Posts Tagged ‘college football playoff’

Time is a bit cramped this week with Thanksgiving upon us, so I’ll be tackling one mailbag question below this week. Also, I need to wallow a bit in my misery about Derrick Rose being out for the rest of season with a torn meniscus in his right knee after having just been out for 18 months for a torn ACL in his left knee. If you were following my Twitter feed on Friday night when the injury occurred, you probably were hoping that I didn’t have access to any sharp metal objects – it was a dark, dark evening. As a 35-year old Chicago sports and Illini fan, I’ve seen more than my fair share of debilitating sports moments, but nothing has been as bad as these back-to-back Derrick Rose injuries. I had dreamed of the Bulls somehow landing D-Rose in the draft back when he was still not even halfway done with his high school career at Simeon and the night that the franchise won the 2008 NBA lottery with a 1.7% chance was the greatest off-the-field sports moment that I had ever witnessed (if that makes sense). By the end of his rookie season, he had quickly vaulted to one of my 5 favorite athletes of all-time (the others being Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Frank Thomas and Illini era Deron Williams). So, this has been an excruciating process to witness and there’s a palpable feeling here that Rose may end up on the list of “What might have been?” athletic enigmas such as Gale Sayers, Bill Walton and Bo Jackson. From an overall Bulls team perspective, the franchise is now in the “basketball hell” danger zone where they’re not good enough to win a championship yet not bad enough (even with Rose being out and presumably trading Luol Deng and his expiring contract) to realistically tank to get a legit shot at a top 5 lottery pick in next summer’s loaded draft. (Granted, I’ll keep praying for the sports gods to throw us the bone of Rose’s fellow Simeon alum Jabari Parker ending up in a Bulls uniform.) In summary, thank goodness for the Blackhawks!

Now for our mini-mailbag question for the week (with a full-blown mailbag coming after Thanksgiving):

Yes, I believe that it’s inevitable for the playoff system to go to 8 just as it was only a matter of time that we went from 2 teams playing for the championship to a 4-team playoff. I would never have said that 2 years ago, but the tea leaves are there for further playoff expansion. Now, as I had intimated in playoff system proposals posts previously (such as this one about a hypothetical 4-team playoff system 3 years ago that actually turned out to be fairly close to what the CFP will look like), the critical question is, “Does this make sense for the Big Ten and SEC?” Anyone can slap together a playoff system that he or she personally would like to see, but the challenge is always about whether the power conferences would ever agree to it.

In this case, there’s a fairly heavy incentive for the power conferences to eventually expand the playoff to 8 teams if they can do the following: all 5 power conference champs would receive an auto-bid. That provides a host of benefits for the power conferences compared to the 4-team system, such as (a) a guaranteed playoff slot annually and all of the money that comes with that, (b) guaranteeing that their respective conference championship games become de facto annual playoff games under their complete control and all of the money that comes with that and (c) making each divisional race within each of those power conferences have national title implications in a way that would increase the competitive and media value of the regular season and all of the money that comes with that.*

(* Yes, I know that the Big 12 can’t take advantage of (b) and (c) as of now. We’ll see how long that lasts, as noted in my last post.)

Going one step further, there’s also an easy and logical framework to get that in place by using the bowls and their traditional bowl tie-ins:

Rose Bowl: Big Ten champ vs. Pac-12 champ
Sugar Bowl: SEC champ vs. at-large
Orange/Peach Bowl: ACC champ vs. at-large
Fiesta/Cotton Bowl: Big 12 champ vs. at-large

If that looks familiar, it’s because I proposed that system in one of the earliest posts on this blog over 7 years ago. The irony is that this playoff system could expand the number of participants to 8 yet the bowls would actually revert back to their traditional roots more compared to the current 4-team system (i.e. there is truly a traditional Rose Bowl every year no matter what). In essence, it’s both progressive and traditionalist. Just imagine what a TV network would pay for those 4 games split up on New Years Eve and New Years Day, 2 semifinal games a week or two later, and then the national championship game on the open Sunday between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl.* The Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and Big 12 are all already receiving $40 million per year for their top non-playoff bowl contracts above and beyond what they’re receiving for the 4-team playoff, so there really isn’t any cap for how high those rights fees can go if those games are converted to single elimination playoff games. That’s going to be really difficult to resist.

