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 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!)

My (Hopefully) Final College Football Playoff Proposal: Four Team Bowl Event with a Flex Wild Card

Change is here: the BCS commissioners have announced that they are recommending a 4-team college football playoff to the university presidents.  While the details of how that 4-team playoff is going to be structured is still up in the air (along with how the revenue is split among the conferences and schools), we’re in the midst of what will arguably end up being the most important college football story of our lives.

With that in mind, I’m submitting what will hopefully be my last college football playoff proposal.  As always, I try to be realistic balancing the real world financial and political interests of the various entities that have leverage (as opposed to simply throwing out a plan just because I like it).  There’s no ambiguity that there are going to be 4 teams playing into eliminations games.  The real debate right now is about how those 4 teams are chosen.  For the purposes this discussion, I’m going to assume that there will be some type of publicized BCS-type ranking system as opposed to a selection committee*.  Maybe the inputs for that ranking will be different than what the BCS formula uses today, but that’s another discussion for another day.

(* Personally, I don’t believe that a selection committee is going to provide any value beyond a BCS-type ranking system or even just using a largely objective poll similar to the AP.  (Note that I agree with those that believe that the coaches’ poll is garbage as the voters have a direct self-interest in the outcome of the poll.)  A selection committee is beneficial for the NCAA Tournament since they’re tasked with culling through midmajor squads and even power conference teams that haven’t received much media attention to determine team #68 that gets in and #69 that doesn’t get in.  By comparison, we’re only looking at a 4-team playoff for college football, and as stupid as many voters might be, there’s going to be fairly high public awareness of the top 4 to 6 teams.  That’s the type of situation where the “wisdom of crowds” approach is more effective as opposed to having only a handful of committee members making a decision where the impact of an outlier is far too great.

There are also a couple of practical considerations to using a BCS-type ranking as opposed to a selection committee.  First, the general public wants to be able to follow a ranking from week-to-week.  Part of the very essence of the regular season is following who is #1 (or #4) and having a reasonable idea as to who needs to win or lose in a given week in order to change that ranking.  I think asking the general public to hold its breath and wait until the first weekend in December to find out who is really in the top 4 according to the criteria established by the decision-makers isn’t going to work.  Once again, this is NOT the NCAA Tournament where the decisions are really about seeding and the worst that the committee can do is make a mistake with team #69 that doesn’t have a legitimate shot at winning the national championship, anyway.

Second, any committee member is going to have to invest in a closet-full of Kevlar vests.  Do you want to be the one of 10 people whose names are publicized that tells an Alabama fan base whose team has been ranked #2 in the polls all year that the Crimson Tide isn’t going to a 4-team playoff?  I’m not joking – those committee members are going to need round-the-clock security outside of their homes.  At least if there’s some type of poll combined with some computer rankings, any negative ire is directed toward a faceless system instead of specific individuals.  Some type of ranking that you can follow from week-to-week where everyone knows where they stand at any given time greatly disperses the haterade (even if it can’t ever be completely eliminated).)

The main debate about selecting the 4 participants in a playoff revolves around whether only conference champions should be allowed.  On the other side is simply using the top 4 teams in whatever ranking is used regardless of conference affiliation.  In the middle is a proposal to use the 3 highest-ranked conference champions plus 1 wild card team that would be the highest-ranked team outside of those 3 league champs (so it could be a conference champ, non-conference champ, or an independent such as Notre Dame).

My personal view on this issue is very practical: if we finally get a college football playoff and still end up with a split national championship with the final AP poll, then that’s a massive fail.  I understand the argument that limiting the participants to only conference champions provides some emphasis on “earning it on the field”, yet the practical reality is the general public and, more importantly, the TV networks paying for a playoff aren’t going to accept a system where the #2 team in the country would not be participating yet the #10 team would be involved (which is what would have happened in 2011).  I believe a lot of hardcore college football fans that support a conference champs-only have been mistakenly mixing their disdain for Alabama being chosen over Oklahoma State for a #1 vs. #2 national championship game last year (where I completely agree with the furor) with an argument that Alabama should not even be in a 4-team playoff (which I can’t justify if the purpose of a playoff is to figure out who the best team in the country is).  I’m one of the biggest Big Ten guys out there, yet I’m in agreement with SEC commissioner Mike Slive in principle on this issue: there’s no real way that I can support a system that would have allowed #10 Wisconsin in over #2 Alabama last year.

With that backdrop, here is one last college football playoff proposal for your consideration, which is what I call the “Four Team Bowl Event with a Flex Wild Card”.



1. Top 3 teams in the new ranking system (whatever it might be) are automatically in the playoff regardless of conference affiliation.

2. The #4 team in the rankings is automatically in the playoff it is a conference champion or independent.

3. If the #4 team in the rankings is not a conference champion or independent, then:

a. The #5 team is in the playoff if it is a conference champion;

b. The #6 team is in the playoff if it is a conference champion and the #5 team is not a conference champion;

c. The #4 team is in the playoff if neither the #5 team nor #6 team are conference champions.

Rationale: Originally, I liked the 3 conference champions with 1 wild card slot proposal as compromise between the desire to reward conference champions with the need to ensure a legitimately elite conference runner-up doesn’t get shut out by a pedestrian conference champ.  However, I saw some of the commenters on this blog discuss some hypothetical formats where the top 3 teams without regard to conference affiliation would be guaranteed access to a playoff and started to think that this would be the best way to go.  Once again, I’m trying to be practical here.  When I think back to what has been the single most common complaint about the BCS system over the years, it has been an argument over who should be in the national championship game between the #2 team and the #3 team.  It hasn’t happened every year during the BCS era, but when it has happened, that’s where we have seen the most angst and heartburn among fans.  If much of the impetus behind finally instituting a playoff (besides cashing in on a pile of TV money) is to provide clarity and answers that the public has been craving for years, then having a #2 vs. #3 semifinal specifically is critical.  In that sense, ensuring the #3 team is in the playoff whether it’s a conference champ or not is just as important as having the #2 team there.

It’s the fourth spot in the playoffs, which is what I call the “Flex Wild Card”, that I believed needs to have some provisions granting some preferences to a conference champions (but not so much that it would prop up a low-ranked conference champ).  As the last team in, it’s more expendable than the top 3 teams – the public isn’t as bothered by seeing a #1 vs. #5 game in a playoff (compared to not seeing a #2 vs. #3 game) if there’s reasonable justification.  So, if the #4 team is a conference champion or an independent, then there’s no issue and it’s automatically in the playoff.  However, I can see being bothered if a conference runner-up is at #4 while a conference champion is sitting right behind it at #5 or #6.  The prime example of this is last year’s rankings, where Stanford was #4 in the final BCS rankings and Oregon was #5 despite the fact that Oregon had beaten Stanford and was the Pac-12 champion.  In that scenario, it would seem that Oregon’s achievement of being a conference champ should usurp Stanford’s ranking.

However, if the public is going to take the system seriously, a playoff participant can’t be too far down in the rankings.  That’s why I limited this Flex Wild Card spot to only swapping out a non-conference champion (as long as it’s not an independent) at #4 if there’s a conference champion at #5 or #6.  My eyeball review of past BCS rankings indicates that there’s typically a drop-off after the top 6 teams in most years and my feeling is that a #1 vs. #6 matchup doesn’t seem that far removed from a #1 vs. #4 matchup, whereas once we get to a #1 vs. #7 or below matchup, that starts looking out of place in a playoff.

