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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from The C-Blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Gridiron Grit)

B1G 24 Pac: The New Big Ten/Pac-12 Partnership

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced a scheduling partnership on Wednesday encompassing football and basketball with plans to apply it to other sports.  Starting in 2017, each Big Ten school will play a Pac-12 counterpart annually in football.  In a shocking development, this pretty awesome setup was the brainchild of former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, who butchered Illini football schedules for close to two decades.  (Why would a Big Ten team ever schedule a neutral site game in Detroit against Western Michigan 4 weeks after they visited Ann Arbor?!  Why?!)

All orange-and-blue-tinged befuddlement aside, the Big Ten and Pac-12 entering into a scheduling arrangement is a natural extension of the link that they have because of the Rose Bowl and a way to add some high profile games to their respective football and basketball schedules without further expansion.  Some thoughts:

1. TV Advantages – Having all teams participate in one inter-conference football game per year is a way to build a critical mass of quality games during September that can be guaranteed to the conferences’ TV partners while still giving each individual school enough flexibility to maintain rivalries (particularly Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Stanford with Notre Dame) and schedule the requisite MAC-rifice games.  Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany indicated that the Big Ten/Pac-12 games would likely be played during 2nd, 3rd and 4th weeks of the season.  That would provide 4 “challenge” games during each of those weeks where one could be placed into every time slot.  This can provide some real value to the respective TV packages of the Big Ten and Pac-12, as at the very least ABC/ESPN would avoid getting stuck with a Michigan/Ohio State vs. Random MAC School game in the 2:30 pm Central Time national window during the third week in September.  The Big Ten Network and the nascent Pac-12 Network would also likely get multiple inter-conference games per year for both football and basketball, which could help each network get penetration into the other network’s home region.

2. More Big Ten/Pac-12 Bowls? – The Rose Bowl is obviously of critical importance to both the Big Ten and Pac-12, but the two leagues don’t play any other bowl games against each other unless it’s by accident.  (I’m certainly spending my New Year’s Eve afternoon watching the Kraft Fight Hunger and Interim Coaches Bowl between Illinois and UCLA.  Who’s with me?)  The issue from the Big Ten perspective is that the West Coast bowls involving the Pac-12 (besides the Rose) have low payouts compared to the Florida-based bowls with SEC tie-ins (and even the Texas-based bowls with Big 12 tie-ins).  The Pac-12 Rose Bowl tie-in largely masks the fact that the conference otherwise has the weakest bowl lineup of the AQ leagues (outside of the Big East) as its even its most desirable members, such as USC, don’t have good traveling reputations.  Personally, I’d love for the Big Ten to mix in another bowl or two against the Pac-12, but I can’t see those New Year’s Day games against the SEC in Florida going away.  For bowl purposes, nothing is more attractive than a Big Ten vs. SEC matchup (and they pay accordingly).  As a result, any new bowls arrangements between the Big Ten and Pac-12 would likely need to be lower in the bowl selection order and require some significant payout offers out there.  If the new 49ers and downtown Los Angeles NFL stadiums actually get built, they would have the potential to host new bowls that could pay enough to entice the Big Ten.

3. Improvements for Non-revenue Sports – On the whole, the Big Ten is probably bringing more revenue and brand name power to the table in this partnership compared to the Pac-12.  However, the Pac-12 overall has extremely strong top-to-bottom athletic departments in all sports, which can potentially aid the Big Ten significantly.  For instance, the Big Ten is a massive underachiever in baseball considering the conference’s resources and facilities.  If each Big Ten school starts playing a couple of series every year against Pac-12 opponents (who make up an extremely strong baseball league), that can bring up the RPI numbers for all Big Ten teams, which could then result in more NCAA Baseball Tournament at-large bids and higher seeds.  I’ve long thought that improving baseball ought to be a top non-football/basketball priority for the Big Ten and this Pac-12 partnership could be a way to kick-start it.

There could also be some phenomenal non-conference women’s volleyball matches.  The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already solidified themselves as the top two volleyball conferences in the country year-in and year-out.  In this year’s NCAA Volleyball Tournament, 8 of the Sweet Sixteen and 3 of the Final Four were members of either the Big Ten or Pac-12.

