Tag Archives: Plus-one

Dan Wetzel and the intellectual consistency of playoffs

Honestly, I don’t know what it is about Dan Wetzel’s particular form of playoff monomania that drives me so batty, but there it is.

His latest outburst is a criticism of Larry Scott’s conference champs-only plus-one proposal.  This literally made my jaw drop:

Scott’s instincts aren’t completely off; deemphasizing flawed, groupthink-powered polls and mathematically unsound computer formulas is an admirable goal. The only reason polls (25 teams deep) are used is because college football still believes there was validity to something invented by some sportswriters in the 1930s.

It was a just a promotional tool then (try comparing teams in the pre-TV era). It should’ve remained that way. It never should’ve been used on an official level.

The computers were brought in to partially take subjectivity out of the equation. The formulas were bastardized, however, by PC decisions such prohibiting margin of victory.

At its core, this is the intellectual inconsistency that plagues college football, one that Scott reasonably wants to escape.

The problem is obvious: Rewarding only conference champs would be intellectually consistent only if all conferences were competitively consistent.

They aren’t even close to that. Plus they shift on an annual basis. Decades and decades of history in every sport says that there are years the second-best team in one conference or division is superior to a champion of another conference or division.

It’s not that I disagree with any of that.  I think an objective, conference champs-only playoff format should be what D-1 winds up with once they get realignment out of their system and consolidate the division around 64 to 80 teams, but right now, it would lead to as many new problems as it would solve.

No, what drives me crazy here is Wetzel arguing that with a straight face after previously pitching a 16-team playoff with a 6-6 Sun Belt champion in it based on this appealing rationale:

… While no one would argue that the Sun Belt champ is one of the top 16 teams in the country, its presence is paramount to maintaining the integrity and relevancy of the regular season. Teams that put together exceptional season deserve to be rewarded. If you just take the top eight or 16 teams and match them up on a neutral field then there is no advantage to being No. 1 rather than No. 16.

The way to reward the best teams is two-fold. First is providing home-field advantage to the higher-seeded team until the title game (more on this later).

The second is by giving an easier first-round opponent – in this case No. 1 seed Auburn would play No. 16 Florida International. Earning a top two or three seed most years would present a school a de facto bye into the second round.  FIU isn’t in the tournament to win the title – they won’t – but to make the regular season matter more.  [Emphasis added.]

Intellectual consistency?  Pot, meet kettle.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Media Punditry/Foibles

They’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.

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.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

Friday morning buffet

Grab a plate and do your thing.

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UPDATE:  Promises, promises.

ESPN, we’re holding your ass to this, understand?  (h/t Doug)

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, ESPN Is The Devil, Georgia Football, It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery, Recruiting, SEC Football, Stats Geek!, Urban Meyer Points and Stares

We know what you are. We’re just haggling over the fee.

Dennis Dodd manages to distill my unease over where the BCS discussion is about to go into two sentences.

Left to their own market-driven desires, the commissioners themselves damaged the history and the tradition of the sport with conference realignment. There is a feeling that a plus-one could slow that process.

Because why, exactly?  Their stellar track record managing postseason play?  Right.  Some sudden enlightenment such that we’re supposed to believe they’ve finally learned their lesson?  That’s highly doubtful.

“Once that first toe goes in the revenue pool, it’s a lot easier to jump in when someone says the water is better in the deep end,” said the high-ranking BCS source. “How quickly does it creep to where no one really wants it to be, but where you can’t say no because of all that potential revenue?”

These people don’t trust themselves to do the right thing.  Why should we?

I’ll leave Roy Kramer to set up the punchline.

“You have to make sure you don’t totally destroy the foundation of the sport for minimal gain,” Kramer said.

But for the right amount of gain…

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Saturday morning buffet

There’s always something to nosh on.

  • Roy Kramer proposes a plus-one format that’s built to last:  “Using Kramer’s model in a 2011 plus-one, No. 1 LSU would have played No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 2 Oklahoma State would have faced No. 3 Oregon in the semifinals. No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Arkansas, No. 7 Boise State, No. 8 Kansas State and No. 9 South Carolina all failed to win their conference. “  I didn’t say it would last long.
  • The Texas Supreme Court shoots down Mike Leach’s appeal of his suit against Texas Tech on grounds of sovereign immunity.  Remind me again why a head coach would want to sign a contract with a state school that evidently isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
  • The NCAA narrowly – and I mean narrowly – avoids having its new rule on multi-year scholarships overturned by its membership.  There’s a fault line opening up here worth keeping an eye on.  (And note the comment about the Department of Justice.)
  • Mark Richt admits he’s checked out at least one football website.
  • Kevin Sumlin kept one eye on the new SEC oversigning rule as he put together his first recruiting class at Texas A&M.
  • Tennessee gets short shrift at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.  Not that the Vols haven’t necessarily earned it:  “The schools gave up home games in the hopes of getting primetime, big boy coverage on a major network.  Instead, the Vols and Wolfpack will serve as the hors d’oeuvre to the Tigers versus Tigers main course the following day.  It makes sense for the Chick-fil-A group and for the networks, but it’s a kick in the teeth for UT…”
  • This seems a little over the top, Nick.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Because Nothing Sucks Like A Big Orange, Georgia Football, Mike Leach. Yar!, Nick Saban Rules, Recruiting, SEC Football, The Blogosphere, The NCAA

