With Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany effectively stating that BCS automatic qualifying status is going to disappear in 2014, there’s some even more important related news. A couple of weeks ago, one of my contacts told me that the FBS conference commissioners were evaluating a plan for the BCS to only run the national title game and then revert back to the old system for all other bowl games. That proposal has since been reported by CBS Sports to have originated from Delany. This same contact is now telling me that the implementation of a plus-one system to determine college football’s national champion is gaining traction in principle. The issue is that there are differing opinions as to what that plus-one system will look like. Here are four main options under consideration by the conference commissioners (with my own advantage/disadvantage observations):
Option #1 – The Slive/Swofford Plan: Seeded Plus-One* – A seeded playoff between the top 4 teams using the BCS bowls and what most people think of when referring to a plus-one system.
- Advantages: Taking the top 4 teams is the cleanest way to have a plus-one on paper. It’s simple for any sports fan to understand. From a conference perspective, the SEC, ACC and now Big 12 support this. ESPN also wants a seeded format.
- Disadvantages: Jim Delany and the Big Ten are explicitly against this, with presumably the Rose Bowl and Pac-12 in the same boat. Those entities carry a disproportionate amount of power within college sports, so any proposal without their approval will be almost impossible to pass. The bowls that aren’t semifinal games (particularly the Rose Bowl) would be diluted and drop significantly in value.
(* As a reminder, Mike Slive is the SEC commissioner and John Swofford is the ACC commissioner. They jointly presented this proposal in 2008 to the rest of the conference commissioners and were promptly shot down.)
Option #2 – The Delany Plan: Old School Unseeded Plus-One – All bowls (including the current BCS bowls) revert to the pre-BCS system of choosing teams and tie-ins. The national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played. The BCS itself would only exist to run the national championship game.
- Advantages: Keeps and even enhances traditional tie-ins such as the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup in the Rose Bowl (as their respective champions, even if they are ranked in the top 2 or 4, would always go to Pasadena again). Despite public proclamations that he is against a plus-one system, Jim Delany and the Big Ten would likely agree to this plan (if only because they may see the writing on the wall that some type of plus-one is going to be passed).
- Disadvantages: Not as clean as a seeded plus-one. Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls still want a BCS designation (or something concrete to distinguish them from other bowls) in exchange for the payouts that they’re pumping into the system.
Option #3 – Four BCS Bowls Semi-seeded Plus-One Compromise – Each of the 4 BCS bowls would retain the conference champs from their traditional tie-ins (Rose has Big Ten and Pac-12, Sugar has SEC, Fiesta has Big 12 and Orange has ACC). The Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls would then select at-larges in the order of the BCS ranking of their respective tie-in. (For example, since the Sugar Bowl has #1 LSU as its tie-in, it would get the first at-large selection.) As with Option #2, the national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.
- Advantages: Possible compromise solution as it meets the Slive/Swofford and Delany Plans in the middle. The tradition of the Rose Bowl is maintained, while the other BCS bowls are able to simultaneously retain their tie-ins and get rewarded if they have high-ranking teams in any given year.
- Disadvantages: As with Option #2, not as clean as a seeded plus-one. This would also move the BCS system back down to 8 bowl slots from the current 10. None of the power conferences really want that, particularly the SEC and Big Ten (who have benefited the most from the 2 additional BCS bowl bids). When Mike Slive and Jim Delany agree on something, what they say usually goes.
Option #4 – Five BCS Bowls Semi-seeded Plus-One Compromise – Same starting principle as Option #3 with the 4 current BCS bowls would retain the conference champs from their traditional tie-ins. The Cotton Bowl or a newly created bowl (which I’ll explain later, but the Cotton will be referenced as a placeholder under this Option #4) would be added as a fifth BCS bowl. Note that the Cotton (if it becomes the 5th BCS bowl) would NOT take the Big 12 tie-in from the Fiesta, as many people speculated would be possible.
If a top 4 team is not a member of league that has a tie-in with a BCS bowl (in the current world, the Big East and the 5 non-AQ conferences), such team would go to the Cotton Bowl. In the event that there are multiple top 4 teams that are outside of the “Big 5” conferences, such as 2009 with #3 Cincinnati and #4 TCU, the higher ranked team would be placed in the Cotton. The bowls would then select at-large teams in the order of the ranking of the respective “base” team that is either tied-in or allocated to them.
If there are no top 4 teams meeting that designation, then the highest ranked conference champion would get a Cotton bid provided that it is ranked in the top 12 and one of the other 4 legacy BCS bowls does not want to select that team. In that situation, the Cotton would pick last after the other 4 BCS bowls for its at-large team.
Finally, if one of the 4 legacy BCS bowls chooses the non-Big 5 team or no non-Big 5 champion is ranked in the top 12, then the Cotton can select any two teams ranked in the top 14 after the other BCS bowls make their selections.
As the with Options #2 and #3, the national title matchup would then be determined using the BCS rankings after the bowl games are played.
- Advantages: Like Option #3, it’s a compromise plan that meets the Slive/Swofford and Delany Plans in the middle while maintaining the traditional tie-ins. It also keeps the current number of 10 BCS bowl bids. The conferences outside of the Big 5 will still get access to top bowls if their champs are ranked highly enough. Least amount of change to the current BCS system in terms of the teams that would actually be selected for bids compared to the other options, which is a plus in a college football world that has always engaged in incremental change.
