Thursday, May 3, 2012
'Top 6' plan not ideal but sensible for B1G
By Brian Bennett
We know there is going to be a four-team college playoff. We still don't know how the teams will be selected.
Some conference commissioners want only league champions to qualify, while others say the top four teams, period, should play for the national title. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany unveiled another option while meeting with reporters on Wednesday: select conference champions, but only if they are ranked in the top six.
It's clear that Jim Delany and the Big Ten are making studying concussions a major priority.
So if four league champs were ranked in the top six, you'd simply go with the four highest ranked conference title winners. If fewer than four conference winners were in the top six, the next highest-ranked team would get in.
This model would have allowed Alabama to qualify for a national semifinal last year. The semis would have featured No. 1 LSU vs No. 5 Oregon, and Alabama playing No. 3 Oklahoma State.
The previous year, Wisconsin would have made it in the four-team playoff despite finishing No. 5 because Pac-12 runner-up Stanford was ranked No, 4. The Badgers would have faced No. 1 Auburn in one semifinal, with Oregon playing TCU in the other.
The proposal helps maintain the importance of the regular season and rewards teams for winning their conference titles. In that sense, it's a good thing. But does it really select the most worthy teams?
What if Boise State hadn't lost by one point to TCU last year, thus finishing in the top six instead of No. 7? Then Alabama wouldn't have played for the national title. Sure, you can say the Crimson Tide didn't even win their division, but do you really believe they weren't one of the four best teams in the country?
We don't even need hypothetical situations, though. Just look back to 2008, when Texas finished No. 3 and beat No. 1 Oklahoma head-to-head yet lost out on a byzantine Big 12 tiebreaker. That year's final four would have featured Oklahoma, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 USC and No. 6 Utah. The Utes were a good team, but did they belong in over a Longhorns squad that beat three teams in the top 11, including Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl?
Closer to home, how about 2006? Michigan finished No. 3, with its only loss of course coming on the road in the finale against Ohio State in a thriller. You know who would have gotten in the semis instead of the Wolverines? No. 6 Louisville. I think Michigan fans would have been howling about that. Using conference titles as a playoff prerequisite sounds good -- until your team finishes as a league runner up but is ranked in the top four.
Any conference champion-only model doesn't take into account how differently each league crowns its champ. Leagues like the Pac-12 and Big 12 play a full round-robin, while conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten have division systems where a team can sometimes avoid the best clubs from the other division. And what do you do about independents Notre Dame and BYU in the champions-only plans? (Not to mention how you decide who is in the top six, but that's a discussion for another day).
Yet I also see why the Big Ten would support such a plan. It didn't happen a year ago, when Wisconsin won the league with two losses and finished No. 10 in the BCS standings. But the odds are pretty strong that the Big Ten champion is going to finish in the top six most years, all but guaranteeing a spot in the national semifinals. In a champions-only model, the Big Ten doesn't have to worry so much about having an undefeated league champ or fret about the SEC gobbling up more than one spot.
The league is already at a geographic disadvantage in postseason play, and unless campus sites for national semifinals becomes a reality, that is going to stay that way. So I don't blame the Big Ten for supporting a plan that is advantageous to its own interests, even if it's not a perfect system for crowning a national champion.