” category.  If you don’t believe me, take from Oklahoma and Big 12 partisan Barry Tramel from The Oklahoman, who had the following response to a question about the rumor at the 11:00 mark in this online chat:

No. I haven’t heard it. And I’m sure the Big 12 has talked to a lot of people. I’m sure the Big 12 called Clemson and said, “Hey, we’ve got a great idea. How about you, Florida State and” “No thanks.” “But wait,” the Big 12 responded, “you didn’t let us finish. We’re talking about you, and” “Not interested.” The ACC is solid. Academically and financially and athletically. Let me promise you, while fans get all worked about how Orange Bowls in a row the ACC has lost, the presidents do not.

Let’s put it another way: once you get past Texas and Oklahoma, is there any other current Big 12 school that is more valuable than Virginia Tech,Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Maryland, Georgia Tech or N.C. State?  Heck, is there any other non-UT/OU Big 12 school that would be picked by the Big Ten or SEC (who have more poaching power than anyone) over any ACC school besides maybe Wake Forest?  Kansas is probably the only other Big 12 school in that discussion as a marquee basketball program with solid academics, but even the Jayhawks are one-upped in hoops TV value and ivory tower appeal by UNC and those rat bastards at Duke.  The ACC is significantly deeper than the Big 12 when it comes to the academic, name brand and market values of the institutions from top-to-bottom.  Football fans are focused on the lack of BCS bowl wins by the ACC, while university presidents are focused on the great markets and high academic standards of the conference.  It’s the latter group that makes conference realignment decisions.  So, while the ACC continues to receive potshots from the fan-based blog and message board crowd, I’ll bet heavily that they’re coming out of this unscathed on the heels of their newly renegotiated ESPN deal.

2. Big 12 Expansion Rumors II: The More Realistic Louisville/BYU (or TBD) Scenario – I don’t claim Dude-like sources, but for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from two separate places that validate what The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a couple of weeks ago: the Big 12 wants Louisville as school number 11 with BYU as the preferred choice for school number 12.  Louisville is the easy part of the equation – both parties want each other and if the addition of the Cardinals alone wouldn’t result in an odd number of schools, they would have been in the Big 12 a long time ago.  The issue, of course, is that BYU has been far from easy to work with for any conference.  We actually have to twist the mantra here of “Think like a university president and not like fan” and apply the standard of “Think like a church leader and not like a university president” for the purposes of BYU.  From standpoint of the vast majority of universities, it would have made perfect sense for BYU to have joined either the Big 12 or Big East months ago.  However, the decisions at BYU are being ultimately driven by LDS leadership and it appears that they are enamored of their independent ESPN exposure along with the opportunity to build up a greater audience for BYUtv.  Essentially, they’ve caught Notre Dame-itis.

The problem for the Big 12 is that there isn’t any realistic alternative for school number 12 besides BYU (assuming that, like me, you don’t buy the rumor that the Big 12 will raid the ACC).  Floaters about the Big 12 adding other Big East schools, such as Rutgers or Cincinnati, appear to be red herrings and not serious.  (Note that I personally thought that the Big 12 could try a Northeastern expansion with Rutgers and UConn to integrate West Virginia further.  This should be used as a “The More You Know” public service announcement warning of the evils of drinking while blogging.)  So, the Big 12 seems like they would be willing to pull the trigger on adding Louisville at any moment, but the open question is whether that the league would be fine with adding them as #11 without knowing that there’s a satisfactory #12.  That’s where the two people that I’ve talked to diverge: one says yes while the other says no.  My inclination is that the answer is “no”.  The Big Ten was willing to live with 11 schools for almost two decades, but that’s because (1) school #11 was Penn State that was a clear national football power with a huge market (arguably the entire East Coast) and massive fan base and (2) the league legitimately believed that it would add Notre Dame as school #12 in relatively short order.  As a result, the Big Ten was willing to wait for another football power to shake loose from the realignment tree (which ended up being Nebraska) instead of going immediately up to 12.

In contrast, there’s little reason for the Big 12 to go up to 11 without going all the way to 12.  Louisville is a fairly strong revenue generator (especially on the basketball side), but not at a Penn State/Notre Dame-level where it’s enough to justify passing up on conference championship game revenue with a 12th school.  Now, I could see Louisville being added alone as school #11 if the Big 12 gets to a point where it reasonably believes that BYU (or some other school deemed revenue accretive enough) will join as school #12 within a short period of time (no more than one season).  As I noted in my last post, the opening of the negotiations between ABC/ESPN and the Big 12 regarding an extension of their current contract will be a key date.  Once that starts, the chances of the Big 12 expanding in the near-term drop precipitously since the league needs to have (if it knows what it’s doing) a 12-team setup for a conference championship game to offer by that time if that’s truly their end goal.  That means that further Big 12 expansion, if it’s going to occur, will need to happen fairly quickly (e.g. prior to this summer).

