Pac-12 fights for postseason position

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
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Larry ScottKirby Lee/US PresswirePac-12 commissioner Larry Scott prefers a playoff model that awards conference champions.

While inclined in all my glory by the hotel pool during my vacation last week, a waiter brought me my drink, complete with a mini-umbrella and a garnish of epic proportions.

I raised the frosty concoction to my lips. And then spit it all over myself.

"This is awful!" I said. "What is it?"

"It's a 'disingenuous,'" the waiter said. "It's the hottest thing in college football this offseason."

The amount of disingenuous blather cascading out of conference meetings the past few weeks has been equal parts amusing and distressing. Amusing because it's so transparent. Distressing because these guys could make a mess of a great opportunity.

There are two chief lines of disingenuousness: 1) We want the four best teams in a playoff; 2) we want only conference champions in a playoff.

The SEC folks were just ridiculous with their "four best teams" chicanery. When SEC commissioner Mike Slive kept repeating "One, two, three, four" to reporters last week, what he was really saying was, "The SEC's priority is maintaining subjectivity as the key component of the college football postseason."

Understand: There is no "one, two, three, four." There are only opinions and computer formulas. You might note that no -- zero -- pro sports use a "one, two, three, four." They all have divisions. To advance to the playoffs, you must win your division or win a wild-card spot. In no case is there a subjective voting process or selection committee.

What do the SEC and, apparently, the Big 12 want? Those conferences want a two-team expansion of the current BCS system. Or they want a selection committee that will always tap 11-1 Alabama over 12-0 Boise State or 11-1 Texas over 11-1 California.

Those folks prioritize hunches over concrete accomplishment. Why? Self-interest, naturally.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott knows this. This is why he keeps countering "one, two, three, four" with "conference champions." And why Scott and the Pac-12 have not committed to much of anything about the postseason, from venues to format.

Scott and the Pac-12 folks know they have plenty of leverage. They want to use that leverage to protect their interests, just as the SEC folks do. Among those Pac-12 interests is protecting the Rose Bowl, but that may already have been accomplished when the SEC and Big 12 teamed up for their own bowl game.

Hashing out a final format figures to be contentious, and it probably should be. Count on some give and take during negotiations, complete with moments of kicking and screaming behind closed doors. In the end, however, there will have to be some compromise.

[+] EnlargeJim Delany
Jerry Lai/US PresswireBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany proposed a plan in which conference champions would have to be in the top six of the final rankings in order to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff.
Oh, by the way, a perfect compromise has already been proposed and has been called the "Delany Model," a tip of the cap to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany: the top-six plan. Conference champions would be required to be ranked in the top six of the final rankings to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff. If four conference champions aren't ranked in the top six, the highest-ranked at-large teams would fill however many voids there are.

That would prevent, say, a three-loss conference champion from slipping into the final four. It also provides a course of entry for an elite team that doesn't win its conference to backdoor its way into the process.

It is the clearest way to maintain the value of the regular season while also ensuring an impostor won't slip in. It splits the difference between "one, two, three, four" and "conference champions."

It makes so much sense, I'm nearly certain it won't be adopted. Sigh.

There are other issues to consider, particularly from the Pac-12 end of things:

  • Schedules need to be standardized. One conference can't play eight games and another nine. That's a variable that must be eliminated, one way or another. Otherwise you're comparing cupcakes and rib eyes.
  • There needs to be a serious consideration of scheduling in general. Penalties should be integrated into the system for weak nonconference scheduling.
  • If some sort of BCS-type formula is retained, it needs to reincorporate margin of victory. That was previously killed because administrators were worried about coaches running up the score. A simple solution to that is establishing a baseline figure of dominance, such as making a 21-point victory no different than a 50-point victory.

Further, there needs to be serious give and take about potential problems with a selection committee. One of my concerns is that a committee could be influenced by its knowledge of likely reactions among fan bases. For example, say Stanford and LSU are both 11-1. Which fan base would be more measured in its reaction to being left out? And don't think that wouldn't be in the minds of every committee member while they hashed out the particulars.

Know that this won't be anything like deciding which middling teams get left out of the NCAA basketball tournament. Programs with huge followings such as Ohio State, Texas, USC, Notre Dame and Florida State could produce an apoplectic backlash -- perhaps an even tangibly threatening one -- against a committee, and foreknowledge of the comfort of avoiding that likely would seep into the process.

A term to chew on as we charge along into the unknown: "Unintended consequences." We almost certainly will encounter plenty of those in 2014 and beyond.

The good news for the Pac-12 is it has a strong position and a key seat at the table. There might be some give for the Pac-12 during negotiations, but there also should be plenty of take.

Ted Miller | email

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