The BCS (1998-2014) is dead. Or it will be. So said a group of consensus-building conference commissioners and overseeing school presidents, who made the announcement Tuesday that college football will have — at long last — a four-team playoff to determine its champion.
Well, “dead” maybe isn’t the correct term. The BCS will still be around for two more years. Let’s just say it has been diagnosed with a serious case of “you’re-going-to-die-soon.” So now we just have to wait for it to expire.
ANYWAY, here are the finer points of Tuesday’s announcement about the postseason:
- College football’s champion will be decided by a four-team, postseason, seeded playoff.
- This format will begin in the 2014-15 season.
- The semifinal games will be rotated among six bowl sites. The Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta will be four sites, with two more to be determined (the Cotton Bowl should make a strong push).
- The championship game will rotate among neutral sites. It will be managed by the conferences and not be branded as a bowl game.
- A selection committee will select and rank the teams for the playoff. There are no automatic qualifiers. The criteria considered will be won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether or not a team is a conference champion.
- The semifinals will be played on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
- The championship game will be played on the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the final semifinal game is played. That means the first five years the championship game will be on Jan. 12, 2015; Jan. 11, 2016; Jan. 9, 2017; Jan. 8, 2018; and Jan. 7, 2019.
- The new format has a 12-year term, going through the 2025-26 season.
- The revenue split is still under discussion, although the committee said in a press release that it would reward conferences for success on the field, accommodate expenses and reward academic performance of student-athletes. (I’ll believe that last one when I see it).
What remains to be decided? The aforementioned revenue split. The new format does not yet have a name. (I hope it ends in “S” so the “BC-Mess!” headlines are not a thing of the past too.) Oh, also the makeup of the selection committee, the procedures they’ll use and which bowls will participate as rotating hosts. Nothing a few dozen more meetings won’t solve.
So what does this all mean? I wasn’t in Washington, D.C., for the announcement, but it doesn’t mean I can’t opine. I like how our columnist Aaron McFarling will do the occasional article with a fictional person asking him questions. Let’s give that a try.
Q: Wow, big day for BCS-haters, right?
A: Yes. This was the first logical step in making the college football postseason a little more enjoyable. Could it have included more teams? Yes. Could it have played the semifinals on campus so it’s easier for fans to travel? Yes. Could it have cut the bowl games out of profits by taking control of the semifinals like it did the championship? Yes. But including two more participants was the important step. In doing so, you’ve lowered the number of teams that have legitimate gripes about not being able to play for a national championship. And given the breadth of the college football landscape, with so many teams from different parts of the country playing a limited number of games and even fewer in head-to-head competition, I think the sport needed to increase its access to more than just two teams playing for a national championship. Let’s put it this way: I doubt you’ll see a major conference champion be left out of a playoff if it is undefeated at the end of the year. You couldn’t say that about the BCS.
Q: Yeah, right. This is just setting up for the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten to hog all the postseason spots.
A: I wouldn’t go that far. Yes, those conferences, by and large, would have produced the most participants in this four-team model had it been used in the past, but access is there for teams that have good seasons. And I think the ACC, despite its lagging status among the major conferences (it’s safe to say it’s No. 5 right now), would unquestionably send an unbeaten champion to the four-team tournament. It just hasn’t had one in years, or even come close to having one. The league hasn’t had a conference champion with fewer than two regular season losses since Maryland in 2001.
Right now, the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten deserve the right to be considered for more than one team in the playoff. Their elite teams have earned it on the field. (OK, maybe not the Big Ten of late.) And that’s what you like to see in football: teams eliminating hypothetical arguments by achieving something on the field.
Q: So you’re OK with the potential of two or three teams from the same conference getting into the playoff?
A: Yes. As long as they’re deserving. And there are fluke years where that’s the case. Alabama and LSU, no matter what format you used, deserved to be in consideration for the national title last season. And it just so happened they were in the same division. It happens. Not often, but it happens. Taking the best four teams at the end of the regular season ensures the integrity of the postseason. If they would have limited it to only conference champions, you have weird seasons like last year when standout teams wouldn’t have gotten in because of arbitrary rules. That’s worse than multiple worthy teams from the same league getting into the playoff.
