During the first meeting of conference commissioners and BCS officials following the 2012 BCS Championship, over 50 ideas floated for how to change the system that determines the FBS college football champion. However, true college football reform likely took the first real step to becoming a reality when it was leaked yesterday that the Big Ten is pushing for a particular four-game playoff plan.
The basics of the Big-Ten plan are as follows: However the top four teams in the country are determined, the top two teams will host semifinal games, likely in mid-December. The championship could then be bid out like the Super Bowl or rotated among the four current BCS bowl game sites plus Cowboys Stadium.
The championship would likely be played closer to January 1st along with the other major bowl games, pushing the bowl season back out of the second semester for many schools.
When BCS changes were discussed four years ago, the SEC pushed for a playoff. However, Mike Slive could only convince John Swofford of the ACC to join him as the other conference commissioners followed the lead of Jim Delany in blocking the plan.
In fact, Slive and Delany seem to always be competing with one another on opposite sides of major issues in college football. However, these are likely the two smartest conference commissioners in the room, and the sport moves when they move together.
Delany has already shifted some tectonic plates with his actions in the last two years, as the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten really brought the recent wave of conference realignment and school scrambling to a head. Now he is pushing the playoff debate on his terms because the Big Ten (and to a lesser extent, the Pac-12) hold all the chips that matter in this debate.
The bottom line for a playoff proposal is convincing these two conferences and the corresponding university presidents to make a change. But it is clear that the Big Ten and Pac-12 will not give up certain aspects of the current bowl postseason.
As other conferences such as the Big East and the Big 12 will likely fall in line behind Delany, the Big Ten can probably force any reasonable playoff proposal through the objections of the SEC and the ACC.
The perfect storm of declining interest and TV ratings, an all-SEC championship game blowout and 14 years of frustration with the current system means some change is coming. The Big Ten knows change is coming and will dictate how change will happen.
It's a good position for Delany and his university presidents. So, assuming that the Big Ten will have the upper hand in setting the new playoff/BCS system, let's take a look at the supposed downsides of the leaked Big-Ten plan and debunk them right now.
1. A four-team playoff doesn't have enough teams
Once the golden goose of the BCS has been sacrificed to make a playoff, the fans and other proponents of a playoff system typically cry for six, eight or even 16 teams like the lower divisions in college football.
Not going to happen.
Clear enough? The bowl system is more sacred than the NCAA men's basketball tournament as far as university and conference officials are concerned. The tradition of the bowls will not be undermined or eliminated by going to a straight playoff with so many teams.
The Big Ten and Pac-12, in particular, have made it clear that their conference champions will continue to play in the Rose Bowl for as long as possible unless the champion(s) are in the BCS championship chase. Agreements like this can continue to exist and thrive with a four-team playoff because even when both teams send a team to the playoff, the second-best team in each conference will likely still make for a high-quality Rose Bowl game.
Cutting two more teams from the bowl pool will allow all the major bowls to continue to thrive while adding a huge pot of money and interest to the sport that will burn bright all the way through December into the first week of January.
Plus, the regular season will still feel like a playoff every week when a single loss can drop a team out of contention for a national title. That will not change with four teams, but it would with more.
The bowls stay relevant, the playoff opens the door to more teams, and the teams playing for a championship don't break for more than a week or two between games, keeping the sport in the national spotlight through December. Everyone wins with four, whereas the bowls certainly lose with more than four.
2. The debate for the fourth-best team will be just as bad
And so what? No matter where the line is drawn on a championship or playoff system, the first team left out will complain. One only needs to look at the annual airing of grievances regarding the 69th and 70th best teams in the country in the NCAA tournament to see that it does not matter where the line is drawn.
While the debate between teams ranked fourth and fifth will rage just as much as the current debate between second and third, the past decade shows that the fifth best team in the country probably does not really deserve a chance at the championship.
Take the past few years for example. In 2011, Oregon was ranked fifth with two losses and had beaten the No. 4 team (Stanford), but Stanford finished with a better record and so likely deserves a chance more than the Ducks.
In 2010, Wisconsin and Ohio State would have been left out with one loss, but all three undefeated teams in the country would have gotten in. In 2009, a one-loss Florida team would have had no argument compared to the four undefeated teams above the Gators. 2008 was the first time the system may have failed as the top five teams all had one loss and USC would have been left out behind two conference runner-ups.
The debate will rage, but that's half the fun of college football. The fifth best team will likely not have a legitimate argument most years.
3. The SEC/ACC will not allow themselves to play on the road up north in December
I exchanged tweets with Mark Morehouse, who covers Iowa football and indicated that he thinks the SEC will not like the home field for the top two teams in the semifinals because of the chance of having to go north to win a national championship. I think this logic is faulty for a couple of reasons.
