Category Archives: BCS/Playoffs

They don’t know what they’ve got ’til it’s gone… and maybe not even then.

There are times, believe it or not, when I wonder if I’m being too critical of people like Jim Delany and Mark Emmert when it comes to their business acumen.  I mean, nobody can be as blind to trends and economic developments as I make those guys out to be sometimes, right?

Then I’m reminded that in the end, we’re talking about camel herders.  And no matter how nicely you dress a camel herder, camels are what he knows best.

The NCAA Tournament followed a massive jump in ratings with a big tumble last season after switching the title game to cable TV.

The NCAA’s response: Give it time.

“You have to look at it over periods of time, not in one-year blips,” Mark Hollis, chair of the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball committee, said Monday. “We’re in extremely good position as far as interest.”

The NCAA agreed to a 14-year deal with CBS and Turner in 2010, with the two companies essentially acting as one under the contract, combining on all aspects of the contract while alternating years on the Final Four.

The 2015 NCAA Tournament saw a huge surge in ratings for the game between Duke and Wisconsin, posting its highest average viewership in 22 years with 11.3 million viewers.

The Final Four was on TBS last season, marking the first time it aired on cable TV. Ratings for the entire tournament were down across CBS and the three Turner networks — TBS, Turner and truTV — and the title game drew a record-low rating, dropping 37 percent from 2015.

Gosh, who would have ever thought that pulling your signature event off the public airwaves and moving it to cable would have a negative impact on viewership?  Obviously not the humble herdsmen who took the best deal they could get.  Plus, it’s not all bad news.

“The difference in rating was somewhat predictable … the number of homes CBS is in than TBS is different,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice president of men’s basketball championships. “The thing that struck me was that both CBS and Turner were thrilled with the numbers. They sold out all of their ad inventory weeks before the tournament. From an NCAA perspective, as long as the games are broadly available, then we are accomplishing our goal for the fans. Whether it’s on CBS or TBS, that’s the key.”

Yes, indeedy, the networks are thrilled, so the NCAA is doing its best by the fans.  Gavitt, who used to be an associate conference commissioner, by the way, sounds like a man who thinks he’s quite accomplished at making lemonade from lemons.  He’s just careful to avoid drinking his product — which means he has something in common with the 37% who skipped the Final Four.

For those of you who think college football postseason expansion is going to work out swimmingly, despite mounting empirical evidence to suggest otherwise, what should give even you pause for reflection is the willingness of the movers and shakers to give away value like that in return for short-term gain (although using the phrase “short-term” in the context of a fourteen-year broadcast contract is a stretch).  I don’t know where you come from, but tossing more than a third of your viewers out in a year’s time doesn’t strike me as a way to build your brand.  Face it, especially when you’re talking about how March Madness markets itself to the casual sports fan, getting large numbers of those people out of the habit of tuning in makes it likely they won’t all be coming back.

Oh, but that’s basketball, you say.  That doesn’t count because it’s not college football.  Again, you miss the point.  Football is just taking its first tentative steps away from the regional appeal that is the sport’s greatest and most unique quality.  That’s a path college basketball tread years ago.  It’s the path the camel herders are familiar with; they just think they know better where to walk now.

What makes them dangerous isn’t that they aren’t the smartest people in the room.  It’s that they think they are the smartest people in the room.  It’s easy to do a lot of irreparable damage in that mindset.

Take, for example, the biggest jewel the SEC has in its possession.  Not the SEC Network, which isn’t even generating the most revenue of any of the conference arrangements.  It’s the SEC on CBS.  That’s the only national broadcasting deal any conference has.  Jim Delany chased down Rutgers and Maryland to add viewership outposts.  Larry Scott bitches and moans because he can’t land a deal on DirecTV for the Pac-12 Network.  Meanwhile the SEC shows up all over America every Saturday in the fall.

That’s awesome branding.  That’s why Verne Lundquist is a household figure.  That’s why somebody like Brad Nessler jumped at the first opportunity from a prestigious ESPN broadcast slot to take Lundquist’s place.  It’s part of what makes the SEC the SEC.  Yet it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Sankey and his presidents sell it to the highest bidder when the broadcast contracts come up for renewal, wherever that means those games are shown.

