A four-team playoff, if you can keep it.

And so, the presidents and commissioners have replaced the BCS… with a bigger version of the BCS.  Mark Schlabach summarizes what that means.

Contrary to what many of you probably think, I’m okay with the move, provided it’s as far as they intend to go.  I will say, based on this quote from Harvey Perlman, that bracket creep is on their minds.

“I think it’s everyone’s concern,” Pearlman [sic] said. “There was a conversation about which one of these models — the plus-one or the four-team — would alleviate the pressure of broadening the playoffs as we moved forward. There are one of two things you can do — add games or take games away from the regular season, and neither one of them is good.”

Of course, keep in mind that Perlman favored a plus-one, the more unstable of the two expansion options, so perhaps his observations should be taken with a grain of salt.

The suits have made a twelve-year commitment to the new regime, trying to show they’re serious about bracket creep, but if there’s one thing we all know about college football these days it’s that if there’s enough money at stake, minds can be changed.  There’s also what we don’t know.  How do these geniuses react to the next crisis?  We know that’s going to come sooner or later.

Anyway, here are a few random questions and observations:

  • They’ve solved the Auburn 2004 debacle, but is that enough?  I think worrying about a season in which five major conference schools go undefeated is a bit of a stretch, but Jerry Palm lays out a number of situations which aren’t.  The fact is that when it comes to a freakish season like 2007, there’s no way to satisfy everyone without a much larger playoff than is needed in most other seasons.  On the other hand, I expect to hear complaining about this often and loudly:  “We go from leaving out the No. 3 team to leaving out the No. 5 team, but because of the arbitrary nature of rankings, most years, the fifth-ranked team is just as good, if not better, than the third-ranked team.”
  • Not so fast, my friend.  John Infante points out that a couple of housekeeping issues have to be run by the NCAA before an expanded playoff is greenlighted:  Two small rule changes need to be made. First, the playoff will need to be added to the list of games that teams can play past the end of the regular season. Second, the playoff will need to be added as an exemption to the maximum number of games a team can play in a season.”  In ordinary times, I’d expect that to be rubber stamped.  It probably will be, but would anyone be surprised if the NCAA tried to extract some quid for its pro quo?
  • Irony abounds.  As Jon Wilner points out, it took an all-SEC title game to propel the commissioners and presidents to give Mike Slive what he’s wanted all along, a four-team playoff with no conference championship requirement.  I can’t wait to hear the reaction when we get another SEC rematch in the new postseason.
  • If this is what Larry Scott means when he says it’s good for the Rose Bowl, I’d hate to see what’s bad.  Again, a good point from Wilner:  “Other than the National Championship Game, the Granddaddy was the top dog in the BCS system. Now, in the years it’s not hosting one of the semifinals, it’s on the third tier.”  To varying degrees, that’s true of all the BCS bowls.  All that’s been sacrificed so that the nouveau riche like Jerry Jones can shower money on the conferences.  For all the lip service otherwise, make no mistake about it – the bowls come out of this round as losers.  That’s a postseason trend definitely worth keeping an eye on.
  • College football got five billion dollars and all I got was this lousy discounted hotel room.  My first impulse was to give Gene Smith today’s Somebody Tell This Guy To Shut Up Award for this observation:  “You play New Year’s Eve, and the championship will be played on Monday the 8th, 9th or whatever it ends up being. That’s an expensive venture. What are we going to do for those families, let alone the fans?” Smith said.  “I worry about the parents of the athletes. They’re going to be in a box. I think we need to continue to talk and see if there’s a strategy we can put in place legislatively to do something for them. . . . I don’t know if it’s discounted hotel rooms or something of that nature. We’ve just got to figure something out.”  But face it, that’s probably the most generous thought anyone’s going to have about the fans, parents and student-athletes.  And a few years down the road, when this whole deal gets kicked up another notch, nobody’s going to give a rat’s ass about travel anyway.
  • I got ‘yer strength of schedule right here.  If the selection committee is going to consider strength of schedule as a component of playoff admission – and if Bill Hancock says it is, you can pretty much make bank on it – Marc Weiszer offers a subversive way to measure that.  After noting the Sagarin ratings for Georgia’s 2012 opponents, he concludes, “Georgia was still sending out emails on Monday with tickets available for the Buffalo, Florida Atlantic and Vanderbilt games in September.”  Painful, but devious.  I love it.  Seriously, this is going to be a major battleground for the committee, perhaps the battleground.  If the SEC finds itself being punished for its eight-game conference schedule, how will it react?  (Assuming the networks haven’t gotten there first, of course.)  On the other hand, if they bail on including SOS in the selection committee deliberations, expect to see more news like this.  Settling it on the field only goes so far, you know.

