Archive for December, 2010

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)

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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)

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There was quite a bit of conference realignment news over the last couple of weeks, so let’s assess the current landscape:

1.  Big Ten Making Out Like a Fox – To the surprise of no one except a handful that believes the Big Ten really wants a superconference, the conference announced that expansion has reached its “natural conclusion”.  Despite my many writings on the Big Ten expansion topic (and the reason why most of you found this blog), I’m very happy about this personally.  Call me old-fashioned, but I actually like it when schools in a conference, you know, actually get to play each other regularly instead of being in some type of massive 16/18/20-team scheduling arrangement.  One of the comments from regular Slant reader allthatyoucantleavebehind from several months ago always stuck with me: It’s a whole lot of fun to talk about superconferences and expanding to different markets, but will you actually have fun watching your team play all of these schools?  Well, Nebraska is one of those schools that everyone has fun playing with a tradition-rich football program and arguably the best fan base in college sports.  Plus, if Bo Pelini thought he hated Big 12 officials, we’re going to witness him murder a Big Ten ref in cold blood in Ann Arbor next season.  The Big Ten is making the right move for its alums and fans by stopping at 12.

Financially, it’s the right move, too.  Fox outbid ABC/ESPN for the rights to the Big Ten Championship Game and the rights fees apparently are astronomical: $140 million for 6 years, which is an average of around $23 million per year.  For comparison’s sake, the SEC title game brings in approximately $14 million per year and the Big East football TV contract with ESPN is worth about $13 million per year for all of that conference’s games.  This single game haul for the Big Ten has paid for the addition of Nebraska by itself and we haven’t even gotten to the additional Big Ten Network rights fees and forthcoming increases in the national TV contracts.

The fact that Fox won the Big Ten title game contract is interesting.  While Fox is the conference’s partner for the Big Ten Network, I personally had a hard time believing that the ESPN juggernaut would let this game get away.  As I’ve pointed out before, as much as we talk about how the Big Ten Network has really changed the TV revenue dynamic in college sports, the Big Ten still gets paid about twice as much more from ABC/ESPN than the BTN.  When the Big Ten’s national TV contract comes up for bidding for the 2016 season, expect the conference to really push for a bifurcated rights deal similar to the SEC: coast-to-coast clearance on a national over-the-air network for the top game of the week and 3 or so games on the next tier on the ESPN networks (with probably a guaranteed weekly prime time game).  The balance of the games would then be on BTN.  If Fox drops or cuts back on Major League Baseball coverage (and as much as I love baseball, any reasonable TV industry observer would recommend that Fox does just that because it’s receiving a horrible ROI for the amount that the network is paying for these regular season ratings), there’s a strong possibility that the network will take over the top Big Ten Game of the Week from ABC.  However, I highly doubt that the Big Ten would let the games that are currently on the ESPN networks move to the patchwork quilt of Fox Sports Net stations.  Much like the NFL, the Big Ten is going to balance providing a critical mass of games to its own network and maximizing revenue with being extremely exposure conscious with its top matchups.  Note that the NFL’s top game of the week package (Sunday Night Football on NBC that has a flex scheduling option to ensure higher-rated matchups later in the season) is actually the league’s least expensive TV contract.  The Big Ten could very well end up with a similar setup starting in 2016.

With the new Fox money and anticipated rights fee increases, if the Big Ten were to expand further at this point, each additional school would essentially have to add $30 million to the conference make it into a compelling case for the university presidents – and that’s without the benefit of a bump of a new conference championship game.  There’s basically two schools that could even come close to bringing that much: Texas and Notre Dame.  For various reasons, the chances of either ever joining the Big Ten in the near future is effectively zero (and we’ll explore them more in-depth later on).  Without either of those two schools involved, there’s no way that the Big Ten can add any other schools without the current members taking a pay cut from the new 12-team setup (and I can guarantee you that no one is voting to ever take a pay cut).

