Defying the skeptics, college football’s twelve wise men have brought in a new postseason format ahead of time (we’ll have to wait and see if it’s ahead of budget). There may be a consensus on the overall structure, but there are a lot of matters left to hash out.
… While the B.C.S. commissioners did not announce the details of how they would pick the teams for the four-team playoff, a source with direct knowledge of the decision said the plan is for a selection committee to “more than likely” pick the four best teams.
There will be a preference given to conference champions in the selection, but how much is yet to be determined. Strength of schedule will also be strongly considered. There have yet to be any discussions about how the finances will be split among the teams.
The selection committee will subject a sport steeped in regional biases to a different type of controversy, although one that will likely die down a bit now that there will be semifinal and final games. The two semifinal games are expected to be played within the bowl system and the national championship will be bid on like the Super Bowl.
Judging from the initial reactions I’ve seen – “We’re going to have a college football playoff. The rest is gravy.” – the commissioners and presidents can expect a honeymoon with the fans that only a shiny new toy like this can bring, at least until the first controversy hits, but if I can play The Wolf for a minute, I’d like to unpack the decision a bit.
- Easily the best thing about the decision is that they managed to dodge the plus-one bullet. Yes, I know the presidents could override that call, but it’s hard to see where the votes are for that. Harvey Perlman gets attention for his stance, but outside of his conference there doesn’t seem to be that much hardcore support for it, unless you think there was something more to the Pac-12’s posturing on the plus-one. Anyway, the plus-one would have been a cynical dodge that likely would have turned into a disaster down the road.
- The second best thing, although it remains to be seen if it becomes a reality, appears to be that college football is prepared to ditch the biased farce that is the Coaches Poll. If that really happens, cheer. It’ll be a real improvement over the old system.
- I think Ivan Maisel absolutely nails this: “Now that the FBS commissioners have agreed to recommend a four-team, seeded playoff to the committee of university presidents who will meet next week, the vigil must begin. For years, the presidents and BCS proponents have told us that it is a law of nature that playoffs expand, that four teams will become eight; eight will become 16. If you think this is a good idea, you haven’t paid attention to the state of the college basketball postseason, which is, of course, the very problem with the health of the college basketball regular season.” There are going to be many temptations to expand over the next few years – money; the last team in, first team out controversies; coaches lobbying for increased access to the playoffs as career validation; etc. – and the question will be whether the commissioners are sincere about protecting college football’s uniqueness. I have my doubts, but we’ll see.
- The big winner appears to be Mike Slive. He may not have handled SEC expansion smoothly, but it looks like he’s more than made up for it with the postseason. He’s managed to preserve the SEC’s ability to place more than one member school in the playoff field, at what appears to be a minor cost, if that, of the participants being chosen by a selection committee. The forging of an alliance with the Big 12 with the Champions Bowl turns out to have been a masterstroke as it leveled the field between him and Jim Delany. If I’m hedging here, it’s because we don’t yet know how the new money will be distributed and we know little about how the selection committee will function (more on that below). But all in all, Slive did quite well for the SEC.
- I don’t think Delany is the big loser, believe it or not. He fought hard for what he could get and it’s not as if his constituents aren’t going to be well rewarded under the new regime. No, the honors for that go to the bowls. For all the talk of preserving the special role of the Rose Bowl and electing to run the semis through the bowls and not on campuses, the reality is that for the first time ever, a college football champion will not directly emerge from a bowl game. That’s huge. So is the reality that the schools are going to dictate the composition of the matchups in the semis, overriding the bowls’ traditional preferences. Add to that the out-of-the-blue creation of the Champions Bowl and it’s hard to avoid concluding that the bowls’ postseason influence has been severely diminished. (And I doubt the schools are finished. Let’s see what happens with those mandatory ticket purchases, for example.)
- There’s still a huge, gaping hole at the center of this, and it’s a crucial one: the selection committee. It may be hard to take the commissioners’ blather about transparency with a straight face, but it is important for there to be a structured set of criteria that the fans can accept. The more kept hidden, the more likely it is that the ultimate call deciding the makeup of the field will be challenged for its subjectivity. They’ll have enough problems with the inevitable 4 vs. 5 debate not to make things even tougher. Which is not to say that logic dictates they’ll do the right thing. I suspect that most of the attention going forward will be on the money fight, but to me, this is the most important issue they’ll have to resolve.
So there you have it. I’ve followed this issue almost from the inception of this blog and I have to admit there’s a part of me that’s surprised they’ve gotten this far. I just hope like hell they don’t manage to screw up a great thing. It’s the least they can do for us.