3.  Big East Walking in Memphis: More Than a Rumor – In more concrete news, Brett McMurphy of CBSSports.com has reported that the Big East is in the late stages of negotiations with Memphis to add the school for the 2013 season, with other reports noting that an announcement will be made tomorrow (Wednesday).  This follows up an initial Kevin McNamara Tweet from last week stating the same.  The irony is that the probable elimination of the concept of automatic-qualifier status from the BCS system was the best thing that could have happened to Memphis even though attaining such AQ status was such an important goal for the school for a long time.  Memphis, on paper, is an excellent fit for the Big East as an institution: large urban school with a good-sized market and a great basketball program.  The problem was that adding Memphis, which has been football-inept for several years now, would have destroyed the Big East’s AQ criteria figures.  Without those figures to worry about anymore, the Big East could add Memphis in good conscience, which it otherwise liked overall.

Now, this brings up the question as to whether the Big East believes that it will have to backfill for a potential departure of Louisville to the Big 12 (as described above), so it moved on Memphis before that occurred.  I’m a little surprised that the Big East hasn’t ended up adding another western football-only school to fill out that far flung division (while keeping the all-sports membership at 16), although that could very well be the next move on the table, especially if there are further defections.  For now, though, it looks like Memphis is finally going to get its long-time wish of a Big East invite.

4.  B1G Playoff Plan – Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune had a story that was extremely significant on the ongoing discussion of changes to the postseason: several Big Ten athletic directors have proactively and openly set forth a plan for a seeded 4-team playoff on campus sites with the higher seeds as hosts.  The national championship game would then be bid out separately to neutral sites, similar to the Super Bowl.  Just as Jim Delany stating that he was open to at least a discussion about a plus-one system last month was a large indicator of a future paradigm shift, the fact that a number of Big Ten ADs are willing to go on-record with supporting a seeded playoff is pretty massive.  Not so long ago (AKA December 2011), a Big Ten AD caught supporting any type of playoff would have been immediately summoned to the Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge and then his lifeless body would be found floating down the Des Plaines River the next day.

To be sure, the caveat to all of this is that, as with conference realignment, any decision regarding the college football postseason will be made by the university presidents as opposed to the commissioners and athletic directors.  However, when the Big Ten as an entity has, for as long as anyone can remember, been so staunchly and uniformly against any hint of a playoff and placed a muzzle on any dissenters, there’s more than just idle chatter here when you see the commissioner and ADs suddenly start openly talk about it.

As Greenstein noted in a discussion on WSCR-AM today, the Big Ten is now effectively saying, “We have now presented a plan for a 4-team playoff.  It’s not our fault if one isn’t passed.”  Thus, it appears that a large impetus for the Big Ten setting forth this proposal is to put some of the onus on the other conferences.  For quite awhile, whether rightly or wrongly, the other conferences could largely deflect criticism over the BCS system onto Jim Delany and the Big Ten (and to a lesser extent, the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl) even if their own university presidents weren’t necessarily on board.  Indeed, the Big 12 and Big East were the ones that ultimately killed a 4-team plus-one proposal from the SEC and ACC in 2008.

One tweak that I’d like to see to this plan (and previously suggested by Andy Staples and Slant commenter Eric, among others) is to have the losers of the semifinal games be placed back into the BCS bowl selection pool.  So, if the Big Ten champ or Pac-12 champ loses in a semifinal game, they would still end up going to the Rose Bowl.  Even though there’s a real concern that the fan base of a semifinal game loser might not be as willing to travel, I don’t see it as being much different than conference championship game losers being selected for top bowls (which happens quite frequently).  Plus, the bowls themselves would still ultimately rather have access to more higher-ranked teams instead of diluting the BCS pool even further.  This seems like a reasonable compromise to preserve the value of the top bowls such as the Rose Bowl while still providing for a seeded 4-team playoff.

