Tuesday, April 24, 2012
BCS meetings: Proximity a priority for B1G
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
It figures that the most important meetings to determine college football's future postseason structure are taking place this week in Hollywood, Fla.
After all, every other meaningful event in the sport occurs well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany needs to make sure that changes, no matter which playoff format the BCS leaders ultimately choose. Forget the laughable "Four Teams Plus" plan that keeps the Rose Bowl in the mix for determining the national champion, but has virtually no chance of being approved by commissioners not from the Big Ten or Pac-12. While Delany loves the Rose Bowl and always will, his top priority this week in South Florida should be proximity.
If a four-team postseason plan is green-lighted, as many expect, Delany must ensure that it's possible for at least some of the games to be played in or near the Big Ten footprint. Because the current system doesn't serve the Big Ten or its fans.
There are myriad reasons for the Big Ten's downturn during the BCS era, but the location of the most significant bowl games, including the national championship, undoubtedly hurts the league, which has played several virtual road contests.
Since the BCS launched in 1998, the Big Ten has dropped two games to LSU in New Orleans, including the national title game after the 2007 season. The Big Ten also is 0-4 against USC at the Rose Bowl. While there are exceptions, like Penn State's Orange Bowl win against Florida State, Big Ten teams generally become roadkill in these matchups.
The Big Ten's destination dilemma is inherent within the current bowl/BCS system. The big bowl games always have been played in the south and west, and because of the "double-hosting" model, the same holds true for the national championship games. Most Big Ten fans understand the reasons behind this, and have willingly hopped on airplanes every December and traveled far and wide to see their teams play. It's this willingness that has made Big Ten teams so attractive to BCS bowl committees.
But the future postseason structure will bring change. A four-team setup would create two semifinals, which might take place within the current bowl structure, but most likely will not. The semis could take place at on-campus sites belonging to the higher seeds, a plan Delany advocates, or at neutral sites like Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium and Detroit's Ford Field. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis? Beats facing LSU in NOLA.
"Yes, has to be," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently told ESPN.com. "If you go neutral sites, you've got to have one in the Midwest. You've just got to. If it's campus sites, it's hard to dictate that, because it depends on the rankings. If you go campus sites, you hope some Midwest team is up there and they get to host."
Although Big Ten fans travel better than any in the country, the cost of making two long trips -- for the semifinals and championship game -- in a short span around the holidays will be too much for many to bear.
"If you think about it, just about every conference now has a [championship game], so you expect your fans to go to that," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is attending the BCS meetings along with Delany, told ESPN.com. "Now you're going to go to a bowl site, and if you're in a championship game, that's three games you want them to travel to. It would be nice if one of those games would be at a home site, or two of them."
There's also the possibility the national championship game moves away from the bowl sites and goes to the highest bidder, which could bring venues like Lucas Oil Stadium and Ford Field into the rotation. The chance to play for a title on Big Ten soil will excite fans around the Midwest, but they'll settle for having some type of nationally relevant football game within driving distance in late December or early January.
Delany's ideal setup likely would call for semifinal games on campus, and the national title game at the Rose Bowl every year. Don't hold your breath on either element coming to fruition, but having a neutral-site semifinal in the Midwest every year certainly isn't too much to ask.
Big Ten fans have served their league and its teams extremely well by traveling in droves to big-time bowl games in faraway destinations.
It's time for Delany to return the favor by ensuring they'll have a chance to see their teams play meaningful games closer to home.