Category Archives: BCS/Playoffs

The “settling it on the field” dilemma, in two sentences

The NFL is pondering the expansion of its playoffs by adding two more teams to the field.  Why, you may ask?

As if you didn’t know.

In any event, the league is trying to make it sound as if postseason expansion is not inevitable.

Some owners are apparently wary of the potential for de-valuing a playoff spot by allowing too many teams into the postseason. But such concerns could be offset by the potential for increased TV revenues.

Delany and Slive couldn’t have expressed that more delicately if they tried.  Which they will, in a few years.

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They set up a college football playoff and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

If you’re looking for further proof that the people running college football believe they’re way smarter than they really are, you need look no further than here.  Somebody actually thought there’s good money to be made pushing stuff like this:

Aside from the fact that it’s boring as hell to look at, who’s the audience for it?

I give it a year and Delany’s handing them out as a bonus to sign up for the Big Ten Network.

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Trust ‘em, they know what they’re doing.

We know from his hiring and management of Bobby Petrino that Jeff Long, now the man in charge of college football’s playoff selection committee, possesses excellent judgment.  So it is with relief that I note that all our worries about crowning college football’s best team as national champion are over.

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was invited to attend the 2014 BCS national title game as part of his new role as the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

When it ended, Long said it became very clear that the new era in college football — one he will play a major role in — was underway.

“I kind of did feel that pressure kind of shift and move over,” Long said last week. “But at the same time, it’s an exciting time. It’s a different time because we will be choosing four teams. Then the championship really will be decided on the field.”

I suppose when they expand the playoff field to eight, Long will say that the championship really, really will be decided on the field.

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“We have a lot of things to iron out.”

Hey, Jeff Long is fist-bumping with Bill Hancock!  I mean, how nerdy cool is that?

In the meantime, they’ve got to sharpen their pencils and figure out a game plan for selling the public on how the biases and conflicts of interest on the playoff selection committee will totally not be a problem.  There are a couple of ways to skin that cat from their perspective.  And that’s the only perspective that matters.

The selection committee is scheduled to meet again April 2-3, again in the Dallas area. Their hope, according to Hancock, is to present a recusal policy to the CFP’s management committee — the 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick — in time for consideration at that group’s meeting in late April.

So what can they do?  One, sell a procedure.

Long wouldn’t discuss specific possibilities under consideration. Although the CFP selection committee is modeled after its basketball counterpart, its decisions are expected to draw far more scrutiny. Controversy is probably unavoidable. But it’s imperative that, as far as possible, the committee’s policies and procedures anticipate and address potential issues. They can’t be making things up on the fly, or tweaking them after the fact.

Stop laughing.

Okay, if that doesn’t work, there’s another way to go.  Sell the committee members.

“There’s many places you could draw the line,” Long said. “However, I think the overriding issue for us, too, is the integrity of the people. They were selected because of their high integrity. That will factor into the ultimate decision of what the recusal policy should be.”

Go ahead, you can trust them.  Because those folks are completely different from everyone else with a hand in college athletics. Also, transparency.

Just remember, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a bigger playoff field.  Brackets heal all wounds.

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You got questions? The College Football Playoff has answers.

Well, some, anyway.  There’s now a CFP official website, and somebody decided it was a good idea to set up a FAQ page there.  What you’ll find there is about what you’d expect from the likes of Bill Hancock – a lot of high-minded stuff that really says less than what it sounds like.  In fact, as is usually the case, it raises as many questions as it attempts to discuss.

Take for example, this part:

What criteria will the selection committee use to rank the teams?

Selection committee members will have flexibility to examine whatever data they believe is relevant to inform their decisions.  They will also review a significant amount of game video.  Among the many factors the committee will consider are win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and conference championships.  Each committee member will evaluate the data at hand, and then the individuals will come together to make a group decision.

Will there be ballot votes to determine the top four teams?  What about the other New Year’s bowls?

The voting process will include a series of ballots through which the committee members first select a pool of teams to be considered, then rank those teams. Individual ballots will be compiled into a composite ranking. Each committee member independently will evaluate an immense amount of information during the process. This evaluation will bring about individual qualitative and quantitative opinions that will lead to each member’s vote.

The first thing that comes across there is how incredibly subjective the process seems.  The members can look at whatever they want and consider whatever they want.  No common standards at all.  Second, I presume all these folks have day jobs.  To do what these answers suggest – more specifically, to do them right – strikes me as requiring a significant time commitment.  Especially since the committee, for some unknown reason, is expected to rank the top twenty-five teams.  We all know what a lot of coaches did when faced with a similar issue.  The committee members don’t have SIDs to pass the ballots to for completion.  Color me skeptical.

And the reality is they already recognize that the members aren’t going to be able to devote full attention to the field, even if they won’t come right out and admit that.

Will committee members have specific assignments, i.e. specific conferences?