To be honest, I never thought that the Big Ten would get behind a seeded plus-one/4-team playoff scenario, much less lead a proposal to do just that.  It’s good to be surprised every once in awhile.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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Turn and Face the Strain: More Plus-One Thoughts

As we approach this year’s national championship game along with record low TV ratings for the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl, the conversation around college football regarding massive changes to the current BCS system continues to heat up.  SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who had presented a top 4 seeded plus-one proposal in 2008, has explicitly stated that he “does not think those changes are going to be tweaks.” Plugged-in Andy Staples from Sports Illustrated predicts that the conferences will agree upon a plus-one system and the elimination of automatic qualifying status for conferences this year.  We have recently discussed various plus-one proposals here and here, while Inside the Shoe attempts to project what bowl tie-ins would look like if and when AQ status is eliminated.  Some takeaways and predictions:

1. The Plus-One is Seriously Coming – Everything that I’ve seen and heard is that some type of plus-one system to determine the national champion is coming.  However, as I’ve stated previously, it can’t be assumed that it will come in the form of a top 4 playoff.  An unseeded plus-one where the BCS rankings are recalculated after the bowls to determine the national title game matchup or some type of semi-seeded format (such as the Halfway There Compromise) is certainly possible.  Maybe we’ll still end up with the top 4 playoff that is what most people think of when talking about a plus-one (in which case, I recommend the BCS Final Four format), but my feeling is that an unseeded format is what will be put into place as a compromise for the Big Ten and Rose Bowl.  Could the SEC and other conferences technically outvote the Big Ten on this issue?  Absolutely.  Will they choose to do so?  I have my reservations on that front.  We’re not talking about an objection from the WAC or MAC here that can be easily ignored.  The people in charge really want all of the current AQ conferences unanimously on board.  In my heart of hearts, I think Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is actually fine with a plus-one privately, but selling it to the Big Ten presidents is not an easy task, which is why he has the public position of opposing it entirely.  Getting a true Big Ten champ vs. Pac-12 champ Rose Bowl back (plus lots of TV money for that plus-one championship game) could be the hook to obtaining presidential consent.

2. Eliminating AQ Status is About Three BCS Bowl Bids for Each of the SEC and Big Ten – Whatever differences Slive and Delany might have regarding a plus-one, they are completely on the same page about eliminating AQ status.  Of course, it’s completely self-serving, as the SEC and Big Ten are the conferences seeking three BCS bowl bids each (or even guaranteed in a system where all of those bowls will have contractual tie-ins).  If you look at the bowl payouts in the marketplace, you already see that SEC #3 and Big Ten #3 carry more value than the #2 teams from the Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 (and even those are skewed since those bowls are really selecting SEC #4 and Big Ten #4 as those two leagues are already all but assured of receiving two BCS bowl bids annually in the current system).  You can also see it in the selections of the BCS bowls themselves, as they continuously pick SEC and Big Ten schools for at-large bids even if there are higher ranked teams available from other power conferences.  So, this isn’t just about the SEC and Big Ten guaranteeing themselves 2 BCS bowl bids since they already have that in today’s format.  Slive and Delany are looking for changes because they know that their leagues can get even more in either a market-oriented bowl system or removing the 2 BCS bowl bids per conference limit in a modified at-large selection process.

This is what the bowls want, too.  The Sugar Bowl and TV executives aren’t looking at the 12,000 empty seats and low ratings for the Michigan-Virginia Tech matchup and thinking, “Boy, we should have really invited Boise State instead.”  To the contrary, they’re thinking, “We need to change the system so that we could have taken #6 Arkansas as a third SEC team.  Arkansas vs. Michigan would have been gangbusters!”

3. More Bowl Tie-ins or Floaters… or a Horse of a Different Color? – It’s still an open question as to how those top bowls fill in what are currently at-large BCS spots.  The Inside the Shoe post linked above suggests different contractual tie-ins for those spots.  Some commenters here have suggested the concept of “floater” spots (i.e. a bowl can take a team from a pool of several leagues), although that begs the question of how much different that would be from the current at-large selection system.  From the bowl perspective, there seems to be a tension between avoiding the “undesirable” non-AQ and Big East teams that they have been forced to take under the current BCS system (which would suggest more contractual tie-ins with leagues like the SEC and Big Ten) and the desire to have some flexibility to take the best available teams (i.e. the second selection from the Big 12 isn’t that attractive if it’s Kansas State, but a bowl definitely wants a second selection from the Big 12 if it can take Texas or Oklahoma).