2.  Big East Football Member Number 9… Number 9… Number 9… Number 9 – The expansion action has shifted to the Big East, which smartly added Rose Bowl-bound TCU for all of the right reasons.  At least I got one prediction of a Texas-based school heading to a conference to the east correct.  With the Big East having previously stated that its members had approved expansion up to 10 football members, the outstanding issues are (1) whether Villanova takes up the Big East’s offer to move up from Division I-AA (for the love of all things that are good in this world, such as the removal of Brett Favre from the national consciousness, please go back to logical division names, NCAA) and (2) if Villanova refuses, is it really worth for the Big East to go up to 10 with the realistic expansion candidates.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto has indicated that the conference was “not going to wait for Villanova”.  However, I believe that his quote (which has gotten a lot of Big East blogs and message board over-excited) was under the guise that if a school such as Notre Dame called up and wanted to join the league for football, then of course there would be an immediate expansion.  In practicality with the realistic expansion candidates, the Big East isn’t going to do anything else until it knows for sure about Villanova’s final stance.  I’ve generally heard two extremes regarding Villanova with very little in between.  There’s a segment of the Big East that completely believes that they’re moving up and the main item to accomplish is finalizing a deal to play at PPL Park in Chester (an 18,500-seat Major League Soccer stadium).  The other segment of the Big East absolutely believes that there’s no chance that Villanova will move up because the university’s leadership has a tepid view of it and the financial commitment required is far beyond the school’s reasonable means.

I know what I would do if I were running Villanova: I’d take that invite, ride it like Zorro back to Providence with a big “YES” and figure out the details later.  Why they haven’t already done so is fairly maddening.  It’s incredulous to me that a school could be taking this much time to decide on whether to accept a golden ticket that sixty-plus other university presidents would sacrifice their math departments for.  My impression is that Villanova fancies itself to be more of a Boston College-type than a Holy Cross-type with respect to sports and if Nova wants to protect its basketball team and athletic department overall from future conference realignment earthquakes, the best way to do so is having a BCS football program.

Now, I don’t really believe that adding Villanova for football will do much to help the Big East, although the conference gets a bit more rope to work with after having added TCU.  If extending an invite to Villanova was the political grease to get the Catholic members of the Big East (or at least enough of them) to address the football expansion issue overall, then it was a necessary move.  Villanova is one of the old-line members of the Big East and if it wants to move up for football, everyone has to expect that the school will get to join that pigskin league first even if other programs are supposedly more “deserving”.  I’m just a bit wary that Villanova seems to have been dragged into this kicking and screaming, which I doubt will draw much sympathy from the Boise States of the world.

UCF appears to be the school-in-waiting if Villanova rejects the Big East football invite.  I really didn’t like the thought of UCF getting invited to the Big East over TCU if the conference was choosing only one of them, but the Knights make more sense as part of an expansion on top of the Horned Frogs.  With the sheer size of the school’s student base coupled with the prime recruiting location, the Big East is looking at UCF as a high upside school.  Now, I’ve probably spent more time in Central Florida than any place other than Chicago and Champaign and believe that the area is always going to be Gator country by a wide margin, but the rapid growth of UCF cannot be denied.  A school such as East Carolina has a better pure fan base in terms of actually showing up to games  and Houston offers a larger market, yet UCF seems offer enough of each of those factors that it appears to be the best choice of the rest for the Big East overall.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Big East has to go up to 10 football schools immediately (and thereby possibly 18 schools for other sports).  As I noted in the Big East Expansion FAQ post, the Big East still makes more TV money from basketball than football and a school such as UCF likely wouldn’t move the ESPN rights fee meter very much (if at all).  None of the C-USA schools are going anywhere, so the Big East can choose to see if a school such as UMass, which will likely be moving up the Division I-A level, develops into a viable Northeastern-based program that would fit extremely well into the conference.  Now that the Big East has 9 members with the TCU addition and the Big Ten has put its expansion on hold, there’s not the same sense of urgency to add school #10.

I’m personally about 50/50 on this.  Part of me believes that 10 football/18 basketball members in the Big East would be more desirable for the “perception of stability” factor that the league needs more than anyone else while getting a program such as UCF up to speed at the BCS AQ level.  (I’ve also got a way to split up an 18-team Big East basketball league into divisions that I believe will make pretty much all of the schools happy with home-and-home annual games with their top rivals and still playing everyone else frequently enough to maintain some conference unity.  However, I’ll save that for another post.)  On the other hand, there’s no real need to rush and the Big East may be well-served to just concentrate on integrating TCU for the next couple of years.