(* Yes, these games are getting played in January as opposed to the common fan request of playoff games during December. Note that December TV ratings are materially lower than January TV ratings, the bowls are a contractual mechanism that allow the power conferences to maintain control over the postseason, and the platitudes that university presidents, conference commissioners and athletic directors have given about the length of the football season are mind-bogglingly disingenuous considering how much they have all whored themselves for the almighty dollar in almost every other conceivable way. Drawing a line in the sand about 2 or 4 teams at the most playing beyond New Years Day is completely arbitrary, especially considering that the other revenue sport of men’s basketball has a season that runs from Midnight Madness in October to the national championship game in April.)

Access for the non-power conferences would likely be a hot topic, although I’d have a hard time seeing the power conferences automatically giving them a national championship playoff slot every year.* There might be some type of provision similar what is with the current BCS system, where a top 12 non-AQ champ or top 16 non-AQ champ that ranks higher than an AQ champ would get a bid.

(* Yes, I know that’s not necessarily fair when the power conferences automatically get their own slots while the non-power conferences don’t receive automatic access. Like I’ve said, what matters in reality is what the Big Ten and SEC would agree to.)

I also have a difficult time seeing a playoff ever going beyond 8 teams (and an NCAA Tournament-style system that provides an auto-bid for every conference would be a non-starter for the powers that be), so any traditionalist arguments about further “bracket creep” are tougher to take seriously at that level. The power conferences can get favored access status for their conference champs and preserve or even enhance the financial values of their respective regular seasons, conference championship games and bowl tie-ins under an 8-team system that wouldn’t be possible in a 16-team scenario. The facts that (a) the 8-team playoff that I described above is such low hanging fruit financially with relatively little disruption to the current setup and (b) there will inevitably be controversies arising from who gets in and who gets shut out of the 4-team playoff are going to be driving forces behind an eventual expansion of the playoff system. The powers that be can state all that they want that the current CFP deal will go the full 12 years, but there will surely be an assessment in a few years about what an 8-team playoff would be worth in the marketplace that will open their eyes to change once again.

We’ll get to some other mailbag questions about the state of college sports and conference realignment soon. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

(Image from Wikipedia)

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The sports world has been throwing me some curve balls over the past week, with my Bears and Illini combining for only 3 fields goals worth of offense, the Lakers trying to tell the public with a straight face that Mike D’Antoni is a “better fit” as a coach for their team than Phil Jackson, and the Marlins just handing over half of their team to the Blue Jays after fleecing Florida’s citizens out of public funds to build a brand new ballpark.  Let’s try to digest what has actually occurred with the new college football playoff system by answering some frequently asked questions:

(1) What exactly is the new playoff and top tier bowl format? – For someone like me that constantly dives into the minutiae of these details, this seems like a basic question, but it’s apparent to me after reading a lot of questions from people out there that the powers that be haven’t really done a good job of explaining how the new postseason format is going to work very clearly to the public.

What we know is that there will be 6 top tier bowls, with 3 of them being “contract bowls” with contractual tie-ins (Rose Bowl with the Big Ten and Pac-12, Sugar Bowl with the SEC and Big 12, and Orange Bowl with the ACC and SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame) and the other 3 being “host bowls” (likely the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Chick-Fil-A Bowl) that provide “access” slots (the equivalent of at-large bids in today’s BCS system).  The major new news is that the FBS conferences just announced that one of those access slots will be allocated to the highest ranked champion of the conferences that do not have a tie-in with a contract bowl (the Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC, who are generally referred to in the media as the “Gang of Five” and I call the “G5″ here).  Over the past month, the powers that be had considered adding a 7th bowl that would match up the top G5 champ against a team from the Big 12 or Pac-12, but the feedback from the marketplace was that such game would not be worth very much.  Thus, the compromise was to incorporate that G5 access into the 6-bowl rotation.