There also has to be an eye toward avoiding antitrust issues.  I have long believed that an antitrust case against the current BCS system would ultimately be a loser partially because it allows for non-AQ conference access that would never have come to fruition otherwise.  Therefore, even if there was collusion between the BCS bowls and AQ conferences, the non-AQ conferences wouldn’t be able to show any damages since eliminating the BCS system would actually take away revenue and access from them.  Think of it as a college football version of the famous USFL antitrust lawsuit against the NFL: the USFL technically won the lawsuit by showing that the NFL was an illegal monopoly, but was only awarded $1 in damages (which is trebled for a Sherman Act violation, so it actually received $3).  Eliminating the BCS system overall but then having the top bowls fill in at-large sports with “floater” teams that practically shut off access to non-AQ schools, though, is much more problematic from an antitrust perspective.  The concept of floaters would almost certainly require some level of collusion between the bowls which, in this case, would truly be to the detriment of those non-AQ schools.

One way to circumvent antitrust issues while providing the BCS bowls with more at-large selection flexibility is to expand the merit-based quotient slightly.  For instance, there could be 5 BCS bowls (assuming that the Cotton Bowl is added as the fifth game) for a total of 10 bids just as today.  5 of those bids would go to the 5 power conferences with contractual tie-ins.  There could then be a provision that all schools in the top 5 of the BCS rankings would be guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl (a slight uptick from the top 4 protection now).  Maybe there would be 5 bids granted to current non-AQ conferences in one year and maybe there would be zero bids in the next year, but in either case, that type of merit-based allowance is likely what would allow that system to pass antitrust muster.  This ensures that if there’s an “undesirable” team that must be included, it’s at least going to be a top 5 school that would have a legit shot at the national title in an unseeded plus-one system and then the bowls can pick whoever else that they want otherwise.  A seeded plus-one, which would inherently grant auto-bids to the top 4 ranked schools, would also make things much easier for the BCS from a legal standpoint.

My gut feeling is that the modification to the current BCS system is ultimately more likely than a complete break-off between the national championship game and the bowls.  The top bowls themselves still want a BCS designation (as it distinguishes them from everyone else) and would likely value more flexibility in filling what are currently their at-large spots than having straight conference tie-ins.

4. Are Non-AQ Conferences Exchanging Bowl Access for More National Championship Game Revenue? – One interesting aspect of all of these proposed changes is that the non-AQ conferences seem to be willing to give up access to top bowl games that they would have never received in the pre-BCS days.  Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson is on the record that he would rather see AQ status eliminated across the board over even the MWC receiving AQ status for the next two seasons.  The main argument is that the AQ and non-AQ labels have artificially created a caste system between the two designations.  Now, that seems like a pretty weak position for giving up access to top tier bowl games.  Regardless of whether there are AQ or non-AQ statuses, everyone is going to recognize that there’s a clear delineation between the power conferences and the non-power conferences.  (We’ll get to where the Big East fits on that spectrum in a moment.)  As much as the power conferences control the college football postseason, it would still be unusual for the non-AQ leagues to give up access after fighting for it for so long unless they’re getting something in return.  What gives?

One plausible way that the non-AQs can get something out of a return to a more traditional bowl system is that they would give up major bowl access and revenue to the power conferences in exchange for equal shares of the revenue that is generated by the plus-one national championship game.  This actually makes some sense.  The bowls have always been designed to be extensions of their local tourism bureaus where selections are merit-influenced (as better teams generally have fans that are more likely to be motivated to travel and watch games) but not completely merit-based.  The top games want a combination of strong traveling fan bases, brand names and TV drawing power, which is why they gravitate to the power conferences.  Thus, if we define “fairness” as an adherence to free market principles (as opposed to redistribution of income or open access), it’s completely fair that the bowls pay more to the top leagues with the most popular teams.  In contrast, the national championship game explicitly does not have any conference tie-ins (although SEC fans surely argue that they ought to have one).  The national title game is something that should equitably be shared by all conferences because, at least on paper (if not in practice), every team has a chance to make that game based on pure merit.  Thus, it’s inequitable that a #1 SEC team ought to get paid more than a #2 Mountain West team for making that game (which is actually what would happen in today’s system).