I’m a skeptic, so you’ll have to pardon me if I have my doubts they can really hold the line.  As far as I can tell, the only thing keeping a four-game playoff in check is the threat to regular season broadcast revenues that an expanded playoff would pose.  If the commissioners ever get to a point where that’s no longer something they fear, it’ll be Katy bar the door.  Let’s see how long the brave talk keeps up.


UPDATE:  Year2 is surprisingly breezy (“Now, tell me again why bracket creep is an issue?”) about the prospects for bracket creep.  As I mentioned above, I agree that regular season broadcast revenue is the current bar to postseason expansion, and it’s a strong one, but if I can be a party pooper for one moment, it’s worth noting that:

  1. A year ago, people like Jim Delany were warning us that a move to a four-team playoff would open Pandora’s Box with regard to expansion.  Yet here we are.
  2. The lesson the commissioners take from this round of change to the BCS is that they can increase postseason revenues significantly without killing the regular season golden goose.  What makes anyone think they won’t try again?  That means we’re counting on their ability to calibrate the impact of postseason expansion on what the networks are willing to pay to show their regular season product.  (Remember, these are the same people who tried to push March Madness to a field of 96 until they discovered nobody was willing to pay for the extra product.  Let’s just say I’m not impressed with their mad skillz in the calibration department.)  If they overshoot their mark, too bad,  that’ll be it.  They’ll spend their future chasing their tails on playoff expansion, because that where the new money will be.  And they’ll need it to make up for what they’d lose on regular season revenue.

Bottom line, I’d say he’s a lot more confident in Slive and Delany (and whoever follows them) being rational actors than I am.



Filed under BCS/Playoffs

30 responses to “A four-team playoff, if you can keep it.

  1. Lrgk9

    Blah, Blah, Blah – Let’s do some Hittin’

    ‘Root Hog or Die Boys!’


  2. Anon

    There will certainly be no need for discounted hotel rooms for OSU parents.


  3. Bob

    I could not agree more. In principal I have supported a 4 team playoff or even a Plus One for some time now. But I have never felt comfortable for the very reasons you stated. Playoff addicts are just that…addicts. Four will NEVER be enough for them. The complaining has already started and it will be in full force by the time 2014 rolls around. We are on a slippery slope. I just hope they hold the line at least until 2025.


  4. Biggus Rickus

    Within a few years of operating under the new system there will be some controversy where a conference champion is left out in favor of someone like Alabama last year, or there will be a major dispute over who the fourth team should be for some other reason and they’ll expand to eight. Ten or twenty years after that the financial incentives will lead to sixteen teams. We’re doomed.


    • Chopdawg

      Eight teams would be fine with me. As a longtime UGA season ticket holder, I’m getting tired of paying for games like Buffalo every year. Cut back the regular season to 11 games, expand the playoffs to eight teams. Won’t happen until 2025, so until then, I’m happy with the four-team playoff.


  5. Ubiquitous GA Alum

    My question … Suppose in a year that the Rose is tagged as semi game and it doesn’t line up that the PAC12 and BIG10(+2) are semi finalist, who goes to the Rose?

    In other words, if Oregon wins the PAC at 9-3 and is not a semi team, but Michigan is 11-1 and is a semi team, who does MI play in the Rose?

    Would assume an “at-large” team from another conference, which furthers the senator’s point about the bowls losing … in this case their traditional matchup.


  6. afrmediaonline

    I don’t consider myself a “playoff addict” by any stretch of the imagination. Either create a system wherein every player has a mechanism in place that realistically allows them to compete for a championship or cull the Division I-A (yes, I know it’s got the stupid acronym now) herd to get it down to the teams that have a realistic chance to compete.

    Is it such a ridiculous notion to point out that there’s really no reason a basketball player at Central Michigan University begins the season with a chance to win a national championship (not a good one, mind you, but the mechanism is in place to provide the opportunity) but a football player at the same school begins the season with absolutely no chance to do the same?


    • Your question contains an overstatement.

      The difference between March Madness and the BCS is that if CMU wins every basketball game it plays, it will win a national title as a result, as it will make the tourney as its conference champion, whereas that will only be true in football if the BCS rankings place an undefeated CMU in the top two. But that still means the possibility exists, depending on how strong a schedule CMU played.

