Jim Delany, long time "pro-BCS" champion and Big Ten commissioner, turned plenty of heads this week with his declaration that the Big Ten would stand in support of a four team playoff if the BCS was to be restructured. A full 180 for the league and its leader, a bit of a head scratcher of sorts, but a move that folks pushing for a playoff can truly count as their first step towards having their thirst sated.
The most interesting part of Delany's push was not that he made this switch, a much hated and berated figure in college football moving to be on the popular side was a smart move to remain entrenched in the fabric of the sport. No, the interesting part was the push for the homefield semifinal sites for the games as opposed to involving the BCS Bowls in the playoff.
For starters that's not a bad move, as a guy who has never been anti-BCS the plus-one or a four team playoff was the compromise that I've been open to accepting all along. Playing the games in the BCS Bowl sites would be a tall task with regards to placing the burden on fans to travel or folks with no allegiance attempting to sellout the stadiums that would be involved. Instead put the games on the home sites of the top two teams where the higher seeds get the advantage of not traveling and you have a built in sure sell to the fans.
The thought of a four team playoff does differ from the plus-one idea that was bandied about that could have pulled the wool over everyone with the BCS just playing a title after the dust settled on the conference bowl tie-ins. This isn't a move I'm truly opposed to and as it moves forward with the support of other leagues my interest lies in the rules enacted, the process of selection and what happens to the 34 other bowl games teams play in.
Do the losers of the games play for the third spot in a BCS Bowl? Do the other conference champions go about their business in their slotted BCS games? When would the game be played and how much prep would be given?
And, of course, the biggest question is what requirements would need to be fulfilled to participate?
Those are questions for another day as the seemingly inevitable future draws nearer, right now? Let's have some fun and look back at the trends and winners or losers of this system had it been in place since the 1998 inaugural BCS season.
For starters we would have had 14 mini-tournaments up until now with some 56 participants. All six BCS conferences would have been represented with just one non-automatic qualifier getting to play. We're not going to talk winners and losers just participants, match-ups and the like.
On the Non-AQ front the most interesting tidbit is that Boise State is nowhere to be found. Nope. This system wouldn't have helped the Broncos at all. They would still be sitting on the outside looking in, possibly going to the same Fiesta Bowls they went to under the current system. The same can be said for Utah. The Broncos and Utes boast a 4-0 combined BCS record but under a straight up 1-4 in BCS rankings, four team playoff both would be sent elsewhere to play their post-season exhibitions.
TCU though? The Horned Frogs would be one of eight teams to have two playoff appearances under their belt. 2009 and 2010 saw Gary Patterson's club finish fourth and third respectively in the pre-bowl BCS rankings and that's good enough to send them to Tuscaloosa and Oregon for a shot at the title.
The much maligned Big East would have five "title shots" under their belt if the playoff had been functioning since 1998. Miami (2000, 2001, 2002), Virginia Tech (1999) and Cincinnati in (2009). Sure four of them would be in the first five seasons of the BCS by league members who would eventually exit the conference but that Cincinnati appearance at Texas in 2009 would be more recent than the Big Ten or the ACC.
Speaking of the ACC, this league pulls up the bottom of the BCS ranks with just four appearances since 1998. Florida State with three (1998, 1999, 2000) and Virginia Tech (2007). In all three of their appearances prior to "the Lost Decade" the Noles would be hosting games as they played in three straight title games. Virginia Tech would be traveling to LSU, the same LSU team that mashed them out 48-7 earlier in the season. Not exactly hope inspiring for the Hokies.
The Pac-12 came in third in total appearances with nine spread over four teams; Washington-1, Oregon-2, Stanford-2 and USC-4. Not a bad showing honestly and more than their Rose Bowl counterparts the Big Ten, which we'll get to in a bit.
For the lead we have the Big XII and the SEC all tied up at fourteen appearances each. Everyone knows OU (5 appearances) and Texas (4 appearances) carry the flag but four other conference members make the push into the mix as Nebraska (1999, 2001), Colorado (2001), Kansas State (1998) and Oklahoma State (2011) all show up. In the SEC you also see six teams in the mix; LSU (4 appearances) and Bama (4 appearances) are doing the yeoman's work but Florida (2006, 2008), Auburn (2004, 2010), Georgia (2002), Tennessee (1998) help push the league to the top. Florida's only two Top Four post-bowl finishes were also title years while Alabama 1999 popped up as a "hey, I totally forgot about that team."