At least in my mind, it would be consistent to allow for the power conferences to receive all of the revenue for the top bowls (which have a heavy popularity component), but all conferences ought to share the national championship game revenue equally.  Presumably, all parties involved would see hefty increases in revenue as a result of this allocation system and it property reflects their interests, where the non-AQ conferences can’t honestly claim equal status with the power conferences in terms of bowl desirability because that simply isn’t true, but ought to be able to claim equal status in terms of access to the national championship game that should be based purely on merit.  (Any arguments that a non-AQ school getting to national championship game is almost impossible are noted, but that’s a practical consideration as opposed to a structural/contractual/financial issue.  The “system” should eliminate the latter because that’s within its control.  However, there’s only so much that can be done once it’s put into practice.  This even applies to more “open access” systems such as the NCAA Tournament or FCS playoffs, where power conferences and programs have still emerged.)

5. Big East: The One That Wants the Status Quo – By most accounts, 10 of the 11 FBS conferences want to eliminate AQ status.  The one holdout, not surprisingly, is the Big East.  As I’ve stated in previous posts, “eliminating AQ status” is really a matter of semantics for the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC because they all would still retain their contractual tie-ins with the BCS bowls.  Whether or not there’s a delineation between AQ and non-AQ leagues, nothing will really change for the champions of those 5 power conferences.  In contrast, AQ status means everything to the Big East since it doesn’t have any contractual tie-ins with the top bowls and likely couldn’t get them on its own.  To have a chance at a tie-in with one of those top bowls, the Big East would probably have to make a deal with the devil and offer liberal access to Notre Dame, such as allowing a bowl to take the Irish if they are ranked higher than the Big East champion in a given year.  Even then, that might not be enough.  Considering that the Big East created a new coast-to-coast league including Boise State and San Diego State with an explicit eye toward ensuring that the league would meet any BCS AQ numerical criteria, all of that effort may have been in vain.  Of course, the new Big East will still be better off for TV purposes than if it had solely added more geographically-friendly (but less sexy) schools east of the Mississippi River, so it was an expansion that the league had to do in the wake of Syracuse and Pitt defecting to the ACC and West Virginia leaving for the Big 12.  It’s just that an automatic tie-in to a top bowl (and the revenue that comes with it) is no longer assured for the Big East.  In a college football world where there’s largely a clear line between the upper class elite and the lower class, the Big East is the one middle class conference.

Changes in college football have come in very small increments.  It’s easy to forget that there has only been national championship game for the past 13 years, with the Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition being precursors and a sole reliance on polls prior to them.  This might be the year where a giant step is made.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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The Halfway There Compromise: A BCS Plus-One Proposal That the Big Ten and Rose Bowl Could Live With

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 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!

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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Change is Coming: Four BCS Plus-One Options Under Consideration

With Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany effectively stating that BCS automatic qualifying status is going to disappear in 2014, there’s some even more important related news.  A couple of weeks ago, one of my contacts told me that the FBS conference commissioners were evaluating a plan for the BCS to only run the national title game and then revert back to the old system for all other bowl games.  That proposal has since been reported by CBS Sports to have originated from Delany.  This same contact is now telling me that the implementation of a plus-one system to determine college football’s national champion is gaining traction in principle.  The issue is that there are differing opinions as to what that plus-one system will look like.  Here are four main options under consideration by the conference commissioners (with my own advantage/disadvantage observations):

Option #1 – The Slive/Swofford Plan: Seeded Plus-One* – A seeded playoff between the top 4 teams using the BCS bowls and what most people think of when referring to a plus-one system.

  • Advantages: Taking the top 4 teams is the cleanest way to have a plus-one on paper.  It’s simple for any sports fan to understand.  From a conference perspective, the SEC, ACC and now Big 12 support this.  ESPN also wants a seeded format.
  • Disadvantages: Jim Delany and the Big Ten are explicitly against this, with presumably the Rose Bowl and Pac-12 in the same boat.  Those entities carry a disproportionate amount of power within college sports, so any proposal without their approval will be almost impossible to pass.  The bowls that aren’t semifinal games (particularly the Rose Bowl) would be diluted and drop significantly in value.

(* As a reminder, Mike Slive is the SEC commissioner and John Swofford is the ACC commissioner.  They jointly presented this proposal in 2008 to the rest of the conference commissioners and were promptly shot down.)

Option #2 – The Delany Plan: Old School Unseeded Plus-One – All bowls (including the current BCS bowls) revert to the pre-BCS system of choosing teams and tie-ins.  The national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.  The BCS itself would only exist to run the national championship game.

  • Advantages: Keeps and even enhances traditional tie-ins such as the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in the Rose Bowl (as their respective champions, even if they are ranked in the top 2 or 4, would always go to Pasadena again).  Despite public proclamations that he is against a plus-one system, Jim Delany and the Big Ten would likely agree to this plan (if only because they may see the writing on the wall that some type of plus-one is going to be passed).
  • Disadvantages: Not as clean as a seeded plus-one.  Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls still want a BCS designation (or something concrete to distinguish them from other bowls) in exchange for the payouts that they’re pumping into the system.