A 4-team playoff will be played within the confines of those 6 bowls, meaning that 2 bowls will be designated as semifinal sites each year and the other 4 bowls are “normal” bowl games.  In a year when a contract bowl is designated as a semifinal, the champions from each conference that it has tie-ins with are guaranteed a spot in one of the host bowls if such conference champ is not a semifinalist.  For example, if the playoff were in effect last year and the Rose Bowl was a semifinal site, Wisconsin, as the Big Ten champion that did not make it to the semifinal, would have an automatic slot in one of the host bowls.  On the flip side, when a contract bowl is not a semifinal, it is guaranteed to have teams from its tie-in conferences no matter where they are ranked.  So, in another example, if the playoff were in effect this year where the Rose Bowl is not a semifinal site and Oregon is the Pac-12 champion and finishes in the top 4, the Rose Bowl would take another Pac-12 team to replace Oregon whether such team is ranked #5 or #50.

The 4-team playoff field will be determined by a selection committee, presumably with at least one representative from each FBS conference.  That selection committee will also determine who receives the at-large host bowl slots and which G5 conference champ is the highest ranked.

(2) How will the revenue be split? – Some of it is very clear while other parts of it is up in the air.  While every conference expects an increase in revenue on an absolute basis, a chosen few are going to receive the lion’s share of the gains.  The contract conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC) will retain the media revenue from their respective contract bowls in the years that such bowls are not hosting semifinals.  The Rose Bowl signed a TV contract with ESPN worth $80 million per year.  The Sugar Bowl is believed to be making the same $80 million figure under an ESPN deal finalized today while the Orange Bowl is estimated to be worth $60 million per year.  This means that all of the contract conferences are expected to make $40 million each in the years that their respective contract bowls are “normal” non-semifinal bowl games.  The G5 doesn’t touch this money.

A separate pot that includes the national championship game, semifinals and host bowls has a tentative deal on the table from ESPN worth approximately $475 million to $500 million per year.  This is where the revenue distribution issue gets a bit murkier.  The FBS commissioners have said that a portion of that pot will distributed in the form of fixed annual payments to the various FBS conferences and independents, while another portion will be allocated based upon who actually attains bids to the semifinals and host bowls.  It is unclear how those portions will be split up.  The current understanding regarding the fixed annual payments is that the contract conferences will take the bulk of that money on top of their contract bowl revenue in equal shares among those 5 leagues, with a CBSSports.com report that it would be an overall 80%/20% split with G5 conferences compared to the current 85%/15% split in the current BCS system (although that “give” by the contract conferences is a quite misleading since that doesn’t include contract bowl revenue that the power leagues keep 100% of in the new system yet was shared in the current BCS system, so the net effect is essentially nothing in terms of overall percentage splits).

(3) Is the Big East a winner or loser in all of this? – I’ll give the lawyerly answer here: it depends.  The new G5 access slot to a host bowl has been positioned by a lot of people in the media as a “win” for the Big East*, but whether it’s truly a win is different for each of the members of that conference.

(* Regardless of what anyone thinks about how much the Big East will be worth in the TV and bowl marketplaces going forward, a massive amount of credit has to be given to the league’s new commissioner Mike Aresco for completely managing the media in all aspects on this playoff issue along with the recent Notre Dame defection.  If this announcement were made during John Marinatto’s tenure as Big East commissioner, the news stories would be talking about how the Big East is dead with the loss of an auto-bid as opposed to being anything close to a winner.)

The Big East is really the entity that is most affected by the changes in the postseason system since it went from being an AQ league where its champion was guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl (the equivalent of a contract conference in the new format) to one where its champ is pooled in with the champs from the other G5 leagues to fight for one spot (the equivalent of a non-AQ conference in the current format).  From that vantage point, it’s very difficult to call the old members of the Big East (Louisville, UConn, Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida) as “winners” since this is a clear downgrade.  Even if they make more money in absolute dollars in the new system, they will be behind the power conference teams that they were once grouped with on a relative basis in terms of revenue and access.  The old members of the Big East in the negotiations with the powers that be in the playoff negotiations were basically in the position of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader told him, “I am altering the deal.  Pray that I don’t alter it any further.”  As a result, the best that you could say for the old members of the Big East was that it could have been worse, where the power conferences might not have provided any dedicated bowl slot to the G5 at all.