Note that I treat an independent (AKA Notre Dame) as the same as a conference champion if it is in the top 4, but it is not treated as such if it is a #5 or #6 team for the Flex Wild Card spot.  My approach to Notre Dame is that it should be “football Switzerland” – it shouldn’t receive any advantage for not being a member of a conference (which is what a lot of non-Irish fans focus upon), but it also shouldn’t receive any disadvantage for not being a member of a conference (which is what a lot of non-Irish fans freely ignore).  A new college football playoff should not be a vehicle to structurally force Notre Dame into a conference (and note that any rule providing a disadvantage to independents will also apply to Army and, until it joins the Big East, Navy, which won’t be looked at too kindly by the people in Washington that would rather hitch on the always popular bandwagon of bashing the BCS than dealing with a stagnant economy, rampant unemployment and massive deficits).  Now, the only way that you can truly treat Notre Dame neutrally is if you take the top 4 teams in a ranking straight up with no conference restrictions.  If a system is anything other than that, then the goal should be to mitigate any advantages or disadvantages to independence.

There’s also another practical aspect regarding Notre Dame, which is as much as non-Domers might claim that they’re not relevant any more, there’s not going to be any TV executive anywhere that is going to be happy paying for a 4-team playoff where a top 4 Notre Dame team isn’t involved, and those TV people are the ones making this playoff possible in the first place by throwing so much money on the table.  I get asked pretty frequently why Notre Dame has its own seat at the BCS table and my response is always that it’s very simple: Notre Dame brings money into the system while rarely taking a BCS spot, so it’s the best of both worlds.  That’s why the power conferences are more than happy to deal with the Irish in a pragmatic fashion.  In contrast, the current non-AQ conferences don’t bring much money into the system at all while frequently taking a BCS spot, which is the worst of both worlds.  So, it’s those non-power conferences that truly stick in the craw of Jim Delany and Mike Slive.  Notre Dame is a complete red herring for college football fans.

To summarize: this playoff proposal would take the top 3 teams regardless of whether they are conference champs, while a #5 or #6 conference champion can jump a #4 team that’s not a conference champion or an independent.

Now that we’ve got the team selection covered, let’s move onto where the semifinals will be played.


Beyond the 4-team playoff recommendation, there were a couple of other key stories that came out of the BCS meetings.  First, Dennis Dodd of wrote this with respect to the Rose Bowl:

Tuesday will be known as the day the Rose Bowl gave in. Maybe just as little. And not officially. But it was the day when Delany, the biggest public defender of the Rose, sounded a lot like the stuffy ol’ Granddaddy was joining the party.

“I would say there is an expectation there will be significant change,” Delany said of the postseason in general.

What he’s saying without saying it is that the Rose/Pac-12/Big Ten won’t bust that playoff party. At least that’s the way it looks. They’re in. All the way. Get used to it. That’s what the last 10 years have been about. Five times since January 2002 “foreign” teams have played in Pasadena. In the previous 55 years it was only the Big Ten and Pac-8/10

Then, Brett McMurphy of reported this regarding playoff format possibilities:

Sources also told that one of the many formats the BCS is considering is a model that would allow the bowl games the flexibility to host a semifinal game — if it’s not scheduled — if its anchor team qualifies for the playoff. In other words, if the Rose Bowl is not scheduled to host a semifinal game, but the Big Ten or Pac-12 champion qualifies for a four-team playoff, then the Rose Bowl could host a semifinal. This also would be the case for an SEC champion and the Sugar Bowl or a Big 12 team and the Fiesta Bowl.

What this means is that (1) the Rose Bowl is willing to become a semifinal game, which means giving up the traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 on a frequent basis on paper but (2) there is a proposal to allow the bowls to use their traditional tie-ins to slot the semifinal games, which could allow the Rose Bowl to get back one or both of its traditional conference partners with national championship implications.

As soon as I read McMurphy’s flexible BCS bowl/semifinal proposal, it instantly jumped out at me as the direction that I believe the overall system will head toward.  If Jim Delany and Larry Scott are serious about protecting the Rose Bowl while keeping their respective conferences’ relationships with Pasadena as strong as possible even with participating in a 4-team playoff, then this seems to be the way to go.  To expand upon this:

1. A BCS bowl gets to host a semifinal if it has a tie-in that’s a playoff participant.

2. When there are more than 2 BCS bowls that have tie-ins with semifinalists, the higher-ranked teams get bowl placement priority (e.g. if #1 LSU plays #5 Oregon in a semifinal, the Sugar Bowl gets the game instead of the Rose Bowl because the SEC tie-in is ranked higher).

3. If two or more teams from the same conference are semifinalists, then the highest ranked team from that conference gets the traditional bowl tie-in.  The lower ranked team(s) could be placed at bowls that have tie-ins with other semifinalists (e.g. #1 LSU would have gone to the Sugar Bowl last year, while #2 Alabama would have played #3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl because that’s the Big 12 tie-in).

4.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, in the event that both the Big Ten and Pac-12 have semifinalists, they will play in the Rose Bowl regardless of ranking.

5.  One or two BCS bowls per year are designated as semifinal sites on a rotational basis in the off-chance that one or more semifinal matchups does not have any teams with any bowl tie-ins.

6.  The BCS bowls that are not hosting semifinals are free to choose any team that it wants outside of its contractual tie-ins.

Reasoning: This system appears to be the best that the traditionalists can do in terms of protecting the prestige of the Rose Bowl without completely throwing away the Big Ten/Pac-12 tie-ins.  Most proposals seemed to go one way (making the Rose Bowl a semifinal or championship locale without regard to the Big Ten and Pac-12) or the other (removing the Rose Bowl completely from the semifinal rotation).  The system here meets those two extremes in the middle, and as you’ll see below in applying this system to previous years, it’s really a net benefit to the quality of the Rose Bowl matchup and the Big Ten/Pac-12 pairing would not have been lost any more frequently than it has been usurped in the current BCS system.


Using the BCS rankings from prior years, here’s how the semifinals and BCS bowls would have looked from 2005 to 2011 (semifinals in bold):

Rose Bowl: #10 Wisconsin vs. #4 Stanford
Sugar Bowl: #1 LSU vs. #5 Oregon
Orange Bowl: #15 Clemson vs. #6 Arkansas
Fiesta Bowl: #3 Oklahoma State vs. #2 Alabama

Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin vs. #2 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Auburn vs. #3 TCU
Orange Bowl: #13 Virginia Tech vs. #6 Ohio State
Fiesta Bowl: #7 Oklahoma vs. #4 Stanford

Rose Bowl: #8 Ohio State vs. #7 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Alabama vs. #4 TCU
Orange Bowl: #9 Georgia Tech vs. #5 Florida
Fiesta Bowl: #2 Texas vs. #3 Cincinnati

Rose Bowl: #8 Penn State vs. #17 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #2 Florida vs. #3 Texas
Orange Bowl: #19 Virginia Tech vs. #4 Alabama
Fiesta Bowl: #1 Oklahoma vs. #5 USC

Rose Bowl: #1 Ohio State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Sugar Bowl: #2 LSU vs. #3 Virginia Tech
Orange Bowl: #5 Georgia vs. #8 Kansas
Fiesta Bowl: #6 Missouri vs. #7 USC

Rose Bowl: #1 Ohio State vs. #5 USC
Sugar Bowl: #2 Florida vs. #3 Michigan
Orange Bowl: #14 Wake Forest vs. #4 LSU
Fiesta Bowl: #10 Oklahoma vs. #7 Wisconsin

Rose Bowl: #3 Penn State vs. #1 USC
Sugar Bowl: #7 Georgia vs. #8 Miami
Orange Bowl: #22 Florida State vs. #6 Notre Dame
Fiesta Bowl: #2 Texas vs. #4 Ohio State

Out of the last 7 seasons, the Rose Bowl would have hosted 4 semifinal games, including 3 that would have been traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchups.  Overall, the Rose Bowl would have only had a non-Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup once under this system (compared to twice in real life under the current BCS system).  The Sugar Bowl is the obvious beneficiary with the recent SEC dominance allowing it to host semfinals for the past 6 years, while the Orange Bowl wouldn’t have hosted any semifinals at all during this time period.  The Fiesta Bowl would have hosted the semifinals 4 times.