4. Notre Dame Rivalries and ACC/Big Ten Challenge Staying Alive – The indications from Jim Delany point to this partnership not having any effect on the Big Ten’s other relationships, such as the traditional Notre Dame football rivalries and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for basketball.  It’s telling that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said that he was actually kept apprised of the discussions between the Big Ten and Pac-12 and his relationship with Delany is characterized as “close”.  While a lot of fans like to jump to conclusions that conferences will act in a manner to “force” Notre Dame to do something (whether it’s conference realignment in general or a scheduling arrangement), commissioners such as Delany and Pac-12 boss Larry Scott are much more pragmatic.  As long as Notre Dame is independent, it’s ultimately extremely beneficial for both of their leagues to maintain high profile rivalries with the Irish if only because it helps out their TV packages quite a bit.  Think about it: the Big Ten guarantees 1 or 2 Notre Dame games to its TV partners every September, while the Pac-12 always has an Irish game to offer in prime time on Thanksgiving weekend (and these include marquee matchups such as Michigan-Notre Dame and USC-Notre Dame that TV networks pay a heavy premium for).  Delany and Scott don’t want to mess with that at all, which is why every time that a move that appears on its face might apply pressure on Notre Dame (such as the Pac-12 instituting a general rule last year that non-conference games should only be played prior to conference play) is explicitly caveated where it doesn’t end up affecting the Domers (where in the Pac-12 non-conference scheduling case, an exception was made for pre-existing contracts).

5. 8 Conference Games for Big Ten and 9 for the Pac-12 – Not surprisingly, the plans for a 9-game conference schedule for the Big Ten got nixed as a result of the new partnership.  Having every school be able to play at least 7 home games per year has become sacrosanct to the Big Ten, which would’ve made it impossible to have a 9-game conference schedule plus a Pac-12 game plus allowing other existing rivalries (such as the Notre Dame matchups described above) to continue.  The Pac-12 schools generally don’t have the same steadfast need to play 7 home games per year since they aren’t able to sellout their stadiums with Eastern Podunk State Polytechnic U coming into town the way a lot of the Big Ten schools can.  On the West Coast, higher quality opponents are required to draw attendance, which is why even USC has long scheduled 2 major non-conference opponent every year (Notre Dame and a power conference team) despite with the 9-game Pac-12 conference schedule.  As a result, it doesn’t surprise me that Larry Scott is indicating that the Pac-12 will maintain the 9-game conference slate for the long-term.

All-in-all, the Big Ten and Pac-12 partnering together is innovative in its simplicity.  They are adding on higher quality games without taking away existing rivalries while creating better inventory for their TV partners.  Both conferences have similar views toward academic excellence and maintaining strong top-to-bottom athletic departments.  With the two leagues already linked in the general public’s mind due to the Rose Bowl tie-ins, the partnership announcement makes sense at the end of a year where conference realignment didn’t make sense at all to a lot of people (unless you’re one of the commenters on this blog).

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

(Image from Los Angeles Times)

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 HALFWAY THERE COMPROMISE

The main principles of this system:

(1) Traditional Rose Bowl – The Rose Bowl always takes the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions.

(2) Cotton Bowl is added as a 5th BCS bowl –  Under this system, the Cotton Bowl would share the Big 12 tie-in with the Fiesta Bowl (to be further explained in point #4).

(3) Quasi-Semifinals Using 4 Highest Ranked Auto-bid Recipients Outside of Rose Bowl Participants – 2 of the BCS bowls besides the Rose Bowl will hold games featuring the 4 highest ranked teams that received BCS auto-bids outside of the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs in a seeded format.  For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll call them “Quasi-Semifinals” and assume that the auto-bids are the same as today (6 AQ conference champs, top 4 teams in the BCS rankings, top ranked non-AQ conference champ provided that it’s in the top 12 and a top 8 Notre Dame team*).  In a season like this one where the Rose Bowl does not have any top 4 teams, there would actually be 2 true semifinal games with #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 games.

(* AQ status may technically disappear, but as I’ve stated before, it will likely be a matter of semantics since the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC will continue to have virtual AQ status with their contractual bowl tie-ins. The Big East is really the only conference with a real risk of facing a major loss if the BCS system changes dramatically.)