On the other hand, the new Big East members (Temple, Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Memphis, San Diego State and Navy) are definitely winners.  They have received an upgrade in top bowl access (albeit not a great of an upgrade as they might have originally anticipated) and will take home multitudes more revenue compared to the current BCS system.  There’s really very little downside for any of them, if only because they could only go up from where they are in the BCS landscape.

In theory, the Big East is in the best position to win this G5 bowl access slot year-to-year since it is the strongest conference of that group from top to bottom.  That being said, I believe that theory only holds true where the Big East champ has the same record as any of the other G5 champs.  The danger for the Big East is not necessarily other conferences passing them by, but simply when another team from one of those conferences has a hot year.  For example, a 1-loss Louisiana Tech team is 1 spot ahead of 1-losss Rutgers and only 1 spot behind 1-loss Louisville in this week’s BCS rankings… and that’s while playing in a WAC league that will no longer be in existence when the new playoff starts in 2014.  That seems to indicate that a 1-loss Louisiana Tech team would definitely jump 2-loss Louisville and Rutgers teams if the new system were in place today (and it’s already virtually dead even with all of them having the same records).  At the same time, even though the Big East conference games will provide its league members with stronger strength of schedule rankings compared to the conferences games in the other G5 leagues, that can be mitigated by the fact that other G5 teams are more willing to take one-and-done guarantee games on the road with power conference teams.  Using Louisiana Tech as an example again, they have stronger BCS computer numbers than both Louisville and Rutgers this year based on playing one excellent SEC team (Texas A&M) and two craptacular Big Ten (Illinois – ugh) and ACC (Virginia) teams in road one-and-done games.  As a result, Big East teams can’t get very comfortable at all about thinking that this G5 slot is always going to go to their league.  That might be true when all records are equal, but if the Big East champ has a worse record than one of the other G5 champs, then it’s a major risk.

(4) What other winners and losers are there? – The other G5 conferences are overall winners since they have managed to obtain better access and revenue compared to the current system despite generally having weaker leagues on the field due to defections with conference realignment.  Of course, lest that you believe that the power conferences have been charitable, the Big Ten and SEC are definitely large winners, as well.  In part of the announcements this week, the champions from the SEC and Big Ten will always play in one of the host bowls if they are not semifinalists instead of the Orange Bowl (which those leagues have a secondary tie-in with shared with Notre Dame).  So, instead of, say, a #5-ranked SEC champ heading to the Orange Bowl when the Sugar Bowl is hosting a semifinal (thereby freeing up a host bowl slot for someone else), that SEC champ will go to one of the host bowls and the Orange Bowl can take another SEC team on top of that.  Jim Delany and Mike Slive definitely pulled a fast one there, particularly when the media seems to intimate that this was some type of concession.

(5) What happens to independents, particularly Notre Dame and BYU? – Independents (excluding Navy who will be joining the Big East in 2015, these currently consist of Notre Dame, BYU and Army and will include conference-less Idaho and New Mexico State next year) do not have any prescribed access to the semifinals and host bowls outside of ranking high enough for the selection committee to choose them for those slots.  However, Notre Dame has a contractual tie-in with the Orange Bowl, so host bowl access would have been gravy to them, anyway.

Most speculation about the impact on independents has centered around whether the new G5 bowl slot will spur BYU to join the Big East.  As I’ve stated in other blog posts, I don’t believe that BYU will end up in the Big East because its interests are much more about providing maximum TV exposure for the football program and the LDS church as a whole, which is exactly what they get now as an independent with an ESPN contract, as opposed to making the most TV money possible.  Now, I do believe that the bowl access situation will give BYU and LDS leaders (never forget that they are intertwined here) something else to chew on, but if you take a step back, you’ll realize that nothing has actually changed for the school in terms of top tier bowl access.  As of today, the only way that BYU can get automatic access to any BCS bowl is to qualify for the national championship game itself, which is practically no different than BYU only gaining automatic access if it qualifies for a semifinal in the new system.  Since BYU chose independence under the current BCS circumstances with virtually no prescribed access at all, no one should assume that the new G5 bowl spot will seriously alter their thinking.  At the end of the day, I continue to believe that Air Force will end up as football school #14 in the Big East while BYU will maintain its independence.