Now for the Big Ten. We see you Jim Delany, we really do. The idea that if the Big Ten was hosting some on-campus games then it would help pump some cash into the league, force schools from the south to travel to your cold climates to play and, in theory at least, give your teams a better shot at making the title game.
Um, not really.
Since 1998 the Big Ten would have had 8 teams participating in the playoff. that's more than the ACC and Big East but behind the SEC, Big XII and Pac-12. Ohio State is doing the heavy lifting with five appearances, tying the Buckeyes with Oklahoma for the most in the 14 season BCS history had the four team playoff existed. Michigan would have two spots (2003, 2006), Penn State has one (2005). The problem with the "make them play in the cold mentality" is that only three teams would have even traveled up to the Horseshoe. Georgia in 2002, LSU in 2006 and Oklahoma in 2007. Those other five appearances would have sent Ohio State to Tennessee in 1998 and Southern Cal in 2005, Michigan to Oklahoma in 2003 and Florida in 2006 and Penn State to Texas in 2005.
Not all "warm weather locales" in December but you are playing on their hometurf as opposed to the neutral site of the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl or Orange Bowl.
As for hosting in general the SEC is the big winner here hosting nine of the 28 semifinals. The Big XII comes in second hosting seven and then the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big East all tie with three apiece. TCU, the lone Non-AQ team invited to the party, would be on the road to Tuscaloosa and Eugene. Some quite interesting match ups to be had in these games as LSU would play host to USC in 2003 in Death Valley, Oregon's fast offense hosting the Horned Frogs in 2010, Nebraska taking on Colorado (again) in 2001 and Miami hosting USC in 2002 in a sort of fall of one power as another rises.
For the folks adamantly opposed to an All-SEC title game there are three match ups of the fourteen that could have resulted in an "all southern thang" for y'all. 2006 LSU would be playing for a rematch with Florida by traveling to Columbus, provided Urbz team beat Michigan in the Swamp. In 2008 Bama would have a second shot at Florida if they beat OU in Norman and the Gators handled Texas in the Gainesville. Then, obviously, this season LSU and Bama would have to host and beat Stanford and Oklahoma State respectively to get that rematch title game.
Other conferences that could make it a family affair of sorts would be Texas and OU in 2004. Longhorns traveling to USC while OU hosted an undefeated Auburn. Same case in 2008 as OU hosted Bama while Texas went to the Swamp. Oregon and Stanford would make it an all Pac-12 final in 2010 if the Cardinal could win in Jordan-Hare and Oregon got past TCU.
2008 would be the ultimate angerfest for folks; both semifinals would feature teams playing for a rematch. Then you throw in Texas Tech at 11-1 on the outside looking in while the Texas team they beat plays for a title shot. If the SEC prevails then the Bama squad that got beat by 11 on the power of Tebow would be staring at another shot, with more prep time, to take down Meyer. If the Big XII prevailed we'd have Red River Shootout Part Two after their 45-35 classic. But hey, perhaps the underdogs both win and we get Bama-Texas a year earlier than the 2009 showdown that we saw.
It does appear that the move to this four team playoff is coming, how they set up qualifications and use rankings will be determined in the future. With conference expansion still going full throttle how bids are divided up will be critical. Ensuring the BCS top four makes sense but that would leave plenty of folks, including the non-BCS teams, unhappy at the end of the year. Giving bids to just conference champs would eliminate roughly 20% of the teams in the 56 participant field of the last 14 seasons. Damn good teams finish in the Top 4, regardless of whether or not a conference mate is ahead of them (Bama 2008 & 2011, Stanford 2010 & 2011, Texas 2004 & 2008) and should they be penalized for playing in the wrong league?
As always with our sport we'll evolve, we'll adapt and continue to get better going forward. Coaches have figured out how to get their way, to a point, in the BCS. If the playoff comes down in a couple years teams will find success in that format too.
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