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:
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”.