Option #3 – Four BCS Bowls Semi-seeded Plus-One Compromise – Each of the 4 BCS bowls would retain the conference champs from their traditional tie-ins (Rose has Big Ten and Pac-12, Sugar has SEC, Fiesta has Big 12 and Orange has ACC).  The Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls would then select at-larges in the order of the BCS ranking of their respective tie-in.  (For example, since the Sugar Bowl has #1 LSU as its tie-in, it would get the first at-large selection.)  As with Option #2, the national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.

  • Advantages: Possible compromise solution as it meets the Slive/Swofford and Delany Plans in the middle.  The tradition of the Rose Bowl is maintained, while the other BCS bowls are able to simultaneously retain their tie-ins and get rewarded if they have high-ranking teams in any given year.
  • Disadvantages: As with Option #2, not as clean as a seeded plus-one.  This would also move the BCS system back down to 8 bowl slots from the current 10.  None of the power conferences really want that, particularly the SEC and Big Ten (who have benefited the most from the 2 additional BCS bowl bids).  When Mike Slive and Jim Delany agree on something, what they say usually goes.

Option #4 – Five BCS Bowls Semi-seeded Plus-One Compromise – Same starting principle as Option #3 with the 4 current BCS bowls would retain the conference champs from their traditional tie-ins.  The Cotton Bowl or a newly created bowl (which I’ll explain later, but the Cotton will be referenced as a placeholder under this Option #4) would be added as a fifth BCS bowl.  Note that the Cotton (if it becomes the 5th BCS bowl) would NOT take the Big 12 tie-in from the Fiesta, as many people speculated would be possible.

If a top 4 team is not a member of league that has a tie-in with a BCS bowl (in the current world, the Big East and the 5 non-AQ conferences), such team would go to the Cotton Bowl.  In the event that there are multiple top 4 teams that are outside of the “Big 5” conferences, such as 2009 with #3 Cincinnati and #4 TCU, the higher ranked team would be placed in the Cotton.  The bowls would then select at-large teams in the order of the ranking of the respective “base” team that is either tied-in or allocated to them.

If there are no top 4 teams meeting that designation, then the highest ranked conference champion would get a Cotton bid provided that it is ranked in the top 12 and one of the other 4 legacy BCS bowls does not want to select that team.  In that situation, the Cotton would pick last after the other 4 BCS bowls for its at-large team.

Finally, if one of the 4 legacy BCS bowls chooses the non-Big 5 team or no non-Big 5 champion is ranked in the top 12, then the Cotton can select any two teams ranked in the top 14 after the other BCS bowls make their selections.

As the with Options #2 and #3, the national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.

  • Advantages: Like Option #3, it’s a compromise plan that meets the Slive/Swofford and Delany Plans in the middle while maintaining the traditional tie-ins.  It also keeps the current number of 10 BCS bowl bids.  The conferences outside of the Big 5 will still get access to top bowls if their champs are ranked highly enough.  Least amount of change to the current BCS system in terms of the teams that would actually be selected for bids compared to the other options, which is a plus in a college football world that has always engaged in incremental change.
  • Disadvantages: Like Options #2 and #3, this is not as clean as the seeded plus-one.

Some other overarching points that would apply regardless of which option is chosen:

(1) AQ status will likely “go away” but traditional tie-ins are preserved – There is a strong desire among the conference commissioners to eliminate the concept at AQ status, but there’s also a concurrent interest to preserve the traditional bowl tie-ins.  As I’ve stated in other posts, this seems like a matter of semantics where what used to be “AQ status” is now converted to being called “traditional tie-ins”, except that there’s no longer an automatic bid for the Big East or a mechanism for other conferences to achieve AQ status.  The non-AQ conferences apparently have more of an issue with the class distinction between AQ and non-AQ more than being provided with a chance to move up to AQ status.  This is somewhat understandable since if the Mountain West couldn’t move up after the successes that now former members TCU and Utah have had in the BCS system, there’s likely little hope for any of the non-AQ conferences to move up after the further raids by the Big East.  Speaking of which, preventing further raids by the Big East is likely another motivating factor for the MWC and Conference USA since the people in Providence would’t make moves simply for AQ numbers anymore (although I still believe that any Mount USA Alliance member would still jump to the Big East even without AQ status).