      In reality, the chance is about the same, because schools like CMU don’t run the table in March.


      • afrmediaonline

        If there was an overstatement, it was only a slight one. There is no realistic opportunity for a CMU or any team from a minor conference, regardless of schedule. Just as the unbeatens from smaller conferences magically wound up being No. 3 or No. 4 under the current BC$ format, those teams will now magically wind up being No. 5 or No. 6 when the new system kicks in in 2014. College football is, quite simply, an oligarchy and all this new format does is give the appearance of appeasing calls for a playoff while protecting the status quo and, more importantly, the unimpeded flow of cash into the pockets of the major conferences and the corrupt bowl committees.


        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          FWIW I also have always thought that the BCS manipulated data in such a way as to get the matchup the BCS wanted and to exclude teams it did not want so as to not mess things up ratings-wise. I saw that in 1998 when Tulane was undefeated but the BCS had them rated #12. That Tulane team was loaded C-USA team or not and would have dusted UT (which should have lost 3 times that season) more than half the time.


  7. Jvo

    They solved the 2004 Auburn debacle? So we’re 2004 National Champs now! WOOOOOO!


  8. Calling a spade a spade, this is bracket creep. We just went from a 2-team playoff to a 4-team playoff. At the current pace, we’ll be stuck at 4 for at least a couple decades. When this goes into effect, 22 years will have passed from the time the Bowl Coalition, an albeit defective 2-team playoff system, was implemented. The truth is, the Bowl Coalition was better than the beauty contest, the Bowl Alliance was better than the Coalition, the BCS was better than the Alliance, and I predict this quad-bracket will be better than the BCS. Let the wild rumpus of tweaking the committe criteria start!


  9. Macallanlover

    If Perlman only sees those two options he is not a very broad thinker. The time frame is limited, but not that limited.

    Let me be the first to call for expansion since 4 teams is only a half assed answer leaving the critical issue still unresolved. All you antis should not be alarmed when there is a justifiable expansion to 8. This does not mean you were right about bracket creep, it just means the committee threw a solution out that did not address the problem and it will have toi be fixed by a group down the road.

    Still better than what we have, and insures 3 quality match-ups versus one. That is certainly better, but without representation from all 6 power conference champs, there will be legit bitching. Short of going to 4 sixteen team conferences, this will get corrected….hopefully in my lifetime.


    • Connor

      I’m going to have to disagree with you there. The inability of these people to construct a viable, acceptable playoff is the centerpiece of my fear of bracket creep. It’ll be driven by money, but the lever that will move popular opinion will be that this 4 team model doesn’t work. And then the 8 team model won’t work…
      That’s the whole point. 4 teams doesn’t settle more arguments than it creates, and neither will an 8 team playoff. I long ago refused to accept from playoff proponents that “We just need to do this one more thing and we’ll have it…” This is your playoff.


    • joe hudson

      Lets make “Strength Of Schedule” a real component, whereby the SEC, Big10, Big12, PAC10 etc. and a select few (Notre Dame) must schedule at least one game(s) against each others top four or five teams (based on last years ranking) and make the few out of conference cupcake games against teams that had at least a winning record. A one loss team from those conferences would and should have the nod over a “Cupcake Scheduled Undeafeated” team.


    • Xon

      Why does every conference champion need to be guaranteed a slot in a tourney every year, though? Isn’t it pretty clear some years that some conference champs are apples and others are oranges?

      IF Cincy wins the Big East at 9-3, that’s a great year for them but there is no reason to say “maybe they’re the best team in the country; let’s give them a chance.” Why on earth would anyone think that?


      • Macallanlover

        I don’t disagree, I do not feel every conference champion is a worthy contender, certainly not every year. But with the imbalances in schedules and lack of respect among regions, having every geography represented makes the eventual champion legit. Why not let a top seed whale on a Cincy, or Michigan? It means the winner will be deemed worthy nationally regardless of how the pollsters have voted. To state this again, the NC will never be viewed as the best team, that will always be debated, but the NC will have earned their title. It only takes one round in mid December to accomplish this so why leave it out. This omission will open the dors for the outcry to expand. I feel having 8 teams you can cut the complaints down to just the crazies, maybe 5 percent, and prevent expansion from ever being a serious debate again. Just my opinion, but we are so close.


        • Why not let a top seed whale on a Cincy, or Michigan?

          Because once you go down that road, it’s hard not to apply the same reasoning to Troy or Central Michigan. And once you go down that road, it’s hard not to let the third-best team in the SEC (which beat Troy by forty during the regular season) in.