3.  Knife the WAC and Head for the Mountains – Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson has been coming after the WAC like Freddy Krueger ever since this past summer when there was a brief moment where the WAC looked like it was going to be the raider instead of the raidee.  Hawaii is all but confirmed as the latest defector from the WAC to the MWC as a football-only member.  I’ll give Thompson a whole lot of credit on this front: the MWC is going to be significantly weaker on an absolute basis with the losses of Utah, BYU and TCU, but it’s stronger on a relative basis compared to the other non-AQ conferences by mortally wounding its top competitor of the WAC.  The national perception of the MWC is that it’s still a desirable league at the non-AQ level, which is a fairly impressive feat considering that any conference losing its three most valuable members would typically be reeling.  Thompson obviously took some notes of what to do (and what not to do) from how the Big East reacted to the ACC raid of 2003 and had a prepared disaster recovery plan on how to react to any defections.  There’s absolutely no chance that the MWC is going to rise up to AQ status in this next bowl cycle (or probably ever), but it’s in a great position to be first in line for any non-AQ BCS bowl bid annually.

4.  The Texas 12 - There are still days where I can’t believe that the Big 12 survived, yet now that it has, it must be emphasized once again that the conference is a whole lot more stable than many pundits give it credit for.  To be sure, the Big 12 isn’t bound together because its members actually want to be with each other.  However, Texas wants this league to survive more than ever with the newly anticipated ESPN-owned Longhorn Network and that’s about 99% of the battle.*  I know that it’s VERY fashionable for college sports fans to believe that Texas eventually wants to become independent and then all hell will break loose in the Big 12, but that’s ignoring the constantly volatile emotions of Texas-based politicians.  The single biggest mistake I made in my early posts regarding Big Ten expansion and UT was completely underestimating the extent to which Texas politicos would get involved in conference realignment.  Even if UT really wants to go independent and/or Texas A&M really wants to go to the SEC, they’re bound together by the threat of mutually assured destruction if one of them makes a first move similar to the US and USSR during the Cold War.  Neither UT nor A&M can be perceived to be the one that killed the Big 12 and then drawing the wrath of Texas Tech and Baylor sympathizers in the legislature.  For all of the school’s financial power on paper, recall how much Texas needed to show that Missouri and Nebraska had wandering eyes first before it could attempt to create the Pac-16.  Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott himself said that the exclusion of Baylor from the Pac-16 proposal gave rise to a “tsunami effect” in Texas politics that killed the deal as opposed to anything with UT’s TV plans.

(* In what will surely be an interesting case study in testing how strong the Chinese walls are between the business and journalistic sides of ESPN, the Worldwide Leader filed a lawsuit last week against the University of Texas System under the Texas Public Information Act (h/t to duffman) to obtain documents from this past summer’s conference realignment discussions even though the network is right in the middle of negotiations with UT on the formation of the Longhorn cable channel.)

As a result, those 4 Texas-based schools are politically bound together as a group.  Add in the similarly bound Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (with OU being on the record that it is always going to want to be in the same conference as UT) and you have 6 total schools that have to be together no matter what, which severely limits them being anywhere other than in the Big 12.  With 2 of those schools being national marquee brands, any conference that has that group is going to survive just fine and make enough TV money for all of its members even in an unequal revenue distribution system.  The “Little 4″ of Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State might be wise to continue to have good relations with the Big East as a fallback option (which KU coach and Illini defector Bill Self said almost happened this past summer), but they’re not going to affirmatively split off from a league where they can still play UT and OU annually in a new round-robin Big 12 schedule unless an inebriated Big Ten suddenly throws invites their way after a Saturday night binge on Rush Street.

While the Big 12 isn’t safe in a warm and fuzzy family way, it looks like it’s safe in a maximum security prison way.  No one’s getting out of there even if they want to very badly.

