Playoff plan not a total loss for Big Ten

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
10:45
AM ET
Not long after the BCS commissioners and Notre Dame's athletic director endorsed a seeded four-team playoff beginning in the 2014 season, the scorecards began rolling in.

There would be no Pacquaio-Bradley controversy at the Hotel InterContinental in Chicago.

The consensus victor: commissioner Mike Slive and the SEC.
Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde: "If the long slog toward a college football playoff were the Tour de France, the only thing left would be the ceremonial victory lap down the Champs-Élysées. The guy in the yellow jersey, sipping champagne as he rides? That would be Mike Slive."
CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd: "Get used to a world -- a new college football playoff world -- much like the current one. Tigers, Tide, Gators and Dawgs running loose and free over the landscape. There wasn't a bigger rubber stamp in the room when the playoff pack's 12 Angry Men (11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick) took their biggest step yet in this discussion."
SI.com's Stewart Mandel: "After a series of compromises, the SEC -- owner of six straight national championships -- can be declared the victor. Again."

If Slive and the SEC "won" with the agreed-upon postseason model, Jim Delany and the Big Ten must have lost, right? It fits the narrative, after all. It probably didn't help that Delany wore a bandage on his face during Wednesday's news conference, surely the result of a vicious right hook from Slive in the meeting room.

Many will interpret Wednesday's result as a setback for Delany, who vigorously supported the BCS system and helped shoot down the plus-one proposal Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford brought up in 2008.

The truth is the Big Ten had to give up some of its potential desires for the playoff consensus to be reached. But so did every league. And the things the Big Ten gave up were nationally unpopular or not feasible.

Let's go through them:

Campus sites

While the Big Ten acknowledged campus sites could have benefits for its teams not currently present in the BCS structure, there was virtually no support for campus sites among the other leagues. There were concerns about staging these massive sporting events at smallish stadiums in remote areas. Again, not a Big Ten problem, but a problem elsewhere.

Did the Big Ten give up too easily on pushing for campus sites? Perhaps. Was there any chance campus sites would be approved by even a small majority of commissioners? No. Even the Big Ten's players and coaches said they preferred to have games at bowl sites to preserve the bowl experience.

Rose Bowl access

The new system, if approved by the presidents, will keep semifinals in the existing bowls, most likely on a predetermined, rotating basis. It's hard not to envision the Rose Bowl being a national semifinal every other year, at the very least. There's the Rose Bowl, and then there are the other bowls. It's not really close, and it's humorous to hear how some think the Champions Bowl will rival the Rose Bowl. These significant games should be in Pasadena more often than not.

Will there be years where the Rose Bowl features two teams not from the Big Ten or Pac-12? Yes. But that's already happened. Will the traditional matchup (Big Ten champion vs. Pac-12 champion) take place all the time? No. But it doesn't now. Here's all you need to know about the Rose Bowl in the BCS era: Ohio State has played in Pasadena a grand total of one time despite dominating the Big Ten. We've seen a lot of Big Ten vs. Pac-12, but the matchups rarely have featured the best teams from each conference.

There's a decent chance a Rose Bowl semifinal will feature at least one of the traditional participants. In years where the Rose Bowl isn't a semifinal, you'll likely see the Big Ten's No. 1 or No. 2 against the Pac-12's No. 1 or No. 2. Pretty much like it is now.

"That's been a core principle for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten throughout this whole process," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, "the preservation of heritage and the importance of the Rose Bowl, making sure in any system going forward, the Rose Bowl is going to have an important role to play, so that it's as relevant 20 years from now as it is today."

That might be wishful thinking on Scott's part, but the Rose Bowl shouldn't be dramatically different after 2014.

Plus-One

File this idea under "wildly unpopular." The Big Ten presidents stated a plus-one -- selecting the national title game participants after all the bowls are played -- as their preference ahead of a four-team playoff. Some Pac-12 presidents feel the same way. But the momentum and discussion always rested with a true four-team model. Delany knew it. Scott knew it. They had to relay what their presidents felt because that's their job. A plus-one will be discussed next week to appease folks like Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, but it likely won't be seriously considered.

The likely death of the plus-one isn't really a loss for the Big Ten. It's simply acknowledging reality, which is a good thing.

Conference champion access

Delany reiterated Wednesday to ESPN.com, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal that he never endorsed a conference-champions-only model for a four-team playoff. He said he never felt a team like last year's Alabama squad should have been excluded from the postseason. Teams "at the margin," like No. 4 Stanford last year, are completely different cases.

Is he backtracking? Some will say yes. But find the quote where Delany said champions only. It doesn't exist.

What Delany wanted to ensure was a Big Ten champion at No. 4 or No. 5, according to a poll or a computer or just plain old perception, isn't excluded from the playoff in favor of a team that didn't win its league. And that's not going to happen.

If you're keeping score, the Big Ten's big win Wednesday was the virtual certainty that a selection committee will be used to pick the playoff participants. A selection committee with clear guidelines on how to value conference championships and strength of schedule. If a conference champion and a non-champion with comparable résumés are fighting for the last spot, the conference champion will get in. Mark it down.

That was Delany's idea, one he has pushed for since mid May. And while the hybrid model -- the top three rated league champions plus one wild card -- might not be set in stone, that's what you're going to see when this system begins. The data backs it up.
In the 14-year BCS era, 42 of the 56 teams that finished in the top four of the BCS standings won their conference championship. That's 75 percent, which is the same exact number a three-and-one system would guarantee. Only five times in 14 years would a top four team have been left out for failing to win its conference, and all five occasions involved flipping the No. 4 and 5 teams. There would never have been a No. 3 left out or a No. 6 let in.

Slive can appease his minions by having a playoff that selects the "best four." And if the SEC continues its dominance, expect to see two of its teams in the playoff every year. But not three. That's not happening.

Delany couldn't win on certain issues (campus sites, plus-one, perfect Rose Bowl access), so he needed to ensure the selection committee got through, conference championships are valued, and strength of schedule becomes a bigger part of the equation. Those items all should be adopted with the new format.

"Once I became convinced that the regular season was safe," Delany said, "that the bowls and the Rose Bowl in particular, had a place in the system, and once I was able to talk through all of the issues with my colleagues, we found a way to get to that consensus recommendation."

Be prepared to hear how the Big Ten and Delany lost on Wednesday. It fits a nice, easy and lazy narrative.

The truth is Delany adapted to a changing landscape. He might have to bring his presidents along, kicking and screaming.

But the new system should sit well with most Big Ten fans. It's not a total loss.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

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