Access isn’t easy.

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.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

9 responses to “Access isn’t easy.

  1. Won’t argue your point that nothing’s set in stone yet, Senator, particularly how the committee’s rankings will look once the criteria they’ve announced are put in the blender and poured out. But the “here’s what the Big Six would have looked like” exercises aren’t based on blind guesswork–Bill Hancock has said, point-blank, to multiple outlets, that any non-contracted spots will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis according to the committee’s rankings. You can say it’s “foolish to assume” they’ll actually follow through on a merit-based plan like that one over one dictated by the “commercial framework,” but to me it’s equally foolish to just casually discard something coming directly from the mouth of someone like Hancock. And I’m not sure that plan is really outside the commercial framework at all–as you yourself have written, a major impetus for finally abandoning the BCS _now_ was last year’s horrific TV ratings. The easiest way to solve that problem? Actually put the best teams you can in the best games you can and give casual fans a reason to watch. The bowls may not like it–they’d prefer teams that yield fannies in seats over those that yield ratings–but the ACC bidding out the Orange Bowl’s TV rights shows who’s calling the shots here, right?

    Besides, if the rankings-centric plan helps out the Boises of the world, it’s not exactly unkind to the power-brokers, either; Mandel’s projection of the 2011 “Big Six” had four different SEC teams involved.


    • Jerry, with regard to merit-based and commercial plans, I don’t think it’s so much a case of one or the other as I do that both considerations will factor into how the postseason field is assembled.

      As for the TV ratings drop, again, it’s probably the cynic in me speaking, but I think the shiny new postseason toy will fix that in the short run until the novelty wears off, regardless of how many mid-majors participate.

      On your Orange Bowl point, maybe, but I’m hearing some scuttlebutt about how they’re looking for some way to give Notre Dame preferred status as an opponent. That doesn’t exactly shout “best team” to me. Unless by “best” you’re talking about TV audience numbers.

      In the end, this is all going to come down to how transparent those selection committee deliberations really are.


      • Dog in Fla

        “Orange Bowl… scuttlebutt about how they’re looking for some way to give Notre Dame preferred status as an opponent.”

        That explains the smoke on the water at the Archdiocese of Miami Special Operations Defense Complex on Biscayne Boulevard


      • See, Senator, I have an issue with the argument that “both considerations will factor into how the postseason field is assembled.” If we take Hancock at his word, we KNOW how the field will be assembled. Bowl contracts are filled out, and then the open spots are filled with the highest-ranked teams according to the committee. Done. We can argue about how the committee might rank the teams or if there’s more contracts to come, but if Hancock is right, there is no “commercial plan.” The plan is done.

        You can be skeptical about whether Hancock’s description will ever actually come to pass, sure. But that’s a separate issue, I think, from whether the plan as we understand it would be a boon for mid-majors–which was my point in the column. My point in the comment above was simply that the Hancock plan isn’t without its commercial benefits–another reason I think that ignoring Hancock’s comments and just assuming it’s BCS-business-as-usual isn’t the way right way to approach this.


        • Jerry, I understand your point, but again, we don’t know how the committee will be tasked to make its selections and how transparent the process will be. We don’t know how many bowl slots will be contracted out. And we don’t know if Hancock is speaking from a position of absolute knowledge, making intelligent assumptions based on what he’s heard from the deliberations or simply doing his PR thing.

          I’m not assuming it’s BCS-business-as-usual, at least not in totality. I am assuming that Delany and Slive are going to make sure that things are structured in a way that makes good business sense for them. There looks to be a lot more money in the pot such that they can afford to be somewhat generous with (former) AQ schools. But I do think there’s a limit on that and I do expect there to be enough opacity in the way the selection committee goes about its business to protect their interests. (And if that’s not enough, they can always lock up a few more top-tier bowl slots with contracts.)

          I guess I just have a hard time believing these guys have completely turned over a new leaf, especially in light of how much of what they’ve done so far serves their selfish interests. But, hey, if you’re right about this, I’ll gladly buy you a beer or three.


    • Then what about the Orange Bowl contract that says that if their league champ is in a playoff that they will be replaced by an ACC team. That does not sound like a merit-based system.


  2. Lawrence

    Since the new format is still subjective, I wonder how the media coverage going into an SEC Title Game like 2008 and 2009 will be different. I’m a Florida alumnus so right off the bat I would have been a little steamed if we had been passed over for Cincinnati in 2009. Do the conference title games play out differently? The pressure if you will is still there but it’s not going to be the same if you can lose and still get into a Final Four.

    Suddenly finishing second in your division might not be a bad spot. I couldn’t imagine beating you guys in Jacksonville with that being your only loss, then us getting upset in Atlanta for our first loss, and seeing you guys in the playoff. That will probably happen to a team from the SEC, Big 10 or Pac 12 in this new format.

    That’s my number one concern about a playoff. I want to beat our rivals and really screw them in addition to the pain of defeat. You all know that’s what makes this sport awesome. We did that to FSU in 1997. It was glorious. They did it to us in 1996 and we only got a shot at redemption because of a massive upset and the old bowl format where Arizona St and FSU couldn’t play each other. Yeah, we got lucky. Hell, Peyton might have had other chances to beat us. Ohio St.-Michigan in 2006-is that as big if the loser could still theoretically get back into the playoff? What about all those classic FSU-Miami games? Well, like you Senator, I hope for the best, expect the worse, and I’m just ready for the season to start.


  3. mid-major conference

    So you’re telling me there’s a chance?


  4. Lrgk9

    Ain’tgwinebeno Sunshine and Smokeless air in the room where them dirty deeds of selection are done…

    And – them there Dirty Deeds ain’t goin be done on the cheap !