(2) Two team per conference limit to BCS likely eliminated – The Big Ten and SEC are likely getting their way on this issue with the BCS bowls being allowed to take 3 or more teams from a conference in a given year.  Why would any of the other conferences agree to this?  Let’s get to the next point…

(3) Somewhat more equitable revenue distribution– The current non-AQ conferences seem to be willing to possibly give up some access to the BCS bowls in exchange for (a) a better shot at the national title game via a plus-one system and (b) mo money mo money mo money.  Now, to be sure, the current AQ conferences would retain the lion’s share of BCS bowl revenue.  You might see the current 90% control of bowl revenue by the power conferences move down to 85% or 80%.  However, that’s mitigated by the anticipated increase in revenue from a plus-one game.  As with anything dealing with financial issues, this sounds simple in theory, yet how the revenue is distributed is probably going to be the toughest issue to agree upon out of anything in a new BCS system (much more so than whether there’s a plus-one system in the first place).As an example of what’s being floated out there, my contact presented a revenue distribution proposal that replaced the AQ/non-AQ designation with an Equity/Participating model.  A set percentage of BCS revenue (approximately 70%) would be in an “Equity Pool”.  Each conference with at least 3/4ths of its members that were original BCS members (all current AQ conferences except for the Big East) would be an “Equity Member” and receive one equal share of the Equity Pool.  Notre Dame would also be a Equity Member and receive approximately 1/12.4ths of a share of the equity pool.  (The average Equity Member has 12.4 members, so that’s how the Notre Dame share was calculated.)  After that, 10% of the BCS revenue would be in a “Participating Pool”.  The 6 non-Equity conferences would be “Participating Members”, where each of those leagues would receive one equal share of the Participating Pool.  Independents Navy, Army and BYU would receive proportional shares similar to Notre Dame, but only out of this Participating Pool.  The remaining 20% would then be in a “Selection Pool” that would be divided into 10 equal shares, with 1 share awarded for each BCS bowl bid earned by a conference.Note that this is just one revenue sharing proposal, but it seems that the current AQ conferences may be willing to bend a little on revenue sharing in exchange for a more traditional approach to BCS bowl access.  Of course, even under this proposal (which is coming from a non-AQ conference contact), the Big 5 could still receive up to 90% of the BCS money if they receive all of the BCS bowl bids.

(4) New BCS bowl might be created instead of elevating the Cotton Bowl (or a different bowl like the Capital One) – The Cotton Bowl gets mentioned a lot as a fifth BCS bowl option since there’s an assumption that Jerry Jones can buy whatever he wants, but let’s remember that the bowl still only gets the third or fourth selection from the SEC and is behind the Capital One Bowl (which has a stadium that’s a complete dump despite the holiday vacation-friendly Orlando location) in the pecking order.  So, Jerry Jones actually has very little power in college sports matters.  (Heck, he’s only been able to buy one NFL playoff win in 15 years.)  On the flip side, the Big 12 and SEC don’t necessarily want to give up the Cotton Bowl as one of the most prestigious non-BCS bowls, as they’d have to find other tie-ins that may not pay as well.  As a result, one possible solution is to avoid elevating an existing bowl altogether and have the BCS create an entirely new bowl that can be auctioned off to a new corporate sponsor and venue (or even have it rotate to multiple venues).  So, this new BCS bowl might still be played in Jerry World but would be entirely separate from the Cotton Bowl.

So, there’s a ton to chew on here.  My personal feeling is that Option #4 is going to happen – an unseeded format is really the only way you’ll get the Big Ten on board (and they’re necessary to push this through).  While a lot of people characterize me as a BCS defender, that’s definitely not the case (as evidenced by the multiple proposals that I’ve written about on how to change the system over the years).  I simply recognize the financial and access parameters in place that are fairly intractable, so the best that we can realistically hope for is incremental change.  (Note that even “Death to the BCS” author and 16-team playoff proponent Dan Wetzel, who I don’t always agree with, largely comes to the same conclusion in this very level-headed and practical discussion with Stewart Mandel about the BCS and plus-one options.  It’s definitely worth listening to as it also features an appearance by the great @DanBeebe.)  Option #4 balances such change with traditions such as the Rose Bowl, so that would be a great place to start.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

The Delany Party Like It’s 1997 BCS Bowl Proposal: Why It’s a Brilliant Chess Move (Unless You Want a Playoff)