(4) Quasi-Semifinal Site Tie-in Preferences – The Quasi-Semifinals will rotate on an annual basis between the 4 BCS bowls besides the Rose Bowl and receive preferences to get games that involve their conference tie-ins.  For example, if the Sugar Bowl were holding a Quasi-Semifinal this year, it could take #1 Auburn vs. #4 Stanford since it has the SEC tie-in.  The higher ranked team gets priority if both Quasi-Semifinal sites have a claim to the same game (i.e. if there is a #1 ACC champ vs. a #4 SEC champ, the Orange would get that game over the Sugar).  The Fiesta and Cotton would host Quasi-Semifinals in opposite years, so they can rotate the Big 12 tie-in.

(5) Other BCS Bowls Select Teams Like Today Except for (a) 3 BCS Bids from Conference Allowed and (b) Ranking Priority – The 2 BCS bowls that aren’t hosting Quasi-Semifinals in a given year would generally select teams in the same manner as today (i.e. conference tie-ins and first dibs on replacing tie-ins from that conference if they make it to a Quasi-Semifinal, at-large pool consists of teams in top 14, etc.).  However, the cap on BCS bids from a conference would be raised from 2 to 3 in order to garner more Big Ten support (and the SEC would be on board, too).  At the same time, the bowl with the higher ranked tie-in (or applicable conference tie-in replacement team) would get the first at-large selection.

(6) Two Highest Ranked Winners of Their Bowls Advance to the National Championship Game – I’ve kicked around the idea of having another BCS ranking after the bowls are completed to determine the #1 vs. #2 matchup, but I’m wary of strength of schedule components being altered during the bowl season (as it opens up way too many avenues to be attacked if bowl matchups are set up in a way that helps or hurts a team computer-wise).  I actually feel relatively comfortable setting it up where simply the two highest ranked winners of their bowls advance to the national championship game because between the Rose Bowl and the two Quasi-Semifinal Games, there 3 games with auto-bid vs. auto-bid matchups based on merit (so there aren’t at-large teams that are simply there to sell tickets based on name brand or traveling fan bases).

Again, if this system was in place this year, it would be fairly simple as #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 games would be set into place.  Assuming that the Orange and Cotton would be the Quasi-Semifinal hosts, the bowl lineup would look like this:

2011

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:

2010

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)

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Orlando Sentinel)

BCS System Rumblings: Radical Change or Just Different Labels?

Let me state upfront that there hasn’t been anything on my mind lately other than the horrific scandal at Penn State that has led to the ouster of Joe Paterno, among others. Conference realignment and the football games on the field feel pretty inconsequential compared to the allegations facing Jerry Sandusky. However, for my own sanity, I’ll try to provide a brief respite from the dark news that seems to come daily with some thoughts on the latest BCS meetings along with some new proposals being kicked around. Realignment news has gone down to a trickle lately outside of some reports this week of BYU heavily entertaining a football-only invite to the Big East, so this is a good time to take some stock of big-picture college football postseason issues.

One of constants many people have been hearing is that the BCS may eliminate auto-qualifier status for conferences in its next TV contract cycle (which would being in 2014). Stewart Mandel of SI.com said that a “high-ranking BCS source told [him] ‘almost everyone’ wants to do away with AQ bids, but they’ve yet to focus in on a specific alternative”. Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas also indicated that he sensed support for the removal of AQ status.

Of course, there are many different interpretations of what “removing AQ status” actually means. A pure removal of AQ status would be a proposal that Dennis Dodd mentioned in the Neinas article linked above of simply having the top 10 teams in the BCS rankings get slotted into the various BCS bowls. That’s certainly the most egalitarian way of approaching things. Call me skeptical on this approach ever getting passed, though. A quick look at the latest BCS rankings show that the Big Ten’s highest-ranked team is at #15 and I can guarantee you that there will be a 3-week blizzard in hell before the Big Ten (or Pac-12, for that matter) gives up a Rose Bowl slot based on some top 10 ranking qualification. Every current AQ conference except for the Big 12 has had at least one champion ranked lower than #10 during the BCS era (yes, even the almighty and all powerful SEC) and more leagues adding conference championship games make that prospect even more likely in the future. Call me crazy, but I don’t see conferences that have 100% guarantees today giving them up (even if there’s a 90% chance that they wouldn’t be hurt in practice). The Big Ten would rather take a guaranteed Rose Bowl slot in 2011 than risk giving that up in order to shoot the moon to get 3 BCS bowl slots in 2010 (which would’ve happened under a top 10 rule).