The upshot for me: this is about as good as the Rose Bowl is going to get in terms of preserving both its prestige and relevance when faced with the reality that we’re going to have a 4-team playoff.  Let’s see if the Big Ten and Pac-12 end up getting behind a proposal to this effect.

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

(Image from USA Today)

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 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)

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 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)

(Image from Food Network)

B1G Plus-One Discussion: The Key Issues in Changing the BCS System

Out of all of the quotes that came out of the Bowl Championship Series meetings held yesterday, none drew more attention than those from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. A month ago, Delany seemed to be taking a defiant stand against any type of expansion of the college football postseason, including a plus-one. At the BCS meetings, though, he indicated a much more open mind toward discussing changes to the current system:

“It was far more open,” the Big Ten’s commissioner, Jim Delany, said. “Four years ago there were five guys who didn’t want to have the discussion. Everyone here fully participated in it.”

Delany had been one of the commissioners who did not even want to discuss a playoff then, but he described himself as “interested, curious and fully participating” Tuesday. He said he would meet in January with the presidents and athletic directors of the universities in his conference to discuss the possibilities for college football’s postseason.

“The environment has changed in the sense that we had five people who didn’t want to talk about it, of the seven founders,” Delany said. “And I think the seven founders were the conferences plus Notre Dame, and four years ago five of us didn’t want to have the conversation. Now people want to have the conversation. I don’t know where our institutions will be on any of this, but I think that in good faith we have to engage and be curious and be open and see where we go.”

This is massive news. Even though this is at only a discussion stage and it’s been indicated that no two conferences are “in the same place” regarding what they want in a new system, the fact that Delany did not immediately shoot down the concept of a plus-one (unlike what had occurred when a seeded plus-one was proposed by the SEC and ACC in 2008) is a significant step toward change. That likely means that Delany received some direction from the Big Ten presidents (who, just like in conference realignment, are the only people that matter as opposed to athletic directors and coaches) to at least listen to what the market is offering as opposed to taking an ironclad stand. Considering that the Big Ten is the largest single power player that needs to be moved on the plus-one format just as a general concept (much less the details), there’s a much greater chance that the BCS system (to the extent that there is even the term “BCS” anymore) will look significantly different when it’s presented to ESPN later this year for a possible TV contract extension that will start in the 2013 season.

As a reminder, there are a couple of things to remember as you read articles about possible changes to the BCS system over the coming months:

  • The term “plus-one” is NOT interchangeable with “4-team playoff” – Some mainstream media types (such as Pete Thamel of the New York Times) have been better at making this clear than others. Most pundits seem to automatically assume that a “plus-one” is the same thing as a 4-team playoff, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. As I’ve described before, a 4-team playoff is only one variant of a plus-one system. There is also an unseeded plus-one option along with different strains in between that could be called “semi-seeded”. The old adage that the “devil is in the details” couldn’t ring any truer than in this situation. There are going to a lot of different plus-one scenarios discussed and I’d wager that what we ultimately end up with won’t be the simple 4-team playoff that many are assuming is end game.
  • Removal of AQ status is NOT interchangeable with the removal of conference contractual tie-ins – The potential removal of the concept of automatic qualifying status is another issue that much of the mainstream media makes a large deal about but often doesn’t explain clearly. As I’ve explained previously, this is largely a matter of semantics for every current AQ conference except for the Big East. The concept of AQ status might go away, but rest assured that the Rose Bowl will still have contractual tie-ins with the Big Ten and Pac-12 no matter what happens and that will likely be the case with the Sugar Bowl and SEC, Orange Bowl and ACC, and Fiesta Bowl and Big 12. The Cotton Bowl might swoop in to get the top Big 12 tie-in, but the overarching point is that those five power conferences are going to continue to have de facto AQ status through their contractual tie-ins even if the actual term “AQ status” goes away. No one should be fooled into thinking that the BCS bowls are just going to take the top 8 or 10 teams in the BCS rankings if AQ status is removed. The entire reason why the Big Ten and SEC actually agree on the removal of AQ status is that the power conferences will actually end up with more top bowl bids based on brand names as opposed to strict merit.

So, what exactly are the key issues to overcome in order to actually make changes to the BCS system? Here are some further items to think about:

1. The Seven Founders – It’s telling that in Jim Delany’s quotes about the openness to discussing a plus-one, he specifically referenced the “Seven Founders” of the BCS system: the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big East and that massive coast-to-coast conference known as the University of Notre Dame. What it means is that any opposition to a particular proposal by the Big Ten (and potentially the Pac-12 and Notre Dame) shouldn’t be framed as being against the wishes of the 9 other FBS conferences. Instead, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Notre Dame represent 3 of the Seven Founders, which means that the SEC and ACC can’t just ram their old seeded plus-one proposal through. It also shows that the opinions of the non-AQ conferences literally don’t matter here. They might technically have a vote and can provide some input, but nothing is going to be changed unless it makes the Seven Founders happy.

2. Big East as a Swing Vote? – The fact that the Big East, at least for now, is still considered to be one of the Seven Founders (despite the fact that the only current Big East football member that was part of the league when the BCS system began in 1998 is Rutgers) could become a key point. It seems clear that the SEC and ACC support a seeded plus-one, with the Big 12 probably jumping aboard. On the other side, the Big Ten, Pac-12* and Notre Dame appear to be fairly aligned. With a potential 3-3 deadlock, where the Big East ends up could become the deciding factor to the system that ultimately gets put into place. From a pure Big East standpoint, this is a great thing since it can leverage that swing vote position (the Justice Kennedy of the BCS) to possibly preserve access to the top bowls that it might not otherwise receive if the all of the bowl selections went to an open market. For example, the new system might require each BCS bowl to have a contractual tie-in with one of the Seven Founders, which means that if a fifth BCS bowl is added (such as the Cotton Bowl), one of them will need to have a tie-in with the Big East. That Big East tie-in could be made much more palatable if it includes access to Notre Dame (i.e. a bowl can select the higher ranked of either Notre Dame or the Big East champ in any given year). Speaking of which, Notre Dame certainly has a self-interest in preserving the Big East, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big East ends up in a voting bloc with the Irish, Big Ten and Pac-12 since the Domers are going to be more willing to offer the fledgling league protection than, say the ACC and Big 12 that just raided them. To be sure, the Big East isn’t anywhere near out of the woods yet (as the prospect of the Big 12 raiding it again for Louisville and Rutgers is the one conference realignment move that I see is plausible over the next year), but at least it’s not completely all doom and gloom.

(* Many in the media believe that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is willing to break with tradition with his aggressive nature, but he hasn’t really said anything different compared to Jim Delany up to this point regarding the plus-one. If anything, preserving the value of the Rose Bowl is even more important to the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. All of the major bowls across the country would love to have contractual tie-ins with the Big Ten, as evidenced by the fact that the conference has received more at-large BCS bowl bids than any other conference, including the vaunted SEC. For the Pac-12, though, the specific Rose Bowl tie-in is really the only leg up that it has over the ACC in its overall bowl lineup. The Big Ten can draw bowl interest from literally every region of the country in a manner that the Pac-12 will never be able to do.)