As I was sitting in a post-Thanksgiving coma simultaneously enjoying fireronzook.com: The Sequel (let me pour one out in honor of the multiple first half 2-point conversion attempts over the years) and being mortified of the start of the Caleb Hanie Era in Chicago (*pounding head against the wall*), I started thinking about the last post that I wrote regarding the potential of a new BCS system that would only run the #1 vs. #2 national title game with all other bowls going back to their traditional tie-ins.  Effectively, it would be a reversion to the old Bowl Alliance system with the exception that the Big Ten and Pac-12 would send #1 or #2 ranked teams to the national championship game.  (Note that even though the Rose Bowl/Big Ten/Pac-12 triumvirate was technically not a part of the Bowl Alliance, the Big Ten still benefited by sending teams to Bowl Alliance bowls in 2 of the 3 years of the system’s existence.) It was subsequently reported that the genesis of such proposal was from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.  This is not surprising when you recall these quotes from last year about defending the BCS system:

“The notion,” Delany said, “that over time by putting political pressure on, it’s just going to get greater access, more financial reward and more access to the Rose Bowl, I think you’re really testing. I think people who have contributed a lot have, what I call, ‘BCS defense fatigue.’

“If you think you (WAC Commissioner Karl Benson) can continue to push for more money, more access to the Rose Bowl, or Sugar Bowl. I have tremendous respect for Boise and TCU. … I think they are tremendous teams that can beat any team in the country on a given day. I think the only question is, ‘Does one team’s 12-0 and another team’s 12-0 equate?’ And that’s where the discussion plays out, not whether or not they’re elite teams or deserving access to the bowl system.

“I’m not sure how much more give there is in the system.”

* * * * * *

“I think the system does provide access and opportunity for a team like Boise State or TCU to play in the championship game,” Benson said. “But we’ve also proven that it’s a lot easier to get to No. 4 than it is to get to No. 2.”

Benson said he supports the BCS, but wants even more access and more revenue. This is not a popular subject with Delany.

“We gave up the Rose Bowl, the SEC gave up access to the Sugar Bowl, others were included but they never had access to any of this before,” Delany said. “You have to understand who brought what to the table. Who’s continuing to give and who’s continuing to get.”

Delany, then, not so subtly drew a line in the sand.

“The only thing I would say, if you think you (the non-automatic qualifying leagues) can continue to pressure the system and we’ll just naturally provide more and more and more,” Delany said. “I don’t think that’s an assumption that our presidents, athletic directors, football coaches and commissioners necessarily agree with.

“Karl (Benson) says we like this contract and we want more. Well, we’ve got fatigue for defending a system that’s under a lot of pressure. The pressure is for more. It’s never enough.”

As you can see, the last thing that Jim Delany and the Big Ten want to do is provide more access to the non-automatic qualifier programs.  Ever since the formation of the BCS, the non-AQ conferences have been relentless in seeking more access, trying to drum up political opposition and pushing for a playoff.  While plenty of AQ fans want to see a playoff, it’s the non-AQ crowd that have always garnered the most hatred toward the BCS.

So, here’s what’s brilliant about Delany proposing to revert to an old school bowl format: the non-AQ conferences are now defending the current BCS system.  The debate has been completely changed from providing more spots to non-AQ schools or a playoff to whether the current access to top bowls for non-AQ programs will be maintained.  Delany and the Big Ten presidents may or may not be truly pushing this proposal, but in either event it’s an incredible tactical maneuver to deflect the constant pressure on changes to the BCS overall.  What’s scary to the non-AQ schools is that this is pretty legitimate threat since the bowls, TV networks and AQ conferences (except for maybe the Big East) would all certainly prefer the Delany Proposal.  Therefore, the non-AQs are now having to fight for the status quo as opposed to trying to get anything more.  Delany completed turned the BCS access issue on its head.

Whether you hate the BCS or not (and I’ve certainly had many proposals to change it over the years here, here, here and here), the fact of the matter is that the Boise States and TCUs (pre-joining-the-Big-East-then-the-Big 12) of the world would’ve never had access to the top bowl games without the BCS system in place.  The irony is that the AQ conferences may be the ones that ultimately dismantle the BCS and it would be the worst thing that could ever happen to the non-AQ leagues.  The Delany Proposal would result in multiple direct tie-ins for the power conferences without any slots for any non-marquee names.  As they say, be careful for what you wish for if you want to see the BCS get killed off.  You might just end up getting it and won’t like the results.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Orlando Sentinel)