(6)  Any other unusual details? – Well, Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan has some loose lips, where he provided some quirky information from the BCS meetings to the Baton Rouge Advocate (h/t to Alan from Baton Rouge):

While the nonplayoff Sugar Bowls will be exclusively between SEC and Big 12 teams, much as the Rose Bowl is exclusively between Big Ten and Pac-12 teams, the semifinals can feature teams from any conference, although if an SEC or Big 12 team is seeded first or second, its game will be in the Sugar Bowl.

********

The rotation for the semifinals is yet to be set. Hoolahan said he did not know which year would be the first for New Orleans to host a playoff game but understood the Sugar Bowl would be paired with the Rose Bowl.

“That way, we’ll have an uninterrupted afternoon and evening of playoff games,” he said. “That’s going to be exciting.”

The first portion of Hoolahan’s info doesn’t surprise me, where the contract bowls would get preferences to host their respective conference partners when they are semifinal games.  It makes complete sense that a #1 or #2-ranked Big Ten or Pac-12 team ought to go to the Rose Bowl if that game happens to be a semifinal site for that particular season.  However, the second portion about how the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl would always be semifinal games in the same year is completely perplexing to me.  I understand Hoolahan’s point that the years when both of them are hosting semifinals would make for an exciting New Year’s Day, but the flip side is that there would now be no New Year’s Day semifinals at all in 1 out of every 3 years.  A clear and logical annual setup of 1 host bowl being a semifinal on New Year’s Eve and 1 contract bowl being a semifinal on New Year’s Day seems to be thrown up in the air with this information.  Usually, I’m able to understand the intent and reasoning behind various actions by the powers that be (even if I don’t personally agree with them), but I’m at a loss as to why the commissioners believe that this is a good idea.

All-in-all, there has been a flurry of progress over the past couple of weeks on the playoff front after a long pause in deliberations.  Hopefully, we’ll get some final information about how the semifinal rotation will be set up, confirmation that ESPN will be the television partner, and where the national championship game itself will be played sooner rather than later.

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

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

It’s the home stretch for the college football regular season.  Let’s get to it.

(1) College Football Playoff News Leads to More College Football Playoff Questions – Every few weeks, a flurry of news about the college football playoff comes out and it ends up being more head-spinning than clarifying.  Last month, it appeared that a 7th BCS bowl (or whatever we will call the system going forward) would be a lock in order to provide more top tier bowl access to the new class of “non-contract” conferences (Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC) known as the “Gang of Five” (hereinafter referred to by me as the “G5″*) along with an additional contract spot for the Pac-12 and Big 12 (to match the Orange Bowl contract spot that the Big Ten, SEC and Notre Dame are occupying opposite of the ACC).   It now looks like that idea lasted about as long as Mike Brown’s coaching tenure with the Lakers, complete with the BFFs of the Big Ten and Pac-12 getting into a tiff over the bowl’s viability.

(* Whenever I hear a reference to a G5, I always think of this moment.)

As a result, the FBS commissioners are going to recommend the original plan of a 4-team playoff incorporated into 6 bowls, with the Rose, Sugar (which has finally been named as the home of the SEC-Big 12 matchup and allows all of us to stop calling it the pompous Champions Bowl) and Orange Bowls as “Contract Bowls” and 3 other “Access Bowls” that will likely consist of the Cotton, Fiesta and the I Really Love Chick Fil-A Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches So Please Have Your CFO Not Talk About Politics So I Can Eat Them Without Guilt Bowls*.

(* In full disclosure for those that don’t already know from some of my past blog posts, I have long considered myself to be a libertarian Republican, so I have a constant tension in my head between my belief that there needs to be significantly lower government spending with fewer regulatory restraints on the free market and social viewpoints that I completely disagree with.  This election year certainly didn’t ease that tension at all.  At least we can all depend upon Nate Silver.)