3. The Divergent Interests of University Presidents, Bowls and ESPN – Many college football playoff proposals often start with, “This is so simple. WHY CAN’T THEY DO THIS?” The issue, of course, is that it’s not simple at all with all of the entrenched interests involve that are often at odds with each other.

For example, ESPN has said that it’s on board with having the title game closer to New Year’s Day. That certainly makes sense in order to counter “bowl fatigue” being experience by TV viewers, but it also means that would make it virtually impossible to have the bowls host semifinals in a seeded plus-one or to create a #1 vs. #2 matchup after the bowls are played in an unseeded plus-one. Having schools host games on their home fields in December could alleviate that, but that also means shutting the bowls out of that first round process and whether you like it or not, that’s NOT happening. Even Dan Wetzel, who has made a career out of demonizing the bowl system with his book “Death to the BCS”, acknowledges that a plus-one system will need to incorporate the bowls in some manner because of their power. People can keep wishing that weren’t the case, but it is what it is.

The notion that the top bowls could be played in mid-December or even around Christmas is also something that won’t work practically. As anyone in the travel industry will tell you, the 2 weeks in December leading up to Christmas is the slowest travel period of the year, which is logical since few people want to take days off right before the holidays. That’s why the top bowls avoid dates in prior to and bracketing Christmas like the plague. The lower level bowls only agree to those earlier dates because that’s the only way that they can receive TV coverage.

At the same time, TV executives have access to larger potential audiences after January 1st (which is why TV networks air mostly reruns throughout the entire month of December) and on weeknights, while the bowls are best served by dates between Christmas and New Years Day when more people have time off. Neither the TV networks nor the bowls want to compete with NFL playoff games that are on the weekends at the beginning of the year, either, so those midweek January games (even if the TV networks and bowls are sincere in wanting to get rid of them) are tough to move.

University presidents will throw out some arguments such as having too long of a season or that they want to prevent football from becoming a two-semester sport. Even if they are sincere about that (and it’s hard for me to take them seriously when the other revenue sport of basketball has practices that start in October and the NCAA Tournament ends in April), it directly conflicts with their own desire to work with the bowls and TV networks that effectively push the most desirable games into January.

Lest we forget, there are also fans! (Who the heck thinks about them?) It’s asking a lot of even hardcore football fans to travel to one bowl game, particularly in this economy. Asking them to travel to two neutral site games is stretching it very thin, while having them travel to even more neutral site games in an 8-team playoff scenario (which won’t be happening in practicality, but it will still get proposed) is virtually impossible. This could be solved by having earlier games played at teams’ home fields, yet we run into the problem that the bowls must be included.

When push comes to shove, I believe a plus-one national championship game will be played in mid-January, with possibly Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a regular date for the game since that’s a holiday weekend for a fair number of people on a Monday that falls about 2 weeks after the bowls are completed. The timing generally works as a week turnaround from the last bowl game to the national championship game is practically too short for the players and fans, so as much as people want to compress the length of the bowl season, it needs to be closer to a two-week gap. The concept of “bowl fatigue” is likely more of a function that none of the bowl games besides the national championship game and maybe the Rose Bowl have much meaning, which would change if a plus-one is instituted. (I’ve never heard of anyone getting “basketball fatigue” during the course of the 3-week NCAA Tournament. If people believe that the games matter, they will happily watch.)

Also, ticket sales to the national championship game are much less sensitive to dates and the ability for fans to travel compared to the bowls if only because there are so many more tickets allocated to corporate partners for that game (similar to the Super Bowl). No matter what date the national championship game is held, it’s going to sell out easily. In contrast, moving a bowl game from near New Year’s Day to prior to Christmas can be a killer from a ticket sale perspective. That’s a further argument that the plus-one championship game will end up later in January as opposed to close to New Year’s Day.

Finally, university presidents are in much less of a position to turn down revenue in a time of shrinking endowments and state budget cuts to public colleges compared to the last time a plus-one system was proposed in 2008. Some estimates out there show that the BCS TV contract could double from its current $125 million per year level to around $250 million per year if there’s a plus-one game. Note that this figure doesn’t even include the separate Rose Bowl TV contract. So, are university presidents going to be taking a principled stand against a further extension of the college football season when all that is happening is the addition of one game featuring two teams (out of 120 FBS schools) being played in mid-January and will add about $1 million to $2 million per year to each of their schools’ coffers without any effort whatsoever? The extra revenue from a plus-one game is so large with such little practical change to the current system (literally the addition of a single game) that it’s low hanging fruit which the university presidents likely can’t resist.

To be clear, the possible (if not probable) changes to the BCS system are NOT arising from the all-SEC national championship game this year. This is about the powers that be witnessing postseason bowl ticket sales and TV ratings trending down in the long-term, which translates into lost revenue. That wasn’t the case in 2008 when there were recent national championship games featuring all-“king” matchups, such as Texas-USC in 2005 and Ohio State-Florida in 2006, that saw boffo ratings numbers. (Meanwhile, regular season college football ticket sales and TV ratings are as strong as ever.) A plus-one game is a relatively non-disruptive way on paper to alleviate a lot of those concerns about the state of the college football postseason with pretty much an instant jolt in revenue, which is why it’s now getting a whole lot of traction today. The details of what that plus-one system will actually look like, though, will take much of this year to resolve.

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

(Image from Birmingham News)

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)

(Image from Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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)

(Image from Wikipedia)

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)

BCS Bowl Flex System: The Semi-Seeded Plus-One Proposal

There has been a ton of great feedback on the BCS Final Four post with generally positive reviews.  Unfortunately, even that proposal might be too much of a change for the powers that be to enact overnight.  So, I wanted to throw out a more traditionalist plus-one proposal that might be a bridge to getting to the BCS Final Four (or at least improve upon the current BCS system), which I call the “BCS Bowl Flex System”.  It’s a variation of what Slant reader StevenD calls a “semi-seeded plus-one“, where the traditional BCS bowl tie-ins are largely maintained with some teams possibly “flexed” to create one or two de facto play-in games to the national championship (if not outright semifinals).  The BCS rankings would then be re-calculated after the bowls are played to determined the plus-one national championship game matchup.

It’s not as clean on paper as the BCS Final Four or an outright playoff, but this type of format does carry a number of advantages, namely that all of the BCS bowls potentially will have an impact on the national championship race again and the Rose Bowl would go back to being exclusively Big Ten champ vs. Pac-10 champ affair.

(Any complaints that this isn’t a playoff  and would be an “unfair” system are duly noted.  The purpose of this post is to find some changes that the BCS conferences might be willing to implement in reality.  Please see the various rules for a realistic college postseason scenario that must be followed in the BCS Final Four post.)

Here is how I would set it up:


1.  The Rose Bowl will get the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs no matter what – I know that this might be passed off by non-Big Ten/Pac-10 fans as irrelevant/backwards/dumb, but this is a big deal to the powers that be.  Nothing will get done in terms of college postseason changes unless the Big Ten is happy, which means that the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 have to happy, as well.

