USA Today's Steve Wieberg obtained an outline of the various scenarios that the BCS conference commissioners are considering after the current ESPN television contract expires in 2013. They range from merely tweaking the existing BCS to a four team playoff to what essentially amounts to a six team playoff.
The first option is to tweak the existing BCS by removing the conference automatic qualifiers and the limitation of two BCS bids per conference. Will the Big East champion get a spot in the Orange Bowl under this scenario? Not very often; they'll have to do more than merely be the best team in the worst BCS conference. Instead, that spot would likely go to a third SEC, Big XII, or Big Ten team. The ACC could find themselves outside as well.
The four team playoff idea comes with four different variants. The simplest is to pick the two participants in the title game after the bowl games, with the bowl game matchups set up using the existing bowl arrangements: Rose Bowl with a B1G/Pac-12 matchup, Fiesta with the Big XII champion, Sugar with the SEC champion, and the Orange Bowl's ACC/Big East matchup.
The next idea is to use two BCS bowls as seeded semi-final games matching up the top four teams in the BCS standings. The winners of those bowl games would then go on to the title game. A third idea pulls those semi-final games out of the bowls and looks for neutral sites to host them. Yet another variant takes those semi-final games and plays them on campus, with the top two seeded teams getting to host the game.
The newest idea is a four team plus the Rose Bowl proposal; when you break it down, it's a six team playoff. Rank the teams, and send the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions to the Rose Bowl. Two other semi-final games would match up the top four remaining teams in the standings. Essentially, you have three semi-final games. After those three semi-final games are played, take the two best teams that emerge and match them up in the title game. This theoretically could be accomplished in the existing bowl framework: rotate the semifinals between the Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange, with the bowl that didn't get the semi-final being selected for the championship game...just a week later.
So what's our take on the proposals?
Mike: The six-team proposal is too convoluted to me, and doesn't get us away from the controversies when the difference between #2 and #3 is so slight. I know the Pac-12 and the rest of the Big Ten hold the Rose Bowl in a special place in their hearts, but this proposal just simply is going to lead to more controversy.
I'm going to come out and admit that I'm not a big fan of the bowls. I've travelled to several of them over the years, and while they can be fun, they are also expensive for fans... especially when you live a long, long way from a warm weather bowl site. So I understand why fans who live within a few hours drive of a bowl site, or retired folks with lots of discretionary income might like the idea of bowl games. (Not to mention sportswriters who put the entire tab for their trip on their expense account!) But for the majority of fans, bowl games are something you watch on TV.
That makes the on-campus idea my favorite. Some people think that a four team playoff makes the regular season less meaningful. Well, you are still playing for that home field advantage. But it's not fair to make teams play in front of partisan crowds, so might say. Well, is it fair to play Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl? LSU in the Sugar Bowl? Or my favorite, Miami in the Orange Bowl? Bowl sites inherently favor teams from the Pac-12 (Fiesta and Rose) and the SEC (Sugar and Orange).
With a playoff system, teams and their fans have to travel on short notice. Sure, that works in the NCAA baskerball tournament, but typically, the number of fans who can travel across the country is usually just a few thousand. You can handle that in a 20,000 seat arena. It doesn't work in a 70,000 seat stadium. So why not bring the games to the fans? Play these games on someone's home field. If it's an SEC team, so be it. These games usually end up on their turf anyway in the past. If it's in the snowy, blowy north, bring it on. It's about time a warm weather team had to bundle up to play in the cold. Let's face it: every other sport uses home fields for their playoffs. Even the lower divisions of college football do it this way.
When I first heard about the proposals, I read Andy Staples take. He talks about how "3D" is the best option of the bunch. Unfortunately, he mentioned the words "rational minds" and "common sense" in relation to the commissioners and presidents and it was at that point for me the whole thing fell apart.
I believe it would be hard to find a college football fan that doesn't think the best proposal is the one Mike mentions above - one that we've advocated over the past few years here at CN - that a playoff must contain an element of home field-based games in order to be accepted.
Unfortunately, college football fans won't get to decide which proposal gets accepted. That will be decided by conference commissioners and college presidents - the people in power.
Put yourself in their position for a minute and you realize why they've favored the bowl system for so long. They, along with their football student-athletes, coaches and athletic staff, get to spend a week being treated by royalty by whatever city is hosting the bowl they're attending. All of those cities have mayors, a Chamber of Commerce, countless charities and events, all of which collectively have a fair amount of political pull. If they feel like this environment is being threatened (and they will), they will find plenty of reasons as to why reform won't happen.
I shouldn't have to mention that any playoff proposal will affect only a small number of teams, which is all the more reason why it won't happen. The majority of those in charge won't allow it - again, they will act in their own best interests, as will television broadcasters such as ESPN who, despite declining viewership in minor bowl games, will want them to go on as to make more money off college football.
Skeptical college football fans will say that this is all about money. It is, but only to a certain extent. Jim Delany is already on record having stated that a college football playoff system would generate more money than the bowls, so money isn't the highest priority - if it were, one would have already been implemented.
I've linked to a Dan Wetzel argument that implies Delany wouldn't allow a playoff system because of politics. I disagree with Wetzel's assessment - I think the real reason is because this is a rare case in which more money might create more problems for college football than it could handle.
There has been more talk this year that college athletes are being exploited for financial gain. There is talk that college athletes should unionize. College athletes are showing signs they want a bigger cut of the pie, while NCAA President Mark proposed a $2,000 stipend to make up for shortfalls in current full-ride scholarships. Then there's the fear that more money might bring more congressional scrutiny - a real issue as I doubt there's anyone who would argue that politicians love nothing more than pounding their first and waving their arms about someone not being treated fairly. If that were to happen, it's possible that the whole thing would fall apart because NCAA teams would lose their tax exempt status.
The plan that makes the most common sense to most people would be a four-team playoff with home field games and a neutral site for a championship game.
The safest route is one that keeps the current system intact and therefore appeases the powers that be. It just so happens that it's also the dumbest plan of the bunch.
Since the decision making is being left to bureaucrats, which one do you think you'll get?