That leaves a multitude of questions that need to be answered ASAP:

  • How often will the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl host semifinals compared to the other top bowls?
  • How will the conferences split the playoff money?
  • Will the G5 conferences receive a dedicated bid to the access bowls, a provisional bid based on a top 15/20 ranking threshold similar to the current BCS system, or no guaranteed access at all?
  • Will ESPN win the TV rights or do the conference commissioners want to take the playoff package to the open market?  (Currently, it looks like Disney is going to buy up everything once again just as it swallowed up Star Wars.)
  • Who will be on the playoff selection committee?
  • Are playoff games really going to be played on New Year’s Eve or will TV interests nix that prospect?
  • What happens when the first Monday after the NFL Wild Card weekend, which TV partners have said is the optimal date for the national championship game, comes on a date that is less than a week after New Year’s Day?
  • Where is the first national championship game going to be played?
  • Since ESPN is ready to pay over $600 million per year for the college football postseason, when will a further expansion of the playoff become too irresistible for the powers that be?*

(* Unlike a lot of people, I personally don’t believe that an 8-team playoff is going to be inevitable by any means.  If there’s an expansion of the postseason, I think a “plus three” system of a 4-team playoff with the participants chosen after the bowls are played would be more likely, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

With the new playoff starting for the 2014 season, there honestly isn’t that much time to hammer all of these details out.  We’ll see what comes out on Monday after the Presidential Oversight Committee hears from the FBS commissioners.

(2) BlogPoll Ballot

I had been holding out on elevating Oregon to #2 since I believed that Notre Dame had a much better resume, but the Ducks continuing its thrashings against USC combined with a game that the Irish should have completely lost versus Pitt has finally gotten me to go with the conventional wisdom among the human pollsters (if not the computers that still like Kansas State much better).

(3) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

Minnesota (-3) over ILLINOIS

SYRACUSE (+2) over Louisville

Northwestern (+9.5) over MICHIGAN

(4) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

BEARS (PK) over Texans

EAGLES (+1) over Cowboys

Lions (-1) over VIKINGS

(5) Classic Music Video of the Week – “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube

While it is now impossible for the Lakers to beat the Supersonics (particularly for Mike Brown), any list of the top Internet achievements of 2012 needs to include the pinpointing of November 30, 1988 as Ice Cube’s “good day” (after an original argument that it was January 20, 1992).

Enjoy another great weekend of football!

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

To take our minds off of NFL replacement refs (and even as a Bears fan that loathes the Packers with every fiber of my being, I can’t take joy in such an abominable outcome from Monday night’s game), let’s move onto some other news:

(1) Seventh BCS Bowl: Progress for the Little Guys or More Consolidation of Power for the Big Guys? – The powers that be of college football are reportedly going to add a seventh bowl to the top tier of games (widely presumed to consist of the Rose, Cotton, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Chick-Fil-A Bowls) that will be a part of the new playoff rotation and host the highest ranked champion of the “non-contract” conferences (the Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt and MAC). Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com is reporting that industry sources believe that this new seventh bowl will make approximately $20 million per year in TV money. For the sake of comparison, the Rose Bowl will be receiving $80 million per year and the Please Choose a Freaking Site Already So I Can Stop Calling This the Champions Bowl will likely receive the same.

Whether this new seventh bowl is a good deal for what Dodd calls the “Gang of Five” depends upon what starting point you’re comparing it to. This sounds like progress compared to the prospect of simply a merit-based selection process to the “Access Bowls” that will have at-large slots in the new college football postseason (where the Gang of Five could have been frequently completely shut out of any top tier bowl games). However, it’s worse than the current BCS system for that same group since this is effectively consolidating what has been two separate bowl bids (the Big East champ AQ bid and the top 12 non-AQ conference champ auto bid) into one bowl bid. Dodd’s report also suggests that the Gang of Five champ will be locked into this seventh bowl game (hereinafter referred to as the “Gang of Five Bowl”) as opposed to being rotated around among the other Access Bowls, which means that that power conferences can still take up most (if not all) of the slots in those other games. Essentially, the Gang of Five Bowl looks like a mini-Contract Bowl that will need to find another tie-in instead of selecting from the Access Bowl pool, only that it still will be part of the semifinal rotation. (Dodd suggests that a third or fourth place team from a power conference could be interested in that tie-in, while an AP report says that either the Big 12 or Pac-12 could end up sending a team to this game.)