2.  Cotton Bowl is added as a 5th BCS bowl with the Big 12 tie-in –  I noted in the BCS Final Four post that the BCS bowls are as elitist toward the non-BCS bowls as the AQ conferences are toward the non-AQ conferences, but this is trumped by the need to have at least 10 BCS bids per year.  The seal has been broken – there’s no way that the AQ conferences (and specifically the frequent multi-bid recipients of the Big Ten and SEC) will go back down to just 4 BCS games and 8 total bids.  As a result, a more traditional plus-one system is going to need a 5th BCS bowl and the Cotton Bowl is well-positioned as a natural home to the Big 12 champ (especially with its larger proportion of Texas-based teams with the losses of Nebraska and Colorado).  I’ll discuss under Rule #6 below how the Fiesta Bowl receives some incentives to actually agree to give up the Big 12 tie-in.

3. Highest ranked non-AQ school receives automatic BCS bid – As I mentioned in the BCS Final Four post, this is the main bone that the AQ conferences can throw to the non-AQ conferences and I can see them actually agreeing to, which is that it can remove the top 12 ranking requiring for that class of schools to receive an automatic bid.

4.  Subject to Rule #5 regarding flexes below, the other BCS bowls retain their traditional tie-ins – As a general rule, the Sugar Bowl gets the SEC champ and Orange Bowl receives the ACC champ.  However, this is subject to the flex rules below.

5.  Except for the Rose Bowl teams (which are set in stone), a highly ranked at-large team may be placed or a team may be flexed from its traditional tie-in to another bowl involving a #1 or #2 ranked team to create one or more virtual play-in games to the national championship – This process will likely seem disjointed and muddy written out, but it’s really not that difficult in practice (so bear with me).  The objective is to ensure that any #1 and #2 ranked teams that aren’t playing in the Rose Bowl get to play in bowl games that are as close to being semifinals as possible.  That’s no issue with highly ranked at-large teams, who can simply be slotted accordingly without any impact to traditional tie-ins.  The real change is that a team that is ranked #3 or lower which does have a contractual tie-in with a bowl can be flexed to a bowl that is tied-in to a #1 or #2 ranked team (even if the #3 or lower team is tied-in to another bowl).  For example, let’s say that the SEC champ is ranked #1, the Big 12 champ is ranked #2, the ACC champ is ranked #3 and the Big East champ is ranked #4.  The Big East champ will be sent to the Sugar Bowl to create a #1 vs. #4 matchup, which is easy enough because the Big East doesn’t have a tie-in.  However, to create the #2 vs. #3 matchup, the ACC champ will be flexed to the Cotton Bowl to play the Big 12 champ.  As a result, the Orange Bowl would lose the ACC champ, but would receive a compensatory “flex replacement pick” (which is similar to the replacement pick if a bowl loses a tie-in to the national championship game today and as explained further in Rule #7).

As I’ve said, this doesn’t look very elegant when described as a process in writing, yet it’s fairly straight-forward (I hope) when looking at the 11 scenarios for matchups that would be created depending on which teams are playing in the Rose Bowl:

Scenario 1: No top 4 teams in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #4
Bowl B: #2 vs. #3

Scenario 2: #1 team in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #2 vs. #3

Scenario 3: #2 team in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #3

Scenario 4: #1 vs. #3 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #2 vs. #4

Scenario 5: #1 vs. #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #2 vs. #3

Scenario 6: #2 vs. #3 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #4

Scenario 7: #2 vs. #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #3

Scenario 8: #3 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. Flex Selection 1*
Bowl B: #2 vs. #4

Scenario 9: #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. Flex Selection 1
Bowl B: #2 vs. #3

Scenario 10: #3 vs. #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. Flex Selection 2**
Bowl B: #2 vs. Flex Selection 1

Scenario 11: #1 vs. #2 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #3 vs. #4

* Flex Selection means that the bowl gets to pick any BCS eligible team that it wants, including those that are otherwise tied to other bowls except for the Rose Bowl participants.

** The reason why Bowl B gets Flex Selection 1 in this scenario is that, in theory, this ought to be a tougher opponent than Flex Selection 2.  As a result, Flex Selection 1 should be playing the #2 team as opposed to the #1 team.

6.  Fiesta Bowl receives flex preference for #1 or #2 teams that do not have tie-ins OR 1st at-large pick – Now, the Fiesta Bowl isn’t just going to give up a fairly valuable Big 12 tie-in to the Cotton Bowl for nothing.  For all of the internal turmoil within the Big 12, it’s still the best conference for traveling fan bases outside of the SEC and Big Ten.  I had thought of providing the Big East tie-in to the Fiesta, but from a bowl director’s perspective, this isn’t just compensation.  In reality, the best way to coax the Fiesta into giving up its Big 12 tie-in to the Cotton is to provide it with more flexibility.  Therefore, it gets two options.  First, the Fiesta receives a “flex preference”, whereby it would automatically receive a #1 or #2 team that does not have a tie-in (i.e. Big East champ, non-AQ schools, others that weren’t conference champs).  That would enable the Fiesta to “flex in” a team from another bowls in that situation despite not having a conference tie-in.  Second, if there is no possible flex preference, then the Fiesta would receive the first at-large large pick (which comes after the flex moves and replacement selections are made), which often results in an extremely valuable 2nd place SEC or Big Ten team.

7.  Bowls that lose a team to flexing receive a “flex replacement pick” – As alluded to earlier, this is similar to the replacement pick that a bowl receives if it loses a school to the national championship game today.  A bowl that loses a flexed team would receive first dibs on any other school from the conference that it has a tie-in with or can choose anyone from the BCS at-large pool.

8.  After flex replacement picks are made, the Fiesta Bowl gets its priority at-large pick and then the bowls pick at-large selections in the order of how high their tie-ins (or in the case of the Fiesta, the rank of its priority at-large pick) are ranked – The goal here is to create one or two other bowls that could possibly have an impact on the national championship race, so bowls that don’t have a #1 or #2 team will pick at-large teams in the order that their respective tie-ins (or in the case of the Fiesta, how high its priority at-large pick) are ranked.  To be clear, those bowls aren’t obligated to take the highest ranked at-large teams available – they can take whoever is left from the at-large pool subject to the other selection rules that would remain in place (such as a maximum of 2 schools from any conference receiving BCS bids).

9.  BCS rankings are re-calculated after bowl games are finished and national championship game rotates among the BCS bowl sites – After the BCS bowls are completed, the BCS rankings are then re-calculated to set the national championship game pairing.  The game would be played one to two weeks after the last BCS bowl is completed using the double-hosting rotation similar today (only that the Cotton is newly included).


The interesting thing about this system is that for all of the words that I just spewed out on flexing, it actually doesn’t need to be exercised very often in practice.  Simply slotting at-large teams differently than today is 90% of the battle.  Here’s how the BCS Bowl Flex system would’ve worked in every year since 2005 (which marks the first season of major changes to the BCS ranking formula):

Rose: #2 Oregon (Pac-10) vs. #5 Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Sugar: #1 Auburn (SEC) vs. #3 TCU (non-AQ/at-large 1)
Orange: #13 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. Connecticut (Big East/at-large 5)
Cotton: #7 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #8 Arkansas (at-large 4)
Fiesta: #6 Ohio State (at-large 2) vs. #4 Stanford (at-large 3)

Rose: #7 Oregon (Pac-10) vs. #8 Ohio State (Big Ten)
Sugar: #1 Alabama (SEC) vs. #4 TCU (non-AQ/at-large 2)
Orange: #9 Georgia Tech (ACC) vs. #10 Iowa (at-large 5)
Cotton: #2 Texas (Big 12) vs. #3 Cincinnati (Big East/at-large 1)
Fiesta: #5 Florida (at-large 3) vs. #6 Boise State (at-large 4)