Q: Isn’t this just setting up for more controversy when an unbeaten team like Boise State is up against a one-loss, major conference team for one of the last spots?
A: Yes, the system isn’t perfect. And it will never be. I for one would have liked to have seen an eight-team playoff to avoid (or limit) situations like that, but I guess you have to take what you can get. (Maybe in 14 years.) Still, I’d rather be having that argument about the fourth spot of a playoff than the second spot, which is what is under the current setup. The further down the rankings you go, the less of a gripe teams will have.
Q: So does this give the little guys more access to the playoff?
A: Well, yes and no. Yes in that there are two more spots open. But no in that I think those spots will largely go to teams from power conferences. Look at the criteria again. Strength of schedule is a big component. And teams outside the power conferences aren’t just going to get in because they’re undefeated. This is less of a concern now that some of those former outsiders like Utah, TCU and Boise State have joined BCS-level conferences. You’ll always have an out-of-nowhere unbeaten season like Tulane in 1998, but I don’t think anybody actually thought the Green Wave was actually worthy of playing for a national title that year. Not with the schedule it played. I don’t think anything will change in the new system in that regard.
Q: Is a selection committee such a good idea?
A: I think so. Some have argued to keep a mathematically-based system for choosing the teams. I don’t mind some sort of RPI-like metric for the committee to take into consideration, but I think it was a good idea to get away from the BCS rankings. For starters, the math involved wasn’t real math. It was pseudo-math, through no fault of the programmers who came up with them. The BCS overseers demanded that margin of victory be taken out of the equation in the name of sportsmanship, even though the programmers said it made their formulas less accurate (less data is not a good thing when math is involved). That is not the basis you want for choosing your postseason participants.
As for the committee, I still think that’s the best way to decide teams. It adds a human element, and that’s certainly open to criticism, but it’s needed in certain situations. Take, for instance, the Stanford and Oregon rankings last year. The Ducks beat the Cardinal handily, in Eugene no less. They won their conference too, yet through the quirks of the BCS rankings (and because they challenged themselves early and lost a neutral field opener against eventual title game participant LSU), the Ducks were ranked fifth while the Cardinal was fourth. That sort of dilemma has come up before. And the committee would ensure that in situations like that, the right team comes out on top.
Q: Balderdash! The committee can’t help but be biased. And politics will come into play. You mean to tell me Notre Dame wouldn’t get an invite to the postseason ahead of Virginia Tech just based on the ratings potential?
A: Let’s keep the language clean. This is a family blog. And no, I don’t think that would happen. But that’s only provided the selection committee has full transparency with its picks. It has to have set criteria. It has to be consistent. It has to be made up of a cross-section of knowledgeable college football followers. And above all, it has to be held accountable and explain its picks. If you do this, and require the committee to justify its selection on clearly-defined criteria, I think the stakes are too high for any funny business.
If the process was open to questioning, an unjustifiable pick would get torn apart in this age of Twitter, blogs, Dan Wetzel and TV talking heads. It’s part of the reason the BCS was unsustainable — the never-ending drumbeat of negativity surrounding everything it did (the primary reason, of course, was the boatloads of money the schools were leaving on the table by not having a playoff). Keep these things in full view of the public eye and there’s a minimal chance that the backdoor shenanigans so prevalent in the old bowl selection process would take place.
Q: So who should be on the committee?
A: It has to be representative of all parts of the country. And it has to have a good number of people, so one or two members can’t have too much sway. (I’m thinking at least the size of a jury. That seems to work out well in our legal system.) And these people have to be dedicated to watching the games and keeping up with what’s going on throughout the season. Former coaches? Sure, provided they pay attention throughout the year. Athletic directors? Yeah, although they’d probably have to recuse themselves when talking about their own schools. National media members? Yes. They get a good sampling of games from across the country throughout the season.
But this has to be an ongoing process. They can’t get thrown into a room at the last second and come up with four teams. I think the NCAA basketball tournament sets a good precedent in that regard. Are there biases in that group? Yes. But people are going to see biases wherever they want to. As long as there is a good enough sampling providing different perspectives from all around the country, I’m OK with the human element being involved. No system is perfect, but I think this is a step in the right direction.