So as college football’s postseason morphs in to something that sounds like the punchline to a bad Yakov Smirnoff joke (“in D-1, schools don’t qualify for bowl games; bowl games qualify for schools”), one question that remains to be answered is what sort of impact on access to the playoff and top-tier bowl games can schools not affiliated with conferences that have already secured (or in the case of the SEC and Big 12, created) tie-ins with those top-tier bowl games expect after the changes.
The answer for now seems to depend on whom you ask. Jerry Hinnen, for example, is fairly benign about access.
… But as this blog’s Matt Hinton illustrated, boost the playoff field from two to four, and look what happens: a Mountain West team and a Big East team playing for a national title in 2009, and that same Mountain West team earning that right in 2010. Boise never quite broke through in Hinton’s projections, but it’s not like it was any better off under the BCS, where the Broncos were probably first-runner-ups even if they survive Nevada in 2010 or TCU in 2011. If the Broncos had gone undefeated either of those seasons, though, a playoff would have rewarded them with a shot at a national title.
Isn’t this reason enough for non-AQs to celebrate the BCS’s dissolution? TCU and Utah have solved their problems by making the leap to AQ status anyway, but Boise — and Cincy, and UCF, and San Diego State, and Nevada, and Houston — has gone from starting every season knowing that the greatest prize it can reasonably win is a league or bowl championship* to knowing that with the right breaks, it could win a national championship. These teams now matter in a way they never have before.
This is a step back? This is running in place?
Andrea Adelson, however, is a good deal gloomier about their prospects under the new arrangements.
But I still think access could potentially be a big issue. The past two years, the Big East champion finished: unranked (UConn, 2010) and No. 23 (West Virginia, 2011) in the final BCS standings. Under current rules, both teams earned automatic spots into BCS games. Under the future system, neither one of those teams would have been invited to the elite bowl games. Why? Because the Big East does not have an automatic tie-in into one of those games for its champion.
Let’s face it, for all intents and purposes, the Big East is now little more than a glorified mid-major conference. For its schools, life in the postseason just got tougher. You don’t need me to tell you which schools don’t have the same problems.
I do think Jerry has it right with regard to the playoff in one aspect – doubling the number of teams that make up the field playing for a national title is a serious increase in access. But I also think his optimism about overall mid-major access may very well turn out to be misplaced for one significant reason, which is that nobody knows how the selection process is going to turn out.
That’s the big problem I have with all these “here’s how the last ten postseasons would have looked under the new deal” pieces that popped up seemingly everywhere over the last couple of weeks. It’s an apples-to-oranges exercise, because the way schools were selected then and the way they’ll be selected beginning in 2014 are different. Going forward, you’ve got conferences dictating tie-ins to lucrative bowl games and you’ve got a selection committee that will be calling the shots on which schools make it into the playoff.
Nobody knows for sure how that committee is going to operate. But I think it’s foolish to assume that it’s going to make its decisions completely outside the commercial framework that the powerhouse conferences have been busy constructing over the past few months. I’m sure they’ll be subtle about it, at least until things come to a head and a certain part of the have-nots find themselves officially lopped off from D-1′s football riches, but all the same, I expect there will be a certain amount of game-rigging going on. Jim Delany hasn’t gone to all this trouble simply to make sure that four or five mid-major schools can crack the big money games.
UPDATE: Year2 adds some thoughts on the matter of access here.