5.  Notre Dame Network? – Let’s me repeat another item that I didn’t quite fully understand until the last few months:  NOTRE DAME WANTS TO BE INDEPENDENT FOR THE SAKE OF BEING INDEPENDENT.  It isn’t about making the most TV money, or else they’d join the Big Ten.  It isn’t about having the easiest road to BCS bowls, or else they’d join the Big East.  Instead, Notre Dame’s independence is a PRINCIPLE and about SCHOOL IDENTITY.  As a result, ignore the recurring columns suggesting that Notre Dame joining the Big East would somehow provide a nice geographic distribution of opponents while providing easier BCS access.  (Remember that Notre Dame has failed to even play 3 Big East opponents per year that it agreed to back in 2003, much less a full conference slate.  Why the heck would they all of the sudden want to play 5 or more Big East conference games as even a “partial member” when they just signed scheduling deals with Texas, Miami and BYU after the summer’s conference shuffling?  None of that makes any sense.  At the same time, the Irish see a “national” schedule as playing schools such as USC, Michigan, Miami and Texas, not just any random schools that happen to be located in certain states.)  You can also ignore anything from Big 12 country suggesting that UT’s ability to create a TV network within a conference would spur Notre Dame to join, too.  Maybe those strangely delusional Big 12 fans that suddenly believe that they can pick off Notre Dame along with members of the SEC (i.e. Arkansas and LSU) or Pac-10 (i.e. Arizona and Arizona State)* have forgotten that as an independent, the Irish can create a network anytime it freaking wants to.

(* Just because no one can get out of the Big 12 maximum security prison doesn’t mean anyone else actually wants to get in.)

In fact, that’s exactly the latest item on the rumor mill.  You should take the following with a heavy grain of salt, but I’ve heard and seen in a few places is that Comcast/NBC is working on putting together a Notre Dame Network that would be an Irish Catholic-focused cross between the Longhorn Network for sports and the BYU network for religious programming.  The Universal Sports network that’s currently being shown on a number of cable systems and NBC-owned digital subchannels across the country and broadcasts Olympic sports could possibly be converted into this Notre Dame Network.  The main thing that makes this plausible to me is that this sounds like something that Notre Dame would want to do.  The school has been consistent in insisting upon its own branding and independent identity (which kills the prospect of any joint network with the Big East that a lot of that conference’s fans are hoping for other than working with them to procure rights for Notre Dame’s non-football sports).  It doesn’t want a network that’s under the umbrella of the Big East, Big 12, Big Ten or any other conference.  Instead, this is about complete and 100% autonomy for Notre Dame in all respects.

Believe me, I sympathize with all of the fans of conferences that continue to dream about Notre Dame.  Many of us college football fans complain about Notre Dame 364 days per year about their “special treatment”, but when that one day comes with a semi-possible rumor that the Irish are looking to join your conference, you immediately get starry-eyed with thoughts of world domination.  It happened to me based on the logic that the Big Ten actually was (and still is) the one conference with the concrete financial wherewithal to make the Irish richer.  Let me be clear: there is no such thing as logic regarding independence with the Notre Dame alumni base that runs that school.  As a result, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Notre Dame Network comes to your TV within the next year or two and the Irish will be more independent than ever.

With the conference realignment situation settling down, we’ll turn to another favorite topic in my next piece: the annual “How can we make the college football postseason better?” post.  I know every two-bit columnist and blogger in the country covers that topic to the core, but let’s face it: it’s fun to talk about, so that’s all that matters.  Until then, let’s bask in the glow of the Illini football team going to the Texas Bowl even after having predictably Zooked themselves against Fresno State (the biggest positive development of Big Ten expansion is that it takes football scheduling after Thanksgiving completely out of the hands of Ron Guenther), the Illini basketball team gathering steam with big back-to-back wins against North Carolina (I don’t care if they’re down this year) and Gonzaga, both the Bears and Bulls leading their respective divisions (Derrick Rose continues to be my favorite active athlete on Earth right now with Julius Peppers vaulting up to #2), the Blackhawks looking a bit better again (although let’s hope Patrick Kane comes back as soon as possible) and the White Sox actually shelling out money for free agents (adding Adam Dunn AND probably keeping Paul Konerko – I love it as long as Dunn doesn’t spend a single moment in the outfield).  Not a bad holiday sports season in the Frank the Tank household so far.  Not bad at all.

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

(Image from Husker Locker)