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Leave it to the powers-that-be governing college football to muddle a topic more elementary than second grade addition. We're finally on the lip of that long-awaited playoff cup in the sport, and a select group of money-grubbing leaders have decided to—at least temporarily—put a stick in the wheel of progress.
If we're going to have a four-team playoff in college football, here's a novel approach: PICK THE FOUR BEST TEAMS … regardless of their conference affiliation! Is there really another viable option in this discussion? Of course, I get the fact that it's in the best interest of the Pac-12s of the world to wish that a conference title be prerequisite for inclusion, but I just don't agree with that strategy. I can't think of any good reason to job, say, the No. 3 team simply because they happen to reside in the same conference as the nation's top-ranked team. And I sure as heck don't want to see it displaced by the Big Ten champ, which happens to be No. 7 in the rankings. By the way, could the rest of the leagues in the FBS possibly be more petrified of the SEC? If you want to award the conference winners with an automatic spot in the playoffs, give out five invites, excluding the Big East, and three wild cards to set up a neat and tidy eight-team playoff. Voila, problem solved.
In terms of the plus-one which the Big Ten now seems to be favoring, it's much better than what we currently have, but not as good as what we could have with that playoff thing. Here's my issue: The, for lack of a better phrase, semifinal games in the plus-one model will inevitably favor one contender over another. What if LSU wound up playing Michigan in last year's Sugar Bowl, and Alabama ended up playing Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl in the events to determine the title game? Those matchups, when not seeded in a typical 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 setup, will inevitably benefit one team over another, and sometimes simply because of preordained pairings.
If college football is serious about getting this process right, how about simply doing the right thing for a change? Hey, we all get that money makes the world go around, but this is a case where that pursuit of the green should not interfere with common sense, or with what's right for the game. If we're doing a playoff, let's do it simply, and let's do it right.
By Matt Zemek
Whenever college football's future playoff is discussed, the most accurate way to address the "which plan is better?" question is to say that one plan is not as bad as the other. It's not as though the Big Ten's four-champion-and-top-six plan is "better" than the SEC's four-team concept; it's simply not as deficient.
Why this emphasis on semantics? College football has bigger issues to worry about than its playoff structure. The health of the sport and the integrity of its competitions are at stake.
The top priority for college football is to bring cohesion, prudence and some degree of uniformity to the ways in which this sport is being re-ordered and arranged. This need encompasses several interconnected issues. Either all leagues should play conference championship games with eight- (or nine-) game league schedules, or none should. Either all leagues should have to play with a divisional structure, or none should. Either all teams should play under the FBS umbrella, or the FBS should be divided into two distinct entities. Scheduling – both the nature of non-conference games and the amounts of home games teams play each season – must be reformed and standardized.
If a playoff format is introduced without reform on the other issues mentioned above, it won't mean all that much in terms of producing national champions that are truly: A) national; and B) legitimate. The saber-rattling from college football's power brokers over the past few months has been little more than a way of distracting fans and casual observers from far more important matters.
Yes, the Big Ten's plan is better because of its emphasis on conference (and by extension, division) championships, but frankly, if divisions aren't eliminated – they should be – the value of conference championships won't amount to much of anything. UCLA got to play for last year's Pac-12 championship. Georgia, not the second-best team in the SEC, got to play for its conference title last season. Conferences encompass at least two-thirds of a team's games in a given regular season; for that reason alone, they should be accorded an appreciable degree of centrality and primacy. However, if teams like Georgia can use a divisional structure to avoid playing LSU, Arkansas and Alabama before a league championship game, it's hard to claim that division titles should play a central role in a national championship competition. As for the Alabamas of the world, a team that would play in a national title game has to be forced (through standardized scheduling) to play a top-flight non-conference opponent before it can be shepherded into the national championship game (or in 2014, a national semifinal).
You can get sucked into the Mike Slive-Jim Delany competition… or you can focus on the bigger picture. College football is sadly choosing the former option, not the latter, and the sport is being diminished as a result.
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
Obama and Romney take note. In a presidential
election year, college football has entered into a
caucus of its own before all of the hubbub of the world's attention centers on this great nation of ours. It's the Pac-12/Big Ten party versus the SEC/Big Twelve delegates and just like politicians on Capitol Hill, we're not sure who or what to believe anymore.
But let's digress. Of all of the playoff models thrown out to the masses, the one that made the most sense was one of the Big Ten's multiple proposals (we lost track) to have a hybrid model that would look first to highly-ranked conference champions, but also leave room open for elite "at-large" teams (somewhere Sweet Home Alabama is playing).
Why does it make sense? Because it gets everyone playing in the sandbox together yet puts a premium on winning a conference championship. After all, don't we keep hearing that the integrity of the regular season is at a premium for any future championship model? In what universe then does it make sense to let teams in that couldn't claim their own conference? Right. It doesn't.
Despite what everyone believes to be true, there is simply no way to absolutely tell how the champion or second place team in a conference measures up to another without settling it on the field. And if a team fails to win a conference championship ON THE FIELD, then it should have to swim upstream to reach the spawning waters.