This gets back to the question of what is actually meant by “AQ status”. One person that I’ve talked to with strong non-AQ conference ties (so there’s a measure of an admission against one’s self-interest here) said that another proposal under consideration by the college football commissioners is almost the flip side of the top 10 rule, where the BCS would exist only to create a #1 vs. #2 national championship game and the 4 current BCS bowls would be released to enter into whatever individual deals that they would like with various conferences and teams. In that scenario, there would technically no longer be AQ status, although in practice, the individual bowls would provide elevated status to the handful of chosen conferences that they agree to have tie-ins with (most prominently, the Rose Bowl with the Big Ten and Pac-12). Indeed, look at this quote from BCS executive director Bill Hancock following the BCS meetings on Monday:

“The BCS is so misunderstood,” he said. “It was created to match up No. 1 vs. No. 2. And because of the way the critics have reacted to it, it has become more than that. It was never intended to be anything more than that.”

From a 10,000-foot knee-jerk legal viewpoint, this might actually be a great move by the power conferences to institute this proposed change. The main thrust of the antitrust argument against the BCS (which, to be clear, I don’t agree with) is that the four BCS bowls and six AQ conferences have collectively created a cartel that has pricing power that excludes competition and subverts the free market. Letting each of the BCS bowls negotiate their deals individually, though, seriously undermines the cartel argument, as entering into such individual deals is the very essence of free market capitalism.* In essence, those bowls and conferences could actually become more exclusive than they are today under the current BCS system (as nothing would stop them from directly entering into contracts for multiple SEC and Big Ten schools while ignoring the current non-AQ schools completely) and remove a major legal issue from the table at the very same time. I could certainly see the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 signing up for this ASAP (as they all would be protected by bowl tie-ins), while I have no idea why the Big East and the non-AQ conferences would allow this to happen. The irony is that the BCS institutionalized a divide between AQ and non-AQ conferences, yet those non-AQ conferences got better access to top tier bowls as a result of that institution. Meanwhile, if the concepts of “AQ” and “non-AQ” go away, the non-AQ conferences may end up being worse off with the top bowls shutting them out in their own individual deals.

(* Note that American antitrust law is focused on protecting consumers, whereas European antitrust law is about preserving competition in and of itself. They’re related, but not really the same thing, as there are instances where a relative lack of competition could arguably be beneficial to consumers. A classic example is the rise of big box stores, where a handful of large stores have the ability to negotiate better prices with suppliers and those savings are passed onto consumers. There might be more competition on paper if you have dozens of small stores competing against each other, but consumers may get better prices if there are just three or four large stores in an area. European antitrust law cares about the former, while U.S. antitrust law favors the latter. In the bowl context, what the consumers want is indicated by TV ratings and ticket sales (as opposed to opinion polls). If bowls are left to their individual devices and prefer taking a 7-5 Notre Dame team instead of an undefeated Houston squad because the Irish would garner better viewership levels and fans in the seats, then that’s perfectly fine from a legal standpoint.)

Larry Scott’s quotes in the Stewart Mandel article linked above highlight this further:

“The thinking about AQ status is pretty different for the Pac-12 and Big Ten than it is for everybody else,” said Scott. “It isn’t as relevant given our unique relationship with the Rose Bowl. It doesn’t really matter for us one way or the other whether there’s AQ status or not.”

So, at least from the Pac-12 perspective, the Rose Bowl tie-in is completely separate from the concept of AQ status (even though in practicality, a guaranteed bowl-tie in exactly what AQ status is all about). It seems to me that it’s a matter of semantics. At the same time, if the Big Ten and Pac-12 still keep guaranteed tie-ins with the Rose Bowl, then the SEC is going to want its guaranteed tie-in with the Sugar Bowl, the Big 12 will want it with the Fiesta Bowl and the ACC will demand it with the Orange Bowl. The term “AQ status” might go away, but tie-ins would be here to stay. It would be the entities that don’t have tie-ins, such as the Big East, the current non-AQ conferences and even (gasp) Notre Dame that are at risk.