          I respect your convictions about an eight-team playoff, Mac. The problem is that your rationalizations will inevitably lead to something bigger.


          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            4 superconferences of 16 teams, each with 2 divisions, each holding a conference championship game between the division winners is a de facto 8 team playoff. Not sayin’ I’m for that but it just seemed that was where we were headed a year ago. Now this. Stupefying.


          • Macallanlover

            Or prevent the expansion you seem to fear. Being right the first time leads to a strong defense to not make changes.This is a case where being two long is much, much better than being two short. The timeframe will accommodate it, and who can be against more football at this stage. If any of these pretenders knock off od the 4-5 viable candidates, it only insures a better champion. There is no downside, but cutting the corner too short will lead to justifiable expansion. Build a barrier that will withstand the assault that will come from the crazies.


      • Sanford222View



  10. Nate

    I love how Jerry Palm laments the fact that Hawaii would have been left out in 2007 without mentioning the complete and utter devastation Georgia wreaked on them in the Sugar Bowl.


  11. kdsdawg

    The Boise States and TCUs will still be left out. The power BCS conferences, SEC,PAC10,Big12 and Big 10(or whatever they call themselves) will be represented. Hard to see a ACC team in it and for sure a Big East team get in. Scenarios abound where this won’t be enough. There can very easily be a season where the top 6 teams from all the BCS conferences go 11-1. And let the bitching begin. And rightfully so.


    • Anon

      What do you mean still left out?

      The Boise’, Utahs and TCUs of the world never even had a seat at the big boy table until the BCS came along.

      Who was the last team from a non power conference to make it into the bowls that became the BCS bowls? Was it Louisville way back in the early 90s?

      Those teams, and their conferences are making, and have made plenty of cash by being “left out.”

      They, just like the rest of the schools, would trade it all for just a little more.


  12. Before reading the Infante piece on the rules changes, I wrote up a summary of what the potential rules changes could look like and how they could affect the postseason tournament(s) for college football: http://blog.plus2plan.com/2012/06/27/you-want-a-four-team-playoff-how-about-two-of-them/

    My conclusion: either we get a college football NIT in a few years, or the NCAA is forced to officially recognize an FBS national champ.


  13. Slaw Dawg

    ESPN Earth
    June 27, 2042 12.24.03 Standard Solar Time

    Today, university presidents and the 4 conference commissioners approved a 64 team playoff for Division I.A.1.a NCAA college football. Proponents of the new system expressed confidence that it would end debate over the fairness of the process for selecting the United States college football national champion. Controversy has dogged the 32 team, 5 stage playoff process almost since its inception. “I just don’t understand a system that forces my team to stay home for the winter after we posted a 7-7 regular season record and finished 5th in our conference” said Georgia State Head Coach Nancy Minh Pho, “when the eventual national champion posted the same record.” And not only did 2041 national champion Western Kentucky University have the same record, it had lost in the regular season to both the University of Georgia Bulldogs and 2040 champion Idaho State, both of whom had been soundly thrashed by the Georgia State Panthers in the 2042 regular season. All 4 teams are members of the SouthNorthEastWestern Conference.

    The new playoff system is not without its critics, however. Devry University president Paris Hilton angrily criticized the failure to include the Virtual University Conference’s second runner-up among the automatically qualifying teams. “This hol thingg smax of collusiyon” she said in a written statement. “I inttend to taek it upp with miy frend presidynt Tebo.”

    A few hours after Dr. Hilton’s statement, President Tim Tebow said the White House would be looking into the matter. Secretary of Sports Affairs Cam Newton promised a “full investigation,” following “private one on one meetings with each and every interested party and Secretary Newton.”

    In other sports news, Georgia football head coach Hines Ward announced his retirement today from Herschel Walker Hall in Athens, Georgia. “After 25 years in this job, I have to admit the sport has passed me by. It was hard enough teaching guys how to tackle without making contact, but standing 8 hours each game takes a lot out of me, although at my age I certainly appreciate the long breaks, if you know what I mean.”


    • Dog in Fla

      Excellent! Can a Vietnamese Nancy chick be coaching Georgia State? Can President Tim still be pure after being friendly with Dr. Paris Hilton? Tune in tomorrow for these and other stories that move like sands through the hour-glass of time when Hines and Bobo emerge from an alley and Secretary Cam, upon learning that Steve Jobs has gone to the cloud, hires Michael Dell on a no-bid contract to make invisible computers