On paper, the Big East ought to be winning this Gang of Five bowl slot in most seasons, but it’s still quite a fall from a money perspective if Dodd’s financial figures are correct. Currently, the Big East is receiving at least $17 million per year for having an AQ bid in today’s BCS system, which is a figure that will almost certainly go down for the conference if the new Gang of Five Bowl is worth $20 million (as that revenue will need to be split up between the Gang of Five conferences and whichever other conference signs a tie-in). However unlikely it might be that Gang of Five school ends up finishing ranked higher than the Big East champ in the future, it’s still not an iron-clad that the Big East has now (or what the other power conferences continue to have). Once again, this scenario is better than the Armageddon situations facing the Big East a week or two ago, but still a downgrade from the current BCS system for them. We could arguably say the same thing about all of the other Gang of Five conferences. Nearly a year ago, when the playoff was still a dream and the talk was merely about “removing AQ status”, I wrote that it was a matter of semantics and the practical effect would be that the Big East and non-AQ conferences were actually going to be the ones being screwed. For the leagues outside of the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC, the destruction of the BCS system was a “be careful for what you wish for” event and now everyone sees why.

(2) BlogPoll Ballot

It continues to be ugly for the Big Ten in terms of elite teams. This might be Northwestern’s time to shine with a 1995-esque run to the Rose Bowl.

(3) College Football Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

WASHINGTON (+6.5) over Stanford – There’s some weird juju going on in Seattle this week. I’ll take the points for the home team in the land of rain and caffeine.

Penn State (PK) over ILLINOIS – I’ve seen many debilitating Illini losses like the one that occurred this past Saturday night against Louisiana Tech over the past 15 years. The most frequent response from the team in that type of situation is to head into a complete tailspin for the rest of the season. Both Ron Turner and Ron Zook could never, ever, ever limit the collateral damage of a bad loss to just a single game, so the deck is stacked against Tim Beckman here. Of course, the postseason ineligibility of Penn State and Ohio State is setting up the Big Ten Leaders Division to have Illinois-Indiana on October 27th become a critical matchup for the conference championship. My apologies in advance to the rest of the college football world.

Ohio State (+3) over MICHIGAN STATE – The Buckeyes are really the only team that could possibly be a factor nationally for the Big Ten at this point… except that they aren’t allowed to win anything. It’s unfortunate for the conference since I believe that Urban Meyer is everything as advertised as a coach.

(4) NFL Parlay Picks (odds from Yahoo! and home teams in CAPS)

Browns (+12.5) over RAVENS – Maybe it’s just me, but this feels like a patented Admiral Ackbar “It’s a trap!!!” game for Baltimore.

RAMS (+3) over Seahawks – Rams are much better competitively than their scores would indicate and, if there’s any justice in the world, there are going to be some karmic repercussions to Seattle here.

Bears (+3) over COWBOYS – I’d feel much better about this game if it was being played at Soldier Field, but it still comes down to a tale of two bad offensive lines and which defense can take the most advantage (and I sincerely believe that the Bears have the edge there).

(5) Classic Music Video of the Week: Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Mase and Puff Daddy

This is one of my favorite songs of any genre of all-time with a video that’s a fantastic time capsule of the late-1990s with its Tiger Woods-Fuzzy Zoeller reference in the intro, shiny jumpsuits and a posthumous appearance by the late Biggie Smalls. Speaking of which, if you ever have a couple of hours to kill on Netflix, you could do worse than checking out Nick Broomfield’s 2002 documentary Biggie and Tupac that sets forth the evidence that former Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight was responsible for the deaths of both Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. Broomfield essentially looks and sounds like someone that you would expect to see on BBC World News, so it was quite a scene when he challenges Suge face-to-face in a prison courtyard (which was a sequence that the cameraman was apparently too scared to film, so he kept shooting the sky). Hopefully, the Illini won’t play the same type game that they did last week or else I might be flipping this documentary on pretty quickly.

Enjoy all of the games (and may the White Sox hang on for dear life)!

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Christian Science Monitor)

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

A few thoughts on this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Yahoo!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Image from Freshness)

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)

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

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

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

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

For me, it's The Wolf all the way.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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