If you want to understand what’s really behind playoff angst, look no further than Brian Cook’s short and sweet explanation. Money (see what I did there?) part:
The BCS moved off broadcast to cable. But when paired with declining interest, the cavern between postseason formats screams “grit your teeth and do something literally everyone else wants.”
Gee, who would have figured that a almost total sell out to ESPN of the postseason would have advertisers spending less money? I mean, why would anybody expect that having fewer games as national broadcasts might impact viewership and advertising?
So now the same guys who drove the car into the ditch are going to be the ones to pull ‘er out and save the day. Yeah, I feel better already.
This is why I find Stewart Mandel’s wide-eyed disillusion over Larry Scott’s plus-one proposal so amusing.
… No system will be without controversy. Had a four-team playoff with no restrictions been in place last season, one could have argued for as many as eight similarly bunched one- or two-loss teams for the fourth spot. Had there been a conference-champion requirement, there would only have been eight teams eligible for that final spot — and one would have been 8-4 Louisiana Tech.
That doesn’t make sense either.
It’s unknown at this point how many other key decision-makers share Scott’s opinion. (We know at least one who doesn’t: Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, whose independent school holds a seat at the table alongside the 11 conferences.) But they’ll discuss this angle extensively, and it’s easy to see why they’d find it attractive. The commissioners represent their conferences first and foremost, and the more the bids are dispersed, the more their member schools stand to benefit.
But a conference champion restriction runs antithetical to two other key issues BCS leaders are currently addressing. For one, they’re already trying to disentangle themselves from the BCS’ longstanding AQ/non-AQ conference structure, primarily because it shoehorns undeserving teams into some of the most coveted bowl spots. This would possibly do the same thing, only with greater implications.
Meanwhile, Bill Hancock and Co. have repeatedly expressed concern about “bracket creep,” i.e., the inevitability that a four-team playoff will produce pressure to expand to eight, then 16.
Well, there’s one surefire way to make that happen: Stage a four-team playoff that includes the nation’s 10th-best team.
What Mandel fails to grasp is that any format these people pitch is going to fall apart in the same way, because they’ve adopted such an amorphous goal behind their designs. Once you get past trying to redress the truly grievous shortcomings we’ve seen now and then in the BCS, like Auburn 2004, it’s all nothing more than a bunch of tradeoffs that are bound to leave plenty of folks dissatisfied. And when you’re talking about the kind of money that’s involved here, that only means more tinkering.
Add in what appears to be another goal of Scott here – to make sure that the SEC doesn’t crowd out the other big conferences at the plus-one table – and you’ve got a recipe for bracket creep stew. It’s weird that the Rematch may turn out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to the D-1 postseason, but more and more that’s what it looks like.
Of course, the irony is that if we get something like what Scott has in mind, the possibility of excluding an Alabama from a future semi-final game to include a clearly inferior conference champ will have these same people going back to the drawing board.
Don’t forget that Scott is considered to be one of the sharpest minds in college athletics.
UPDATE: Hey! Now there’s a kindler, gentler euphemism for “bracket creep”.
There will be 124 teams in the FCS this season. The Ivy League and Southwestern Athletic Conference don’t send their champions to the playoffs, but the Pioneer League desperately wants an automatic bid for its champion, and Emmert seems to realize the league has been getting the shaft while 10 other conferences claim one. Bracket expansion would send the PFL champ to the playoffs as well as increase the number of at-large bids from 10 to 13.
Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe. It’s still going to 24 in another year.