It’s all part of the trend to go national, a trend that’s accelerating with the new prominence of the CFP.  Don’t believe me on that?  Check out what’s already happening with the bowls.

It’s not that they’re trying to kill the golden goose.  It’s more like they’re trying to perform plastic surgery to improve the goose’s looks, even though they’ve never been to med school.  Hey, it could work!  Just ask Dan Gavitt.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, It's Just Bidness

“I understand the entertainment value of an eight-team playoff.”

Big Jim Delany strenuously objects to the suggestion that another round of postseason expansion is in the works.

Whether or not these are legitimate depends on perspective – but they’re legitimately held, anyway, by many across the college landscape. Delany likes to describe it as “too much ice cream isn’t good for anybody” – the idea being, eight might be too much of a good thing, with unintended consequences.

… “But we’re just really three years into a 12-year arrangement. It only took about three months to start this discussion (about expanding), and I’m sure I will be viewed as too conservative on this point. But that’s how I feel. That’s how our (Big Ten) members feel. That’s how our coaches feel, that’s how our athletic directors feel and that’s how our presidents feel. So I’m going to reflect that, for sure.”

Oh, for sure, for sure.  Just like before.

Of course, it’s worth recalling that the Bowl Championship Series was never, ever going to be scrapped for a playoff, either. For a long while, the commissioners were so resistant to even discussing the possibility, they actually referred to a playoff as “the ‘p-word’”). And then suddenly the BCS was gone. After the 2011 season a playoff was necessary.

LSU and Alabama played in an all-SEC rematch and the conference commissioners suddenly saw the virtue of doubling the access and having a small tournament. So there won’t be an eight-team bracket – until there is.

“There is” depends upon concerns, you know.  Like these:

They’re splitting $500 million annually. While the sum would increase if they expanded, it’s unclear by how much (and if part of the increase might be offset, potentially, by other factors; as one example: would conference championship games continue?). There are concerns: more wear and tear on players, more missed class time, a devaluation of the regular season and so on.

They’ll rationalize the latter if there’s enough thrown in the pot.  Or, if you prefer the cruder punchline to the old joke, we know what they are and we’re just haggling over the fee.

Really, it might be amusing if they could walk away after recognizing they went too far, but that’s not a road on which you can retrace your steps once the journey has commenced.  So enjoy what you’ve got while you can, because at some point in time, Delany will give in to more entertainment.  That’s the business he’s in, after all.

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Change with the changing times

Barry Switzer takes a swing at Corch’s new perspective on life.

When we get that sixteen-team playoff, this will be looked back on as nothing more than quaint nostalgia.

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Friday morning buffet

A few scraps rounded up for the buffet line…

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil, Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label, Pac-12 Football, Whoa, oh, Alabama

We’ll always have Emmert.

Because, if you’ve run the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, nothing says “old school” like postseason expansion.

And you know what?  A sixteen-team playoff lets all the conference champions in!

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, The NCAA

There’s a lot to look forward to.

Really, this is such a sharp piece on what all the changes in college football are doing to reducing the importance of conference championship games.  Start with the obvious:

Once upon a time, conferences were alliances based on geography and traditional rivalries. There was some sort of natural barometer when teams played round-robin schedules and saw most of their conferences each year. The SEC, which used to span a maximum distance of 750 miles between Kentucky and LSU, now boasts Missouri, which must travel 1,000 miles to Florida. To add to the humor, the two teams are in the same division, the SEC East. Although I suppose it’s understandable to be muddy on the geography of flyover country (I’m kidding, it’s not, the Midwest is amazing and you should learn how it works), here’s a quick lesson: Columbia, Missouri, is the third-farthest west city in the SEC. In addition, teams in different SEC divisions face each other only every seven years, except in the case of teams’ cross-division rivals.