There could still be workarounds for the Big East in this scenario. For instance, if it came down to having to deal with individual bowls without an overarching BCS system, the Big East could link in Notre Dame in the manner that it has done with other bowl tie-ins (such as the Champs Sports Bowl). While that might not guarantee that the Big East champ goes to a top tier bowl every single year, linking in the Irish would make the league much more attractive in a pure bowl free market system.

Still, I’m sure that the Big East would much rather keep the current BCS system in place. In a weird twist, the non-AQ conferences may feel the same way. When the power conferences are the ones suggesting changes to the BCS system, rest assured that it’s not going to be done to help out the little guy.

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

(Image from Wikipedia)

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:

THE BCS BOWL FLEX SYSTEM

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).

APPLYING THE SYSTEM

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):

2010
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)

2009
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)

2008
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)

2007
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)

2006
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)

2005
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:

THE BCS FINAL FOUR

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:

2010
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)

2009
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)

A Defense of Big Ten Football

ohio-state-buckeyes-texas-longhorns-fiesta-bowl

When I wrote this post on the “Conference Pride Paradox” a little over two years ago, Big Ten football was at its zenith with 2 BCS bowl victories during the prior season and its premier rivalry (which, in my opinion, is also the best rivalry in all of sports) of Ohio State vs. Michigan was being hyped for weeks as the Game of the Millennium with a #1 vs. #2 matchup for the first time.  After the Ohio State won that classic game, the national debate was centered around how Michigan deserved another shot at the Buckeyes in the National Championship Game.  Thinking back about those days that really weren’t very long ago at all, it’s amazing how far the national reputation of Big Ten football has fallen.  With Ohio State’s loss last night to Texas (albeit one that could have been prevented had the Buckeyes just kept a safety or two back in the secondary to make a tackle), the Big Ten has now lost 6 straight BCS bowl games (2 in each of the last 3 seasons).

There’s no doubt that the nation has a right to be skeptical about the prospects of the next Big Ten invitee to a National Championship Game (and frankly, no one should be surprised if Ohio State is right back in that mix next year with the players that they have coming back).  However, with Big Ten bashing becoming so fashionable among college football fans, I believe that the performances of the conference over the past 3 seasons need to be into context.  Please note that the following comments aren’t excuses – if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best at anytime anywhere, and the Big Ten teams that have gone to BCS bowls have failed miserably on that front.  It’s just that when one looks at who and where the Big Ten has played in its recent BCS matchups, it becomes apparent that the only ones that have the right to say anything are USC and the top tier of the SEC (as much as I loathe them).  Everyone else that is piling on the Big Ten (i.e. Big East, ACC, and Big 12 fans, Pac-10 schools that aren’t USC, Mountain West Conference bandwagoners riding a hot Utah team, etc.), though, need to STFU since they all likely would be in the exact same position of the power Midwestern conference if they had to play the same games.

Here are the Big Ten’s BCS opponents over the past 3 seasons:

  • USC in the last 3 Rose Bowls in Pasadena
  • Florida in the 2006 National Championship Game in Arizona
  • LSU in the 2007 National Championship Game in New Orleans
  • Texas in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona

Look at that list of teams – it’s complete murder’s row of marquee national programs without a single breather.  The Big Ten didn’t get to play the likes of Wake Forest, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Hawaii, who were BCS participants in other bowls during this period.  Unlike the conferences that are participating in Thursday night’s National Championship Game, the Big Ten didn’t lose to non-BCS conference teams in the manner of the Big 12 (the Boise State-Oklahoma gem in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl) or the SEC (last week’s stunning Utah beat-down of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – there was nothing fluky about the Utes in that game).  Yet, those conferences haven’t been indicted in their entirety even though their marquee teams failed to beat smaller schools whose stadiums have fewer amenities than the average SEC weight room.