- Disadvantages: Like Options #2 and #3, this is not as clean as the seeded plus-one.
Some other overarching points that would apply regardless of which option is chosen:
(1) AQ status will likely “go away” but traditional tie-ins are preserved – There is a strong desire among the conference commissioners to eliminate the concept at AQ status, but there’s also a concurrent interest to preserve the traditional bowl tie-ins. As I’ve stated in other posts, this seems like a matter of semantics where what used to be “AQ status” is now converted to being called “traditional tie-ins”, except that there’s no longer an automatic bid for the Big East or a mechanism for other conferences to achieve AQ status. The non-AQ conferences apparently have more of an issue with the class distinction between AQ and non-AQ more than being provided with a chance to move up to AQ status. This is somewhat understandable since if the Mountain West couldn’t move up after the successes that now former members TCU and Utah have had in the BCS system, there’s likely little hope for any of the non-AQ conferences to move up after the further raids by the Big East. Speaking of which, preventing further raids by the Big East is likely another motivating factor for the MWC and Conference USA since the people in Providence would’t make moves simply for AQ numbers anymore (although I still believe that any Mount USA Alliance member would still jump to the Big East even without AQ status).
(2) Two team per conference limit to BCS likely eliminated – The Big Ten and SEC are likely getting their way on this issue with the BCS bowls being allowed to take 3 or more teams from a conference in a given year. Why would any of the other conferences agree to this? Let’s get to the next point…
(3) Somewhat more equitable revenue distribution– The current non-AQ conferences seem to be willing to possibly give up some access to the BCS bowls in exchange for (a) a better shot at the national title game via a plus-one system and (b) mo money mo money mo money. Now, to be sure, the current AQ conferences would retain the lion’s share of BCS bowl revenue. You might see the current 90% control of bowl revenue by the power conferences move down to 85% or 80%. However, that’s mitigated by the anticipated increase in revenue from a plus-one game. As with anything dealing with financial issues, this sounds simple in theory, yet how the revenue is distributed is probably going to be the toughest issue to agree upon out of anything in a new BCS system (much more so than whether there’s a plus-one system in the first place).As an example of what’s being floated out there, my contact presented a revenue distribution proposal that replaced the AQ/non-AQ designation with an Equity/Participating model. A set percentage of BCS revenue (approximately 70%) would be in an “Equity Pool”. Each conference with at least 3/4ths of its members that were original BCS members (all current AQ conferences except for the Big East) would be an “Equity Member” and receive one equal share of the Equity Pool. Notre Dame would also be a Equity Member and receive approximately 1/12.4ths of a share of the equity pool. (The average Equity Member has 12.4 members, so that’s how the Notre Dame share was calculated.) After that, 10% of the BCS revenue would be in a “Participating Pool”. The 6 non-Equity conferences would be “Participating Members”, where each of those leagues would receive one equal share of the Participating Pool. Independents Navy, Army and BYU would receive proportional shares similar to Notre Dame, but only out of this Participating Pool. The remaining 20% would then be in a “Selection Pool” that would be divided into 10 equal shares, with 1 share awarded for each BCS bowl bid earned by a conference.Note that this is just one revenue sharing proposal, but it seems that the current AQ conferences may be willing to bend a little on revenue sharing in exchange for a more traditional approach to BCS bowl access. Of course, even under this proposal (which is coming from a non-AQ conference contact), the Big 5 could still receive up to 90% of the BCS money if they receive all of the BCS bowl bids.
(4) New BCS bowl might be created instead of elevating the Cotton Bowl (or a different bowl like the Capital One) – The Cotton Bowl gets mentioned a lot as a fifth BCS bowl option since there’s an assumption that Jerry Jones can buy whatever he wants, but let’s remember that the bowl still only gets the third or fourth selection from the SEC and is behind the Capital One Bowl (which has a stadium that’s a complete dump despite the holiday vacation-friendly Orlando location) in the pecking order. So, Jerry Jones actually has very little power in college sports matters. (Heck, he’s only been able to buy one NFL playoff win in 15 years.) On the flip side, the Big 12 and SEC don’t necessarily want to give up the Cotton Bowl as one of the most prestigious non-BCS bowls, as they’d have to find other tie-ins that may not pay as well. As a result, one possible solution is to avoid elevating an existing bowl altogether and have the BCS create an entirely new bowl that can be auctioned off to a new corporate sponsor and venue (or even have it rotate to multiple venues). So, this new BCS bowl might still be played in Jerry World but would be entirely separate from the Cotton Bowl.
So, there’s a ton to chew on here. My personal feeling is that Option #4 is going to happen – an unseeded format is really the only way you’ll get the Big Ten on board (and they’re necessary to push this through). While a lot of people characterize me as a BCS defender, that’s definitely not the case (as evidenced by the multiple proposals that I’ve written about on how to change the system over the years). I simply recognize the financial and access parameters in place that are fairly intractable, so the best that we can realistically hope for is incremental change. (Note that even “Death to the BCS” author and 16-team playoff proponent Dan Wetzel, who I don’t always agree with, largely comes to the same conclusion in this very level-headed and practical discussion with Stewart Mandel about the BCS and plus-one options. It’s definitely worth listening to as it also features an appearance by the great @DanBeebe.) Option #4 balances such change with traditions such as the Rose Bowl, so that would be a great place to start.
(Image from Sports Illustrated)