Consider, too, the Big Ten. When it was founded, it comprised only teams from Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. Now, 1,300 miles and five rather large states lie between Nebraska and Rutgers. In the Big 12, it takes 1,450 miles as the crow flies to get from Texas Tech to West Virginia, and in the ACC, about 1,300 miles from Miami to Boston College. The Pac-12 seems at least superficially like the most reasonable conglomeration of the bunch, maybe because of the wide open spaces the West calls to mind, but even it, when reduced to numbers, is absurd; Arizona and Arizona State are about 1,500 miles from Washington.

She refers to that as “geographical heresy”, which is a nice turn of phrase. It’s illogical.  It’s also expensive, both in terms of finances and in terms of student-athletes’ time constraints.  (Although it would be a real shame to bring those titanic Florida-Missouri mid-week volleyball matches to a halt, I suppose.)

That’s hardly all, either.   There’s also — you’ll be surprised to hear this — the corrosive effect of the money chase.

… Really, this comes down to the money and the fact that schools like Houston, Cincinnati and BYU are willing to jump ship to a Big 12 that was nearly toppled five years ago and has been feeble ever since. The television dollars lie there, though, and it’ll take some major foundational disruption on the business side of the game before that changes. So for the time being, conferences will exist as they stand now. There will be the Power 5, where the money lies, and then the rest, and every other team will claw its way toward the Big 12 the next time it cracks open its doors, no matter how uncertain its face might be. Still, we need to learn to place less value on games because they occurred between conference foes—oh, the storied rivalry that is Rutgers-Indiana—or because they’re deemed a championship game.

How sad is it to watch the Big 12 chase its tail with expansion and a totally unnecessary conference title game after being told not having a championship game cost it a playoff berth, only to see Ohio State make the field this year?

But that’s the way the college football world appears to work now.  Who’s to say this isn’t the lesson to take away from that?

That’s all to say that none of this makes a good deal of sense, and we should treat the first weekend in December as such. A championship game is not much more than a chance for schools to get more television revenue and stations to draw in millions more viewers. Divisions are artificial, and if the committee keeps up its current thought process, why shouldn’t Urban Meyer and Nick Saban start scheming complex scenarios whereby their teams earn a so-called extra bye weekend to start their bowl training early?

Unfortunately, my fear is that rather than being an end in itself, the conference championship game is only the canary in the coal mine.  After all, any argument you can make about de-emphasizing one game can be extended just the same to the rest of the regular season.  That’s the slippery slope that eventually gets you to a seeding delivery system for the postseason.  The joke will come when Bill Hancock insists the regular season has been made more relevant than ever.

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“Next year we’ll be standing here talking about some other way it fell out.”

For once, Bill Hancock speaketh the truth.

The committee’s protocol went out the window this year, but in came a breath of fresh air — the reminder that finding the four best teams overrides anything else in the committee handbook.

Well, except for getting back to the old tried and true of letting coaches, with all their attendant biases and prejudices, have an oversized impact on setting the postseason field.

Those five former coaches in the room? They know how hard it is to win a conference title, and the value of a head-to-head win, but their voices in the room were influential in guiding the committee beyond resumes and into the talent.

“As we looked to our coaches to share their perspective on what they saw on the field,” Hocutt said, “it was determined that Washington was the more talented team.”

Hell, they may be right about that, for all I know.  But I thought the point to all this was to reduce the possibility of… oh, forget it.

The committee had reasons for every decision it made. It just wasn’t in sync with what we heard the first two years, when so much emphasis was placed on conference title games (Ohio State, 2014) and head-to-head results (TCU-Baylor, 2014).

But just when you think it overlooked its protocol, there is an example of how the committee followed it.

“I’m not sure Ohio State would have been in the [playoff] this year,” Hancock said, “if it hadn’t gone and played Oklahoma.”

So strength of schedule does matter. And it can be overcome.

“But I believe, I feel strongly about this, that the way to be sure you get in the playoff is to let your players show what they can do against the best competition,” Hancock said. “I don’t envision that part of it changing.”

I’m not sure it’s possible to jam more contradictions in a five-paragraph stretch than that.

The good news is if you expand the playoffs enough, nobody will care any more.  Brackets, for the win!

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