Rose: #5 USC (Pac-10) vs. #8 Penn State (Big Ten)
Sugar: #2 Florida (SEC) vs. #3 Texas (at-large 1)
Orange: #19 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. #12 Cincinnati (Big East/at-large 5)
Cotton: #1 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #4 Alabama (at-large 2)
Fiesta: #10 Ohio State (at-large 3) vs. #6 Utah (non-AQ/at-large 4)

Rose: #1 Ohio State (Big Ten) vs. #7 USC (Pac-10)
Sugar: #2 LSU (SEC) vs. #3 Virginia Tech (ACC/flex)
Orange: #5 Georgia (flex replacement) vs. #13 Illinois (Big Ten/at-large 3)
Cotton: #4 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #9 West Virginia (Big East/at-large 2)
Fiesta: #8 Kansas (Big 12/at-large 1) vs. #10 Hawaii (non-AQ/at-large 4)

Rose: #1 Ohio State (Big Ten) vs. #5 USC (Pac-10)
Sugar: #2 Florida (SEC) vs. #3 Michigan (at-large 1)
Orange: #14 Wake Forest (ACC) vs. #8 Boise State (non-AQ/at-large 5)
Cotton: #10 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #6 Louisville (Big East/at-large 4)
Fiesta: #4 LSU (at-large 2) vs. Notre Dame (at-large 3)

Rose: #1 USC (Pac-10) vs. #3 Penn State (Big Ten)
Sugar: #7 Georgia (SEC) vs. #11 West Virginia (Big East/at-large 4)
Orange: #22 Florida Sate (ACC) vs. #14 TCU (non-AQ/at-large 5)
Cotton: #2 Texas (Big 12) vs. #4 Ohio State (at-large 1)
Fiesta: #6 Notre Dame (at-large 2) vs. #5 Oregon (at-large 3)

The only time that the flex option would’ve ever been exercised was in 2007, where #3 Virginia Tech was flexed from the Orange Bowl to the Sugar Bowl.  In terms of ticket sales, that actually granted the Orange a favor as it would have presumably selected #5 Georgia as its flex replacement pick.  In all of the other seasons since 2005, the desired matchups were achieved with solely slotting the applicable at-large teams.  (I could post the pre-2005 hypotheticals, as they had more examples of flexing, but it’s fairly incredible how bat-s**t crazy the old BCS rankings were when looking back on them.  As much as the BCS gets criticized today, at least the rankings over the past few years have generally passed the smell test (with most quibbles coming over a spot or two).  The old ranking system, on the other hand, seemed to love teams that didn’t actually win their conferences, particularly from the Big 12.)  Thus, a plus-one system featuring top-tier and meaningful games could be fairly easily created without much disruption to the traditional bowl tie-ins.

The BCS Bowl Flex system definitely won’t placate the playoff-supporter crowd in the same manner of the BCS Final Four, but it may be something that’s more palatable to the powers-that-be within the AQ conferences (especially the Big Ten) while upgrading the quality of the BCS bowls back to where they were in the pre-BCS days.  Certainly, the return of the “real” Rose Bowl would be a massive plus.  A non-AQ school such as TCU also gets a direct shot at the national title game in a season like this one (or can improve its resume greatly in other seasons by getting to beat a top AQ school).  Is it perfect?  Absolutely not.  However, I do believe it would be better than what we have today and it’s easier to sell incremental steps to the BCS conferences and bowls than wholesale change.

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

The BCS Final Four: A New Plus-One System

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has garnered a reputation over the years as one of the main obstacles to a college football playoff system and he certainly cemented that this past week with his comments at a panel at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum.  From Brett McMurphy at AOL FanHouse:

“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.”

With the already raging unpopularity of the BCS, these comments have received fairly negative feedback in the blogosphere.  However, if people can put aside their abject hatred of the current system, they’ll see that Delany is actually correct if they’re fairly evaluating the situation.*  The BCS conferences have given up a lot of access to the top bowls that never existed to the smaller conferences in the pre-BCS days.  There is a ton of brand equity that has been built up in a game like the Rose Bowl and much of that is due to the relationship between that event and the Big Ten and Pac-10 over the past 7 decades.  Would the Rose Bowl ever have been in a position to pay out as much as it does today without having had the Big Ten/Pac-10 tie-in built up over the years, or would the Sugar Bowl be as prestigious if it hadn’t been the long-time home to the SEC champ?  Delany has a point that other conferences getting access to those games are piggy-backing on the brand equity built up by others.  (The counter, of course, is that such other conferences never had a chance to play in those games in the first place.  It’s a chicken-or-the-egg question – did the power conferences prop up the bowls or did the bowls prop up the power conferences?)

(* Note that Jim Delany isn’t necessarily correct on everything.  Please see the new Big Ten logo and division names.)

Regardless, the most important point from Delany is something that no one can argue about: the AQ conferences still control the show.  This is the simple reality that the vast majority (probably over 90%) of college football playoff/plus-one/Iron Man/Russian Roulette proposals completely ignore.  Those proposals usually start by effectively smashing the system and completing starting over from scratch.  A prime example of this is the 16-team playoff proposed by “Death to the BCS” author Dan Wetzel.  That’s all well and good as a hypothetical, but setting forth a proposal that the AQ conferences would actually accept is an entirely different matter.  The bowl system that Wetzel eviscerates in his book may or may not provide the values that he wants to see, yet no matter how much some people might hate it, this is an entrenched system where change is going to incremental as opposed to radical.  Therefore, any changes to the current system must be driven by the AQ conferences and BCS bowls as opposed to being imposed on them, which means any viable proposal MUST give them what they want.

No one wants to hear this.  The politically correct thing to say is that this should be about “fairness” and “equal access” for the little guy while the Big Ten and friends are running an evil cartel.  I understand this sentiment, but college football fans need to get over it in order to find proposals that would actually work or else nothing will ever change.  If you give the BCS an “all or nothing” proposal, then the BCS will always choose nothing.

Once you get past the primary purpose of the BCS rankings, which is to set up the #1 vs. #2 national championship matchup, the other BCS bowls act no different than movie theaters across the country every weekend.  Movie #1 is a massive big budget huge studio action film with no redeeming social value whatsoever, while Movie #2 is a critically-acclaimed low budget independent film that’s going to win several Oscars.  By every standard, Movie #2 is a higher quality film than Movie #1.  However, Movie #1 gets placed onto 3000 screens across the country because it has a ton of mainstream appeal and will sell tickets, while Movie #2 only gets 100 screens since it has a niche audience.  Likewise, the purposes of the BCS bowls are the sell tickets and get as large of a TV audience as possible.  Is it “fair” that the BCS will pay $20 million to the college football equivalent of Tom Cruise* (who hasn’t done much lately but is still a huge name) and only $3 million to Daniel Day-Lewis (who has won multiple Oscars) because a whole lot more people buy tickets to watch Tom Cruise?  I don’t know if it’s fair, but it’s almost certainly perfectly legal.  Sports fans are typically emotionally charged and don’t necessarily think of games as entertainment, but that’s exactly how TV networks see them and why spectator sports exist in the first place.