“… we have to be able to make the case we played the toughest competition possible.”

Stewart Mandel explores the possibility that a four-team playoff may result in regular season scheduling becoming more challenging, possibly by design (Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione suggests the possibility of a selection committee, à la what the NCAA does with basketball) or by necessity, which is the position Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s influential AD finds his school in, given that it can’t be a conference champ.

“If you’re going to be an independent in a world with a limited number of postseason spots in a playoff or plus-one, you have to rebut the pretty strong presumption that conference champions should be there,” said Swarbrick. “We all assume the SEC champion will be in position to be there next year, so as an independent, we have to be able to make the case we played the toughest competition possible.”

Interesting that he mentions a particular conference there.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?  If D-1 football goes down this road and incorporates a strength of schedule component into its playoff criteria, that’s going to run smack into the SEC’s current insistence that its eight-game conference schedule is tough enough.  What will Slive do if the computers and/or a selection committee say otherwise?

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, SEC Football

When you put it that way…

Matt Hinton finishes his suggestion list for how to put a plus-one together with this inspiring passage:

… And just as it’s about to grow from two teams to four, eventually that system will grow to six teams, then to eight, then to ten or twelve, the priorities and logistics expanding each time. At some point, it will probably be bigger and more inclusive than I’d like, and I’ll find myself leading the chorus of complaints about a “hot” team with three or four losses that never deserved to make the cut in the first place. At every point there will be teams on the wrong side of the cutoff that have a legitimate complaint about being left out. That will never change. But whatever the bracket looks like, and whatever the new complaints that come along with it, it’s still a step forward from the debacle that’s ruled the sport for the last 15 years.

I mean, who doesn’t feel his or her heart sing reading that?

I guess my problem is that I can’t sign on to the BCS hate the way many can.  It’s certainly got its warts (insert Auburn 2004 reference here) and can stand improvement, but “the debacle that’s ruled the sport for the last 15 years”?  At its lowest moment, the BCS has delivered something better than BYU, your 1984 national champion.  At least the Bowl Alliance and the BCS have moved the sport in the direction of a meaningful title game without screwing everything else up that we like about college football.  It’s not as if we’ve ever stopped caring.

Compare that with what we’re about to get now:  endless refinement of a theme, endless pursuit of that last postseason dollar that doesn’t impact the regular season revenue stream, endless bitching about the team that didn’t get in… all so that we can end up whining about the hot team winning the title.

I can’t wait.

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How stupid does he think we are?, Part One

You know, the people who shriek about antitrust violations when they look at the BCS tend to forget one unique characteristic about D-1 college football.  Unlike any other organized sport at the college or professional level, its postseason isn’t monolithically managed.  There’s no league office setting the rules.  There’s no NCAA collecting the money and passing out checks.

There are just a bunch of guys out there protecting their fiefdoms.  Some do it better than others.  Some find areas of cooperation.  But in the end, it’s every conference for itself.

Which is why I find Mike Slive’s reaction to the news that Jim Delany has his conference pondering what life with a plus-one might look like utterly predictable.

“Really a lot of this discussion is premature, and I want to respect the process that we’re in,” Slive told members of the Nashville Sports Council during a question-and-answer session. “We’ve had four-year formats since we started. We’ve done it on the basis of four years, so each four-year period you have to sit down and decide what format is going to be going forward. So we have decided to sit down and talk about this from every different side.”

Big Ten, you’re not the boss of Slive!  Like I said, it’s hardly a surprise that the SEC won’t let that train be driven by its biggest rival alone.

But here’s where Slive jumps the shark, so to speak:

… He’s also not sure what prompted the current interest in the plus-one plan.

“It’s been an enormous success for us to have four different teams win the national championship over the last six years has been incredible and unusual. It’s a record that’ll never be broken,” Slive said. “Whatever it is that brings people to the table, I’m glad they’re coming.”