And before anyone gets all crazy and throws out the NFL or NCAA March Madness model, remember that this thing isn't letting a whole lot of teams into the promised land of a college football playoff no matter what gets shaken out of the can. Both of those playoff models reward mediocrity to some extent because of the percentage of teams allowed to get in. We're talking about four teams at most here.
Still, you've got to be open to those years in which picking four teams out of the conference championship pool--with the allowance for a worthy independent--simply does not make sense (look up the Big East in almost any year after Miami and Virginia Tech's evacuation to the ACC). So let's' meet in the middle shall we? So there it is, let's get moving and row this ship to shore.
But wait, time to drop anchor. We now have the Big Ten presser to ponder in bewilderment. Jim Delany and his followers seem to be driving off of the cliff together in a pinto by giving more ground than a real-estate agent. It seems we've now gone into the dark ages and put a plus-one model back on the table. Even more astonishing, it appears as though going back to the "status quo" would be even more ideal.
Yeah, because that experiment is worth firing up the beakers again.
Why stop there. While we're at it, why don't we just break out the ouija board, magic eight-ball, and dart boards to select a national champion since going backwards is now up for discussion.
Delany, the Big Ten/Pac-12 marriage, and presumably the Rose Bowl have it all wrong. A plus-one model is not the way to go. It never was, and certainly never will be now that we've gone from corned-beef hash to caviar with the notion that a "playoff" was circling the runway. You simply can't wet the tastebuds of college football fans and then bring in rice cakes as the main entree (where is Chef Ramsey when you need him?).
But all is not lost. If there's good news left--and there is--this thing isn't dead yet. Decisions can still be made for the benefit of everyone rather than self-serving interests. Shuck the cave-man thinking and throw out the tattered and torn BCS along with the plus-one model and let sensibility rule the day. Please.
Unfortunately for college football fans, If history is any indication, fear has to be creeping in that somewhere, somehow the end product will fall short of what the public wants. Sound familiar?
Ahhh, the Republican and Democrats would be proud.
By Terry Johnson
Follow Terry on Twitter @TPJCollFootball
Adopting the "plus one" system is a terrible idea.
Under the proposal, resurrected by Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott a couple of weeks ago and somewhat endorsed by the Big Ten today, the existing bowl system would remain intact. Every conference would send its champion to a major bowl game. Once all of the bowl games have completed, the two highest ranked teams will play for the national championship.
This idea has two major flaws with it.
The first problem that the "plus one" model has is that it fails to accomplish the very goals that it sets out to do. Proponents of this approach argue that the system will help the bowls reclaim their rightful place in sun on New Year's Day. Furthermore, since only one game would take place after New Year's Day, the "plus one" system would not extend the season by any length of time.
Unfortunately, these goals conflict with one another.
If teams play in one of the major bowls on New Year's Day, coaches will demand at least another week for the players to recover. Adding an additional week or two would have the season finishing during the home stretch of the NFL playoffs and/or conflicting with the Pro Bowl (which believe it or not, people watch).
No one wants to see that happen.
On the other hand, the only other choice that allows college football to have top billing is to move the bowl games up by a few weeks.
None of the major bowls, especially the Rose Bowl, is going to play a game before January 1st.
How can a system that does not accomplish its own goals possibly survive?
It does not. Just ask the Bowl Coalition or Bowl Alliance.
The other shortcoming of the "plus one" proposal is that it wrongly assumes that two teams will separate themselves from all of the others.
Anyone who was paying attention during the 2011-12 season knows that this is not always the case.
Even if the "plus one" proposal had gone according to plan in the past, a careful examination of the future bowl structure shows why this system is doomed to failure.
Starting with the 2014-15 season, the SEC Champion will play the Big 12 Champion in an unnamed bowl game, while the Pac 12 and Big Ten will play in the Rose Bowl. Presumably, the Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar Bowl would select the best available teams.
If this system were in effect this season, here is what it would have looked like:
"Champions" Bowl – LSU vs Oklahoma State
Rose Bowl – Oregon vs Wisconsin
Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs at-large (probably Michigan)
Fiesta Bowl – Stanford vs at-large
Let's assume that Oklahoma State narrowly defeats LSU and that all of the other favorites win their bowl games convincingly. Four teams would finish the season with only one loss and have a legitimate claim to play for the national title. Oregon would also belong in the discussion because they throttled Stanford during the regular season, and won the Pac 12 title.
The championship picture after the completion of these bowls would be as clear as mud and considerably worse than any of the debacles caused by the BCS.
Is that really the system that Big Ten and Pac 12 want to implement?
Of course not! But the timing of this Big Ten's endorsement suggests that they and the Pac 12 have a bigger plan on the horizon. Perhaps they have some sort of clandestine deal in place where the winner of the Rose Bowl will play the winner of SEC – Big 12 Bowl?
But how likely was it yesterday that Jim Delany would abandon his own compromise to support the "plus one"?