Playoff impact on Big East

June, 27, 2012
6/27/12
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Now that the framework for a college football playoff has been rubber-stamped, we are again left to wonder how these historic changes affect the Big East.

I would love to give you the league perspective, but Big East interim commissioner Joe Bailey has not issued any comments just yet. As I explained last week, the Big East essentially got only one thing it wanted out of this -- a four-team playoff. That is a pretty huge and historic deal, no question.

More access is good for the Big East. The commonly held belief is that an undefeated Big East team would find itself in a four-team playoff. Let us remember that the Big East has had a top-four finish in the final BCS standings more recently than the ACC and Big Ten. So I see the bright side there.

But here is where things might get just a tad complicated.

The Big East wanted conference champions only. No dice. The Big East did not want a selection committee. No dice.

So what the league is left with is the real possibility it could be on the outside looking in, even with an undefeated team in the final top four. Again.

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly and Tony Pike, left, secured a BCS berth with a 45-44 victory over Pitt.
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesCoach Brian Kelly, right, and QB Tony Pike helped Cincinnati to an unbeaten 2009 regular season.
I present to you an interesting piece ESPN Insider Travis Haney recently wrote. He takes a look at the 2009 season Insider and how a selection committee may have chosen a four-team playoff. You all remember Cincinnati went undefeated and finished No. 3 in the final BCS standings. Most all of us have assumed Cincinnati would have been a no-brainer to get in.

But take a look at the teams in the final top six. Five teams went undefeated, including Boise State. Then you have a Florida team that went 12-1, with its only loss in the SEC title game to Alabama. Haney argues that Cincinnati would have been left out of the mix. There are some great quotes Haney uses to back up his conclusion.

I think Florida, even after getting stomped in the SEC title game, would have easily gotten in. The Gators were No. 1 for the entire season, until their loss to Alabama. And they also had Tim Tebow. Same argument that held for Alabama and LSU this year would have held for Alabama and Florida that season. I can just hear the chatter now -- should Florida really be penalized for being second-best in the best, best, best, most amazing conference in America?

So the fourth and final spot would have come down to Cincinnati and TCU. And I don't think that would have been a slam-dunk decision. First of all, TCU was ranked ahead of Cincinnati in the AP and coaches' polls. Those polls will still be around for a selection committee to consult; the BCS standings are gone. Look at strength of schedule and quality wins -- TCU beat Clemson, Virginia, Utah and BYU. Cincinnati beat Oregon State, USF, Pitt and West Virginia.

It is not impossible to believe the Bearcats would have been left out, despite an undefeated season. Future Big East member Boise State would have been as well.

So you see, there are no guarantees for the Big East moving forward, particularly if there are years when there are many undefeated teams, or years when there are no undefeated teams. What does not change is the Big East MUST go undefeated to have any shot. Then the league has to hope it has played a strong enough nonconference schedule, and has quality wins over Top 25 teams. Then it has to hope its potential representative has a modicum of national respect and is ranked in the top two of the final polls.

Why top two? Because it is a lot easier to justify leaving out teams ranked Nos. 3 or 4.

I hear the argument that the pressure and scrutiny on the selection committee will be too great for it to overlook an undefeated team from a conference like the Big East. The skeptic in me says otherwise. I can hear the justification of bringing in a one-loss SEC team over an undefeated Big East team because of superior strength of schedule. Most any decision can be justified. Just ask the NCAA hoops selection committee.

There is never going to be a perfect system. The powerful forces in college football have seen to it that their interests are somewhat protected with a selection committee. The Big East did not want this type of format to select the final four teams, but there is no choice.

Now we wait and see whether access really has changed.

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