Yes, committee members will gather information on conferences and will provide reports on the conferences’ teams to the full committee, but all committee members will be expected to study all teams and be prepared to discern among all the information available, including video, to make evaluations.

That’s a crutch, however you want to spin it.

Then there’s the most amusing Q&A on the page.

Why are athletics directors on the committee?

The directors of athletics (ADs) have some of the best institutional knowledge of college football, and the selection committee is much stronger with their participation.  Many ADs have careers spanning more than one conference and many have worked at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level as well.  The goal was to make the selection committee the best and strongest it can be, which is why ADs are included.  Like all selection committee members, ADs will act in the best interest of the game.

CFP, please.  We know why they’re there.

But have no fear.  It’s all going to work out because transparency.  Or something.

The selection committee process will be as transparent as possible, and both the selection committee and management committee will deliberate and determine the most appropriate ways to achieve that.  We want to create an arrangement that allows for maximum disclosure, while also allowing the committee to deliberate among themselves in a thoughtful and effective manner…

“As possible” leaves a hole big enough to drive a Mack semi through.  And they will.  Look on the bright side, though.  Think about how much broadcast fodder it’ll give ESPN.

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Fandom in an era of premium pricing

Meet the cheap seats, national championship edition:

Those who want to guarantee themselves a premium ticket to the first college football title game under the new playoff system can start buying Monday.

But fans might want to check the limit on their credit cards before doing so, as the cheapest tickets will run almost $2,000.

Ticket and hospitality companies PrimeSport and Colonnade Group, two of the vendors chosen by the organizers of the College Football Playoff, posted identical prices on their websites Monday morning.

The cheapest premium seat available through either company for the 2015 title game, which will be played Jan. 12 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is $1,899.

Oh, but look at what you get for your money:  “The seat, in the corners of the top level of the stadium where the Cowboys play, comes with a three-hour pregame hospitality event, a full premium menu and top-shelf bar, and a $50 merchandise voucher.”

If you’re really serious about it, you can jack the price up over $5,000 with better seating and a fancy hotel stay.  The question is how many Joe Fans can afford to be that serious, especially if they want to spring for semi-finals tickets, too?  Answer:  not many.  But don’t worry, guys.  Bill Hancock’s bosses have a bone to throw your way.

… Last week, the organizers of the playoff announced that 1,000 tickets to the title game will be made available by a random drawing to fans who submit their names between Jan. 13 and May 1. Five hundred winners will be notified that they are entitled to purchase two tickets at face value, which has not been announced.

Aw, how nice.

As Rovell notes, “The premium ticket offerings are only the first glimpse into the business of the college football playoff system.”  College football’s bedrock, regional appeal, is going to get away from us in a hurry, I expect.  And for those of you who quaintly insist that college football will have no choice other than to move the semis to on-campus sites to help the little guy out, let me know the last time college football chose a course of action that favored the little guy over a bigger revenue stream.  Take your time.

Face values for the two semifinal games, which will take place at the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015, and are controlled by the organizers of those venues, have not been determined.

If you’re looking for a pre-game hospitality event with good food and drinks, I suggest you start checking out your favorite sports bar’s plans for the title game.  Can’t help you with the merchandise voucher, though.

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UPDATE:  And make sure you read Allen Kenney’s analysis of the cost to the consumer for the new SEC Network.  Bottom line, they’re gonna nick your wallet staying or going.

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UPDATE #2:  Following in the footsteps of the NFL?  I’m looking forward to this in a few years.

“There’s not a lot of crowd noise,” said Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst who was the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles when they reached the Super Bowl at the end of the 1980 season. “People mostly sit on their hands, outside of the fans that buy the tickets for the team. It’s kind of a corporate get-together.”

But at least you don’t have all those silly motion penalties and wasted time outs.

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The BCS is dead, and the regular season isn’t feeling so good itself.

This is pitch perfect:

… In the last few years, many fans and pundits allowed the word “playoff” to take on something of a talismanic quality. Replacing the BCS with a playoff system would surely cure the evils of the BCS, they thought, and quite possibly “save the sport” by “settling things on the field.”

Here’s the problem: A playoff does not even attempt to crown either the best or most deserving team. The very purpose of a playoff or tournament is the exact opposite: No matter a team’s talent or apparent destiny, everything can be undone on a single day by a single bounce of the ball. (Admittedly, that’s actually the allure of a playoff, hence why they call it March Madness.) Yet we’ve become so accustomed to playoffs that it’s difficult for us to think of any other way of selecting a champion.

And then Chris really nails the big problem I have with the new postseason format.

The primary advantage of a playoff is certainty, and after years of endless BCS debate — which followed decades of debate under the earlier bowl systems — certainty has real allure. But in most sports that have playoffs, like the NFL or the NBA, the criteria for getting to the playoffs is basically objective. Most playoff spots are decided based on win/loss records, with certain mechanical tiebreakers in place and known in advance. It’s not that the playoff crowns the best or most deserving team — just ask the 10-6 New York Giants that knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It’s that the loser has nothing to complain about: Everyone knows the rules.