The one true horrible loss for the Big Ten was Florida’s thrashing of Ohio State in the 2006 National Championship Game, where the Buckeyes had been ranked #1 nearly the entire season and were strongly favored to win the game.  After that, though, note that two 2nd place Big Ten teams (Michigan in 2006 and my alma mater Illinois in 2007) along with this year’s Penn State team got to play USC in de facto Trojan home games right outside of Los Angeles.  How many champions from any conference, much less 2nd place teams like the Big Ten has sent, are going to beat USC head-to-head in Los Angeles?  Anyone that has even a smidgen of knowledge about college football knows that this is a monster task in a sport where home field advantage is a huge deal and nowhere near the same as playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl or Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.  The Big Ten doesn’t have a Rose Bowl problem or a Pac-10 problem – it has a USC problem.  Of course, every other conference would also be “exposed” as having a USC problem if its champion or 2nd place team had to play the Trojans in LA every year.  (Please note that I wouldn’t trade the Big Ten’s relationship with the Rose Bowl for anything in world since it’s the one BCS bowl outside of the National Championship Game that people actually care about.  My trip to Pasadena following the Illini last year was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life, with the exception of that game thingy.)  If USC didn’t crush its Pac-10 competition every season (outside of the annual obligatory game where they don’t show up against a ridiculously inferior team, which ruins their national championship chances) where some other team from that conference would get to the Rose Bowl, then there likely wouldn’t be a Big Ten drought in that game.

Similar to the USC situation, LSU arguably received an even greater home field advantage with last year’s National Championship Game being played in New Orleans.  Once again, would any team from any other conference have won essentially a road game at LSU in that situation?  SEC fans have earned the right to crow here, but any other conference that throws stones at the Big Ten has to realize that if they had sent a representative to that game, they also would have been crushed.  West Virginia would have received the honors to get thrashed if they had taken care of business against a pathetic Dave Wannstedt-led Pitt team while Missouri would have been the victims if they had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on the last weekend of the regular season.  None of that happened, so Ohio State, whose resume by the end of that weekend consisted of doing to the least wrong of any of the BCS conference champions that season, backed that ass up into the right to play in the title game on the road where they were guaranteed to be huge underdogs.

Finally, Texas was heavily favored to crush Ohio State in last night’s Fiesta Bowl but the Longhorns only salvaged a win because of a Buckeye defensive meltdown in the last 2 minutes of the game.  (By the way, it was fascinating to witness Jim Tressel use the reverse-Tebow technique of using Todd Boeckman to spot Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, where the intent was actually to bring in a traditional pocket passer for one or two plays at a time in order to change the pace from having a running quarterback.  The increasing reliance on spread or spread-esque offenses isn’t necessarily the greatest trend for college football overall, particularly for young QBs that want to reach the NFL, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Once again, I’m not saying that the Big Ten’s performances in BCS bowls have been anywhere near satisfactory.  The Big Ten receives a ton of perks for having teams that draw huge television ratings (the only BCS bowls that have had over a 10.0 rating outside of the National Championship Games since the ACC-spurned conference realignment in 2003 are all of the games that have featured a Big Ten team) and the most national and wealthiest fan base of the BCS, which includes placement in the Rose Bowl (the highest profile bowl) and the other BCS bowls salivating over taking one of the conference’s other teams for an at-large bid.  With that elevated position, the Big Ten is justifiably going to receive more scrutiny when compared to USC or teams from the SEC and the conference’s teams will need to start performing.  I have faith that the Big Ten will bounce back soon enough since conference performance is cyclical, which is often hard to remember in a “What have you done for me lately?” world.  Earlier this decade, the SEC and Big 12 were the conferences being criticized as being weak and without depth.  The Big East was hailed as being back as a power conference two years ago but now is facing calls of not deserving an automatic BCS bid.  The old cliche of “what goes around comes around” is very true in college sports, so the haters out there won’t have the Big Ten to kick around much longer.