(* Tom Cruise = Notre Dame)

As a result, for any college football postseason proposal to have even a whiff of a chance of succeeding, forget about “fairness” and think like Jim Delany.  Here’s what I believe are the rules that any viable postseason system needs to follow:

1.  The AQ conferences must make more revenue than today in an absolute sense – There’s usually not much argument about this one.  Even Jim Delany would admit that a college football playoff would make more total revenue than the BCS.  However…

2.  The AQ conferences must maintain their revenue advantages over the non-AQ conferences in a relative sense – Most proposals (including the Wetzel proposal) always refer to point #1 as providing the revenue incentive to create a playoff but virtually never address this point #2.  A playoff making more total money than the BCS means absolute crap to the AQ conferences – what matters to them is how that money is split.  The easiest way to get the AQ conferences to kill a playoff proposal is to compare it to the NCAA Tournament – they want NOTHING to do with how the revenue is paid out in that system.  Athletic department money doesn’t sit in a bank account collecting interest – it’s all spent right away on coaches, facilities, travel, etc.  Thus, more money in and of itself isn’t as important to the AQ conferences as ensuring that they just have a whole lot more of it compared to the non-AQ conferences.

Of course, the non-AQ conferences want to do the exact opposite by closing the revenue gap.  It’s a noble cause, but they’re not getting the AQ conferences to budge on this issue.  If you had to rank these rules in importance, this would arguably be at the top of the list.

3.  The AQ conferences must maintain their access advantages over the non-AQ conferences – I’m not trying to dump on Wetzel (as I find him to be a great writer), but his proposal to grant all 11 Division I-A conferences automatic bids to a 16-team playoff system will be used as toilet paper at the next annual BCS meeting.  The easiest way to get a college football playoff proposal killed is to make it look like the NCAA Tournament – for whatever reason, many fans don’t understand that the AQ conferences are specifically trying to avoid that access and revenue sharing model at all costs.  I know that it’s all about “fairness” again, yet there is absolutely zero incentive for the AQ conferences to ever think more than two seconds about agreeing to this, so why do people continue to propose it as other than a pipedream?  Oh sure, there are faux incentives such as, “The SEC could’ve had 4 teams in a 16-team playoff this year, so that’s plenty of incentive for them.”  However, from the AQ conference perspective, real incentives are actual or virtually guaranteed spots and revenue advantages that aren’t subject to on-the-field fluctuations from year-to-year.  Two BCS bowl bids in the hand are worth four in the bush for the AQ conferences and it’s key that they are the only 6 leagues that are getting auto-bids in any scenario.  I know that’s not “fair”, but once again, that’s kind of the point.

4.  Don’t f**k with the Rose Bowl anymore – I know that some fans of other conferences would like to tell the Rose Bowl/Big Ten/Pac-10 group to leave and everyone can go back to the mid-1990s Bowl Alliance (even though didn’t work very well in practicality), but the TV networks would upchuck at that thought immediately.  A “playoff” that doesn’t have any chance to include Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska and USC would be like attempting to sell the Major League Baseball TV package and telling the bidders that the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t ever able to make it to the World Series.  That’s just a killer on TV rights fees and a non-starter.

At the same time, the Rose Bowl passes the “Grandma Test”.  My grandmother is a Chinese immigrant that speaks limited English and has absolutely no idea about anything regarding sports, whether it’s the existence of the Super Bowl or when the World Series is played, yet even she’d be able to tell you that the Rose Bowl is in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.  That’s what we call an extremely valuable tie-in.  I’ve seen estimates that the additional exposure that the Big Ten and Pac-10 receive from the Rose Bowl tie-in (i.e. the worldwide coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade, larger donations to various schools, media exposure, higher TV ratings for the game, etc.) is the equivalent of adding the revenue of a conference championship game without even having to hold one (and that’s on top of the actual BCS earnings).  Simply put, it is a big deal for the Big Ten and Pac-10 to give up more access to the Rose Bowl (or give it up entirely) compared to the other BCS bowl tie-ins.

Plus, the Rose Bowl experience lives up to the hype and then some.  (Here’s my personal recap of my visit when the Illini went to the game 3 years ago.)  TCU fans, many of whom have been justifiably vehement opponents of the BCS system over the past few years, are going to find out in a couple of weeks why the Big Ten and Pac-10 care so much about going to Pasadena.

As a result, there’s going to be some capitulation to the Rose Bowl and its conference partners in order for the game to maintain a Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup as often as possible.  However, it can’t be relegated to a second-class citizen compared to its fellow BCS bowls, either.  Just as the AQ conferences need to maintain their advantages over the non-AQ conferences on a relative basis, the Rose Bowl needs to keep a similar edge over the other BCS bowls.

5.  The BCS bowls are as elitist toward the non-BCS bowls as the AQ conferences are toward the non-AQ conferences – A common proposal from a lot of fans that advocate for a plus-one or playoff system is to add more bowls to the BCS system, particularly the Cotton Bowl since there seems to be this unwavering belief among the general public that Jerry Jones can and will buy off whoever needs to be bought off to make it happen.  (Of course, all of Jerry’s money equates to about one Cowboys playoff win every 15 seasons.)  In fact, I proposed this myself a couple of years ago in this unseeded plus-one proposal.  I’ve come to realize, though, that the BCS bowl club is similar to trying to join Augusta National Golf Club – you can have all of the money in the world, but the current members have to really really really like you in order to make an extremely exclusive club a little less exclusive.  The double-hosting system of the BCS today has become quite lucrative for the BCS bowls because they get to host and sell sponsorships and tickets for the national championship game once every four years (which they can also leverage in terms of procuring sponsorships during the years where they aren’t hosting the championship game).  When evaluating the incentives and disincentives for changing the current BCS system, there really isn’t much incentive at all for the BCS bowls to let in another member to their club and only host the championship game once every five years as opposed to four.  Even if a 5-bowl plus-one system were to make more revenue overall, the current BCS bowls would be only getting a 1/5th share instead of a 1/4th share whereas the AQ conferences presumably would get the same percentage shares as they do today (meaning the AQ conferences get the upside while the BCS bowls are taking all of the risk by having to split their pie into more pieces).  It would be speculative as to whether that proposed 1/5th share is truly better than the current 1/4th share (especially when coupled with giving up the national championship game more often) , which means that the best way to realistically get any change is to construct a system that somehow protects the exclusivity of the current 4 BCS bowls.

6.  The bowl system can’t become completely NIT-ish – Dan Wetzel argues that the bowls could still exist separately under his 16-team playoff proposal.  The problem is that this is a false argument – taking unranked Big Ten and Pac-10 teams, having them play in Pasadena, and slapping the “Rose Bowl” label on the game isn’t actually allowing the Rose Bowl to co-exist in practicality.  The playoff proposal that Wetzel advocates would constructively destroy the bowl system in the same manner that the expansion of the NCAA Tournament completely devalued the NIT and he knows it.  Now, plenty of sports fans want to see that happen, but once again, the bowls from top-to-bottom are about access advantages for the AQ conferences and they aren’t just going to give those up.  There’s a little bit a flexibility left in terms of creating a plus-one system yet still maintaining a quality group of schools for all of the bowls (whether BCS or not) to choose from, but it’s a delicate balance as you can’t make the bowls too much more diluted than they are (or at least without a corresponding legitimate incentive in exchange for such dilution).