Yet the new College Football Playoff lacks the very thing that makes playoffs in other sports so palatable, namely a semblance of objective certainty. While the defective BCS formula should have been interred long ago, it has been replaced by a Council of Platonic Guardians. The College Football Playoff selection committee will meet confidentially, then announce the identities of the playoff participants by edict. That’s not exactly what I’d call “settling it on the field.”

It’s not.  But, then again, that’s not why Delany, Slive and company have fashioned this arrangement we’re supposed to be thrilled with.  Their intent seems pretty apparent to me – maximize revenues while minimizing the threat to the power conferences’ place in the postseason.  And there lie the seeds of the instability of the new format.

I share Chris’ concerns about what playoff expansion means for the relevancy of the regular season – what he encapsulates as “F— It Saturday” – but, honestly, I think that train’s already left the station.  Delany paid lip service to that as recently as a couple of years ago, but the reality is that the only relevancy commissioners and presidents care about is the revenue stream they can capture from regular season broadcasts.  And it’s apparent that these guys believe that an expanded postseason won’t threaten that.

No, the real problem is going to be the totally subjective nature of qualifying for the playoffs.  The smartest guys in the room are inviting a level of second guessing that they’ve never dealt with before.  And there’s nothing to think based on their recent track record that there will be any sort of proactive planning when it goes south, which it inevitably will.  Why should there be?  After all, they’ve already proclaimed this is all college football needs and locked in a long-term deal for it.  But they’re just one major controversy away - “F— It Saturday” will be replaced with a ferocious argument about why a particular school was stuck with a number five ranking – from a media shitstorm, public outcry and, most importantly, a decline in viewership that will have them fleeing to the lifeboats to figure out the next quick fix.  Which will, of course, be another round of playoffs.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

The sad thing for me now isn’t that the regular season will be diminished.  It’s that we’re probably entering the last phase of college football as we know it.  And that phase is going to have a pretty short lifespan.

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Have playoff; will travel.

Imagine, if you will, being the loyal fan of a school lucky enough to qualify for the 2014 playoffs who wants to see his heroes in person.  It’ll take some planning.

Instead of one postseason bowl game to end the season in a faraway city, two teams will play in two postseason games – a semifinal and championship, both in different states.

The two semifinal games will take place in Pasadena and New Orleans on Jan. 1, 2015, with each participating team required to buy a block of 12,500 tickets to resell to their fans.

Less than two weeks later, on Jan. 12, 2015, the semifinal winners will play for the national championship in Arlington, Texas, where each participating team will be required to buy about 20,000 additional tickets, all at full price.

Is that asking too much?

Not for college football’s Baghdad Bob.

“We’re confident about the demand for the championship-game tickets,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the new playoff. “The game will be extremely popular. We expect all four schools will offer tickets to their fans before the semifinals, and we expect the demand to exceed the supply. Of course, the demand in the host city also will be tremendous.”

Oh, those tickets will sell, alright.  But it’s a lot to ask Joe Fan to lay out that kind of serious jack, especially when he won’t even know for certain when he buys the tickets that his team will be playing in the title game.

“This ticket purchasing requirement is asking schools to make a leap of faith – hoping that these tickets can be sold to those who wish to make the trip,” said Mark Conrad, director of the sports business program at Fordham University. “Although it is less than the past requirement, the number of potential games and distance of the locations do pose risks for the schools, especially with the ability of fans to watch these games in the comfort of 50 inch-television receivers.”

It probably won’t matter, though, because whatever demand lessens from a school’s fan base will be picked up by the moneyed interests.  And the TV revenue will still be there.  It’s the first step down the road to the corporatization of college football attendance.  It won’t be the last.

Again, you wonder if a sport that owes so much to the regionalized passion it generates is well served by this.  At least you do if you’re not one of the folks cashing the checks.

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Wednesday morning buffet

It’s cold.  Get fueled up at the buffet line.

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Tap dancing on the grave of the BCS

Dan Wetzel’s BCS obituary is one of the most disingenuous things I’ve ever read.  And I’m not saying that out of my longstanding fear of where we’re likely headed with college football’s postseason expansion.

I say it because it’s bullshit to insist that the BCS was created to line the pockets of John Junker, and then go on to admit that the new arrangement “… will make some bowls big money. Bigger than ever…”.

I say it because it’s bullshit to pretend that every argument raised in favor of the BCS was “ludicrous and demonstrably untrue”.

I say it because this is the biggest pile of crap of all:

No discussion of the BCS should focus on who got to play in the title game, even when the game ends up like the last one, a 34-31 classic that crowned Florida State national champions over Auburn on Monday night.

No BCS discussion should focus on who played for the title?  Sure makes it easier to win your side of the debate, Dan.

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