Evidently Mike Slive, a man who’s presided over a conference expansion that nobody really was looking for (except the good people at Texas A&M) simply to get a lever to renegotiate the contracts for the SEC’s broadcast rights, wants to have us believe that he’s the only person in America who doesn’t know that money and getting more of it is the primary motivator behind all the changes which have washed over college football in the past few years.  Surely he jests.

I think we’ve just been insulted.

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

The Super Bowl is Not an Argument Against (Some) Playoffs.

I really don’t have to spend any time on why college football doesn’t need the equivalent of a seven-loss Super Bowl champ, do I?

Instead, spend a little time reading Year2′s thoughts and concerns on the matter.  Money graf:

I think ultimately though, this all boils down to a fairly fundamental argument. Is college football its own sport that should only be concerned about its own competitively purity, or is it a fundraiser that subsidizes nearly every other sport that schools sponsor? While in practice it is both, I fear that more and more, the powers that be see it solely as the latter.

I know that many of us like to romanticize the whole “settle it on the field” as justification for an expanded playoff, but that’s not why playoffs expand.  They expand for one inevitable reason – the stewards of the sport sense an opportunity to wring more money out of the marketplace.

And that’s why I find it easy to dismiss many of the factors Year2 cites as sort of natural brakes on the expansion process.  Sure, the NFL playoffs are oversized.  Obviously, nobody wants to see a team with a winning percentage on the short side of 60% grab a national title.  No doubt there’s a noticeable dropoff in quality once you get down to college football’s eighth and ninth ranked teams.

To all of that I say, “so what?”  College athletics’ grand poobahs have already traveled down that road and taken comfort in the journey.  These are the people who looked hard at a 96-team basketball tourney and ultimately pulled up only because they couldn’t find a broadcast partner ready to stroke a check of sufficient size.  Closer to home, as many of you like to remind me, there’s a college football playoff out there already.  They’ve even named the division after it!

And the FCS tourney has grown to twenty teams with an eye towards expanding to 24.  So don’t tell me it can’t happen.  If they think the money’s there, it will.

Therein lies the rub.  The big boys have it going their way right now.  What’s holding things in right now is control of the football revenue spigot.  Regular season money isn’t shared and dwarfs the postseason money that is shared.  What they’re trying to do – what they’re always trying to do – is make sure that whatever steps they take don’t upset that apple cart.

It’s not about playoffs.  It’s about how the revenue pie is cut.  That’s why Jim Delany’s cautious toe in the water approach to the plus-one is really the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  The issue isn’t whether there’s going to be a plus-one playoff of some sort (the panic over the recent ratings and attendance drops has made that a virtual lock).  It’s where things go after the plus-one is put in place.

And that’s why the real development to watch isn’t the Big Ten’s playoff discussion, as much attention as that will get.  It’s what NCAA president Mark Emmert is up to with his twin proposals to pay a $2000 player stipend and to allow student-athletes to receive multi-year scholarships.  If both pass, they’ll be the death knell to D-1 football as we know it today.  The have-nots simply won’t be able to keep up with the haves anymore.  The end result will be a split of the division.  And once that happens, Jim Delany won’t have to share with Karl Benson anymore.

It’ll be off to the races from there, playoff-wise.  The only limit we’ll see as to expanded playoffs will be the regular season money.  Delany, Slive and Scott will walk the number of postseason rounds right up to the edge as to where it would affect the value of their conferences’ broadcast rights and calibrate that back just so.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will turn out that our desire to see things settled on the field and their desire to settle their bank accounts will line up in agreement when it comes down to a final format.  But it will be nothing more than a happy coincidence if that happens.

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Why I welcome our playoff overlords.

This is what “settling it on the field” is really about:

… A boiled-down, no-bowls, championship-only BCS appeals to many including the Big Ten and Pacific 12, which could count on their traditional matchup in the Rose Bowl every year. But it will be interesting to see if that format can survive arguments for the greater good. Middle-echelon conferences that now occasionally crack the BCS lineup fear being squeezed out of the Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls if those games are unbound by BCS guidelines and free to take the bigger-name, more TV-friendly teams they want.

Assuming the other 34 postseason games stay in business, that option also would create two new games – the BCS semifinals – and raise the number of postseason berths to 74. That’s approaching two of every three teams in the NCAA’s 120-member bowl subdivision, creating a demand for inventory that may exceed the supply of eligible teams.

ESPN, ftw!

Once the deed is done, I’m not sure yet which Bill Hancock observation will amuse me more – that the new postseason format is a vast improvement over what we’ve got now, or that the new format is one “for the long haul”.

In any event, expect the bitching to resume once the novelty has worn off.

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