(Image from Arizona Republic)

Random Observations on the World of Sports and Frank the Tank’s Football Parlay – New Year’s 2009 Edition

robbie-gould-bears-packers

A few random observations before we get to an expanded edition of this week’s football picks:

  1. The Bears Are Horrible… and the NFC is Even Worse – There was no logical reason for the Bears to have beaten the Packers this past Monday night.  They played as if though they were ready to pack it in for the season as opposed to fighting to keep alive in the playoff race.  Only the Bears have the ability to make me feel like I just drank some paint even while winning football games.  The only saving grace is that the NFC is so horrific (trading the Big 12 South straight up for the NFC West would have made for a much more competitive year) that this mediocre team could still actually host a playoff game if the right things fall into place.
  2. The Illini Basketball Team Actually Has Some Life… and So Does the Rest of the Big Ten – Hope is a dangerous drug.  As I’ve stated in some prior posts, I was more than willing to scrap this current Illinois basketball season as a complete rebuilding project with an aim toward giving Alex Legion ample playing time.  After absolutely crushing Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights Game on Tuesday night, though, the Illini seem to be looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament a year ahead of schedule.  One of these years, Illinois will beat Mizzou in football and then Mizzou will beat Illinois in basketball, upon which I will cardon myself in the basement with a plethora of perishable goods to prepare for the impending destruction of the world.
  3. Bulls Are the Ultimate .500 Team – Has there been a team in recent memory that have hung around the .500 mark with such consistency as this year’s Bulls?  I’m pretty sure they’ve attempted to get to .500 every single time that I’ve watched one of their games this season.  They’re like a baksetball version of an Escher painting.
  4. For the Love of God, Stop Fellating the Celtics – On the complete opposite side of mediocrity, I know that the ESPN criticism in the blogosophere can often be over the top at times, but how many fucking years in a row do they need to put up a fucking daily game-by-game comparison of a hot NBA team’s record versus the 1996 Bulls (and said hot NBA team flames out by the middle of January at the very latest)?  Well, the tizzy around the Celtics’ recent 19-game winning streak has been almost as ridiculous as the inclusion of the 2005 USC Trojans in the infamous “greatest college football team ever” bracket prior to that season’s national championship game (who subsequently lost to Texas).  When an NBA team only has 5 losses at the All-Star Break, then we can start talking about whether a team might beat the Bulls’ single-season record.  If it’s only a month-and-a-half into the season, though, just simmer down and shut the fuck up.  I cannot tell you how much I hate these premature crownings of teams.  Let me move on before I throw my laptop across the room…

On that happy holiday note, let’s get to a super-sized edition of the football picks (home teams in CAPS where applicable):

NFL FOOTBALL PARLAY

  • PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-1) over Dallas Cowboys – In relatively quiet fashion, the Iggles have been as consistent as anyone in the NFC since Donovan McNabb learned about ties in the NFL.
  • Miami Dolphins (+3) over NEW YORK JETS – I’ll admit that all I want to see if Chad Pennington to come in and stuff the team that turned on him so that they could whore themselves for Brett Favre.
  • Chicago Bears (+3) over HOUSTON TEXANS – The bookmakers know that the Bears are horrible, which is how a listless Texans team could be favorites over a club that is still fighting for a legit shot at the playoffs.  Yet, I still think that the Bears will pull this out for a restless Chicago fan base.  Let’s hope that the Giants play their starters long enough (if at all) to do some damage to the Vikings at the same time.

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Bears Games for the Season: 3-91
Overall Season: 19-20-3

NEW YEAR’S DAY NON-BCS BOWL PARLAY

  • Outback Bowl:  South Carolina Gamecocks (+3.5) over Iowa Hawkeyes – Can I really trust an Iowa team that lost to the Illini to actually cover against a Steve Spurrier-led team in Tampa? NFW.
  • Gator Bowl:  Nebraska Cornhuskers (+3) over Clemson Tigers – The only team that I trust less than Iowa is Clemson.
  • Capital One Bowl:  Michigan State Spartans (+7.5) over Georgia Bulldogs – I truly don’t understand this Georgia team, which was bandied around as one of a handful of national championship contenders at the beginning of the year.  On paper, UGA should be crushing State, but the Big Ten has a pretty good track record against supposedly superior SEC teams in Orlando.  I’ll take the points for Sparty here.