This is a long-winded way of saying that for anyone that wants to improve today’s BCS system, LESS IS MORE.  (That’s why this 8-team playoff proposal I had a few years ago would never work.)  The current AQ conferences and the BCS bowls need to be better off on both an absolute basis and a relative basis (with an emphasis on the latter).  With all of the aforementioned rules in mind, I propose the following:


I’ve been slamming my head against the wall for quite awhile trying to figure out how to have at least 10 schools participate in BCS bowls and incorporate a seeded plus-one, yet still maintaining the traditional bowl tie-ins and keeping the Rose Bowl/Big Ten/Pac-10 triumverate happy.  Then, I remembered the “less is more” mantra and realized that the answer is so simple that I can’t believe that I’ve been missing the proverbial forest for the trees.  Instead of trying to find some type of rotation among the BCS bowls for the semifinal games or having to add a 5th BCS bowl, here’s all we that we have to do for what I call the “BCS Final Four”:

A.  Separate semifinal games – Take the top 4 teams in the final BCS rankings and have them play in 2 semifinal games that are separate from the BCS bowls (just as the national championship game is now).  This would mean that there would be 2 semifinal games, the national championship game and 4 BCS bowls incorporating 12 total teams in the BCS system every year.

B.  BCS bowls keep tie-ins – The 4 BCS bowls keep their traditional tie-ins with the same at-large selection rules as today, except that (i) the at-large pool is expanded to the top 18 in the final BCS rankings, (ii) the cap on BCS bids from any single conference is raised from 2 to 3 and (iii) as a political concession, the highest ranked non-AQ school gets an automatic BCS bid no matter what (even if it’s ranked below #12).

C.  Double-hosting of semifinals and final at BCS bowl sites – The sites of the semifinals and national championship game will rotate among the 4 BCS bowl locations, meaning that each location gets to host 2 semifinal games and 1 national championship game in each 4 year period (resulting in lucrative double-hosting seasons 3 out of every 4 years).

D.  Semifinal site tie-in preferences – Each semifinal site each season gets a preference in hosting the game that involves one of its traditional conference tie-ins, if applicable.  For instance, if New Orleans and Pasadena were to host semifinal games this year, then New Orleans would take the game involving the SEC champ (#1 Auburn vs. #4 Stanford) and Pasadena would get the game featuring the Pac-10 champ (#2 Oregon vs. #3 TCU).  The higher ranked team gets priority if both semifinal sites have a claim to the same game (i.e. if Auburn had lost to Alabama and ended up at #4 and Oregon moved up to #1, then Pasadena would get the #1 Oregon vs. #4 Auburn game instead of New Orleans).

E.  Championship Game in Mid-January – The national championship game would be played at least a week (probably 10-14 days) after the semifinal games are completed.  One possible permanent date could be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a Monday that many people have off as a holiday.  Another possible date is the day after the NFL regular season ends assuming that a new 18-game regular season pushes the last week of the season back two or three (if a 2nd bye week is added) weeks from when it is now.  Note that except for the bowls played on New Year’s Day, all of the games need to be played in prime time between Monday and Thursday for TV purposes and to avoid going head-to-head with the NFL on January weekends.  This is the stance of the BCS today and it would be expected to continue.

All of the selling points come from its simplicity and adding to the current system as opposed to taking anything away.  The AQ conferences get to retain their access advantages while still receiving the revenue upside of a mini-playoff.  The non-AQ conferences, while not getting radical changes they want, are thrown the bones of a guaranteed BCS slot along with a greater chance of getting to play for the national title (as Karl Benson was correct that making it to #4 is a whole lot easier than making it to #2).  The Rose Bowl, Big Ten and Pac-10 get to keep their bond while still maintaining the prestige of that game in comparison to the other BCS bowls.  The Big Ten and SEC are virtually guaranteed to receive 3 BCS bids every year, which is essentially the only change to the BCS that Jim Delany has ever actively pushed for.  All of the BCS bowls would be ecstatic to have double-hosting 3 out of every 4 years while also having more access to the top traveling schools from the Big Ten and SEC, which would be a reasonable trade-off for an increased chance of losing their normal tie-ins to the semifinal games.  The non-BCS bowls will barely be impacted because only 2 teams are being added to the BCS system.  (One clear loser would be the Capital One Bowl, though, as its contractual Big Ten #2 vs. SEC #2 matchup, which is already typically moved down to Big Ten #3 vs. SEC #3 since those conferences already regularly receive 2 at-large bids, would get even lower teams on the pecking order.  Note that the Capital One Bowl has actually beaten the Orange Bowl in the TV ratings for the past 3 years and even beat all of the BCS bowls other than the National Championship Game and Rose Bowl in 2007-08, so it shows the power of even the #3 teams from the Big Ten and SEC, much less their respective champions, and why the BCS bowls would love to take them in an expanded at-large pool.)  The TV networks would pay a fairly significant premium for this system compared to the current one, but with only the minimal changes of 2 extra games and 2 additional teams.

Finally, the importance and “do-or-die” nature of the regular season is preserved.  I know a lot of “universal access auto-bid” proponents like to say that the regular season would matter more if all conference champions would get bids, using the logic that all of those conference races would then have meaning (resulting in a lot more games then having importance in the national championship race).  There’s a little bit of truth to that line of thinking, but that’s more of a “lowest common denominator” argument.  The flip-side is that games such as the 2009 SEC Championship Game, 2006 Ohio State-Michigan and especially early season matchups such as Boise State-Virginia Tech completely lose their senses of urgency in a large-scale playoff system.  By expanding access by just 2 teams, it keeps that sense of urgency from the very beginning of September to the end of the season – there’s a tiny bit more wiggle room if a team slips up one week, but not enough where any school can afford to take a single game off like playoff-bound NFL teams often do in the last week or two of the season.

Here’s how the BCS Final Four system would have looked these past two seasons:

Semifinal 1: #1 Auburn (SEC champ) vs. #4 Stanford (top 4 auto-qualifier)
Semifinal 2: #2 Oregon (Pac-10 champ) vs. #3 TCU (Non-AQ auto-qualifier)
Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin (Big Ten champ) vs. #11 LSU (Pac-10 champ replacement)
Sugar Bowl: #8 Arkansas (SEC champ replacement) vs. #6 Ohio State (at-large selection #1)
Orange Bowl: #13 Virginia Tech (ACC champ) vs. #9 Michigan State (at-large selection #2)
Fiesta Bowl: #7 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ) vs. Connecticut (Big East champ/at-large selection #3)

Semifinal 1: #1 Alabama (SEC champ) vs. #4 TCU (non-AQ auto-qualifier)
Semifinal 2: #2 Texas (Big 12 champ) vs. #3 Cincinnati (Big East champ)
Rose Bowl: #8 Ohio State (Big Ten champ) vs. #7 Oregon (Pac-10 champ)
Sugar Bowl: #5 Florida (SEC champ replacement) vs. #13 Penn State (at-large selection #3)
Orange Bowl: #9 Georgia Tech (ACC champ) vs. #12 LSU (at-large selection #2)
Fiesta Bowl: #6 Boise State (Big 12 champ replacement) vs. #10 Iowa (at-large selection #1)

It’s interesting that the Rose Bowl would still be unable to take Stanford this season under this system, but that’s mitigated a bit by being able to grab a great-traveling SEC school.  In most other seasons, the Rose Bowl matchup wouldn’t have changed at all.  With the way that Big East (besides West Virginia) and non-AQ teams often get passed around like a doobie in the bowl selection process, the BCS bowls actually look better off for traveling fan base and TV marketability purposes having the opportunity to grab LSU and Michigan State this year or Penn State and LSU last season.

The BCS Final Four is a proposal that maintains the importance of the regular season, provides for a 4-game playoff, keeps the other BCS bowls interesting, constitutes a fairly simple change to the current system, and, most importantly, could be a system that the AQ conferences and BCS bowls would actually agree to in real life.  It’s not perfect, but if we wait around for perfection on this issue, then nothing will ever change.  Less is more when you’re dealing with the people that run the BCS.

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

(Image from PR Newswire)