The SEC plays tough defense better than anyone in the country, and that favors SEC teams in cold weather grinding contests that would likely happen north of the Mason-Dixon line in December.The SEC is confident enough to take their brand of football anywhere in the country, and the chance to stick it to northern teams on their home field is probably worth the risk to SEC teams.
Furthermore, the SEC will be given the benefit of the doubt in the rankings for many years to come following this current run of BCS dominance, so at least the top SEC team will likely be hosting one of the two semifinals every single season.
In the past four seasons, the semifinals would have been at Oklahoma and Florida (2008), Alabama and Texas (2009), Auburn and Oregon (2010) and Alabama and LSU (2011). That's five home games in four years for the SEC and only one in cold weather in the Pacific Northwest. The risk is low for these southern teams, and a four-team playoff will likely give the SEC even more chances to win the title.
As for the ACC, this plan could open the door for them to actually have a chance with teams like Virginia Tech that rarely crack the top two. To be fair, the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC will put nearly half the teams in that conference in cold weather sites anyway, so that conference has little complaint about playing up north in December.
4. The BCS is broken and will not determine four teams any better than two
This argument is likely valid, but it also has little to do with the merits of the Big-Ten plan. The Big-Ten plan can exist regardless of whether the BCS is scrapped for a selection committee (my choice) or remains to determine the top four teams.
Although each of the sources (computers and the polls) making the BCS rankings can be lambasted; as a whole, the system works fairly well. The voice of the people still counts and can reverse problems with the computers, and that's the primary benefit that would come from having a selection committee.
The BCS might be broken, but that probably matters a lot less when more teams are invited to the party.
With non-BCS conference teams such as Boise State and TCU getting real respect for undefeated seasons and continued success, the doors are open to them if four teams are invited to play for the championship. That cannot be guaranteed with just two slots in this BCS system.
5. This plan helps the Big Ten too much
I've seen this argument floated on some comment boards and it could not be further from the truth. Yes, in 2006 both Ohio State and Michigan would have made the playoff opposite Florida and LSU.
However, the Big Ten has not had a top-four team in the BCS rankings in any of the last four seasons. Thus, the Big Ten is proposing a plan that would have been especially painful over the past four seasons for their own conference.
No, this plan keeps the favor in the SEC hands while opening the door for more competition to knock the SEC off. Barring a shocking series of events, no conference including the SEC will be able to fill three of the top-four ranking slots, so any conference rematches in a championship would have to be earned in two tough semifinal games.
That will make pairings like LSU-Alabama palatable to the rest of the nation. The SEC stays happy, the little conference get a chance and the Big Ten likely does get back in the mix sooner rather than later. This is not unfair.
6. Travel would be a nightmare for fans, making the championship more corporate
It's okay, the caliber of teams that finish in the top two of the BCS standings can fill their own stadiums eight times a year, so one more game will not be a problem even if the other team does not travel well. The unique opportunity to go see a team like Alabama or Florida play in the Horseshoe or in the Big House could actually draw more fans than perhaps the following championship.
The semifinal games will be played in the campus settings that make college football feel great, and tickets will sell themselves. After all, it's not every year your team gets to host a playoff game. This is the same as the NFL, where hosting a playoff game is a true honor and a deserved advantage for the teams that receive them.
The type of fan who could afford to go to a national semifinal on the road and to an exotic bowl site is likely the type of corporate fan that others complain about. Those groups will still be present, but this Big-Ten plan does not force the true nightmare of forcing regular fans to choose between going to a remote semifinal bowl game or risking it all and hoping for a trip to the championship game somewhere else.
With the semifinals in mid-December, Christmas will not be an issue for fans. The championship game will fall around New Year's Day, which prevents the current problem of forcing fans to buy up hotel rooms and travel throughout the front half of a work week (the championship has been played on a Monday night for a few seasons) immediately after the holidays.
You don't want travel to be a problem for your fans: Make the top two and gain an extra home game. Simple enough solution!
So there you have it, the arguments against the Big-Ten plan have been debunked. Now watch Jim Delany do what he does best and move the powers of college football the way he wants.
A playoff is coming. Fans can only hope that the final decision from BCS reform looks as good as the Big-Ten plan, a reasonable and fair alternative that maintains the importance of the regular season and bowls while opening the doors to more deserving teams.
No playoff system will be perfect, but the Big-Ten plan is one of the closest we will see proposed. Might as well get behind something reasonable and hope for the best. Until next time, thanks for reading.