BCS BOWL PICKS

  • Rose Bowl:  Penn State Nittany Lions (+9) over USC Trojans – Chicago has alternately seen temperatures close to zero degrees, traffic debiliating snowfall once the temperature rises into the teens, and then zero-visibility fog as the temperature creeps above freezing over the past THREE days.  This type of setting has made the dark hole of no Pasadena trip to look forward to for the Illini (and me) even more depressing.  I always have an extremely hard time watching a major sports event the year after my favorite team has played in it (i.e. 2006 NCAA Final Four, 2006 World Series, last year’s Super Bowl) and this Rose Bowl will be no exception, particularly with the Illini failing to make any type of bowl at all.  The only thing that warms my heart here is that the Big Ten has its best shot to knock off those USC bastards yet.  Unlike Ohio State earlier this year, the Illini last season, and Michigan two years ago, JoePa’s current squad is anything but a stereotypical plodding Big Ten team – Penn State has as much speed as anyone in the country.  The spread is way too large here with the Nitanny Lions at full strength.
  • Orange Bowl:  Virginia Tech (+2.5) over Cincinnati Bearcats – I’d stay the hell away from this game in the sportsbook in real life.  In theory, Cincy should be much more motivated to be here, particularly since Virginia Tech was just in the Orange Bowl last season.  I’ll go with the established power here, though, only because the Hokies still have an abundance of talent to the point that I’m fairly surprised that they are more than a 1-point underdog.
  • Sugar Bowl:  Alabama Crimson Tide (-10) over Utah Utes – As much as I’d love to see Utah draw blood against the team that was #1 for most of the season, ‘Bama is way beyond the draws that the ’04 Utes and ’06 Boise State respectively received with Pitt and Oklahoma in their Fiesta Bowl non-BCS conference upsets.
  • Fiesta Bowl:  Ohio State Buckeyes (+8.5) over Texas Longhorns – Much like the Rose Bowl spread, there are way too many points to pass up taking here.  Plus, am I the only one in America that didn’t find a single thing wrong with how the Big 12 determined its tie-breaker at the division level?  Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech were all tied for first place in the Big 12 South division with 1 win and 1 loss in head-to-head competition against each other.  It seems to me that having the BCS standings is the next logical tie-breaker (with “logical” being an extremely convulated term in the world of college football) since any conference would want to elevate a team that would have the best chance of getting to the national championship game.  While Texas beat Oklahoma head-to-head, the Longhorns didn’t have any more claim to get a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game than Texas Tech, who beat Texas head-to-head.  I have no clue why there was such a national uproar over a tie-breaking procedure that seemed to actually make a lot of sense considering how the national championship match-up is determined today.  Anyway, the point is that Texas seems to be acting like the ’06 Michigan Wolverines that complained mightily that they didn’t get a re-match with their fiercest rival in Ohio State in the national championship game and then got crushed by a very talented USC team in the Rose Bowl.  I have a strong feeling that Texas is going to put up a massive dud here, too, since Ohio State is anything but a pushover when Beanie Wells is on the field.
  • BCS National Championship Game:  Florida Gators (-3) over Oklahoma Sooners – No one should forget that Florida is going to be playing a virtual home game in Miami in the same manner that LSU had the home field advantage in last year’s national championship game in New Orleans.  At the same time, for all of the national bashing of Ohio State for its high profile stumbles over the past two seasons, they have made it to BCS bowls 6 out of the last 7 seasons (including this year) with 3 victories that includes a national championship (the only two losses coming in the last 2 national championship games).  There isn’t another program other than USC that would trade places with the Buckeyes with that type of record.  Meanwhile, in the last four BCS bowls for Oklahoma, the Sooners were crushed by West Virginia (who was reeling after having just lost its head coach to Michigan) by 20 points in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, was on the wrong end of the classic upset by Boise State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, got blown out by USC by 36 points in the 2004 Orange Bowl for the national championship (one of the most horrific performances that I’ve ever seen considering the stakes), and was beaten by LSU in the 2003 Sugar Bowl for the national championship.  Jim Tressel looks like Mozart to Bob Stoops’ Salieri when it comes to BCS bowl performances.

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 5-6
Overall Season: 19-22-1

Enjoy the games and Happy New Year!

(Image from Washington Post)