As a college football fan, I like the fact that the sport is moving rapidly toward a four-team playoff. If we avoid the almost inevitable playoff-creep (to eight teams and then sixteen), I’ll be even happier.
In simple terms, four teams beats two teams when it comes to determining a national champion. Teams #1 through #4 could all — in the right year — have a legitimate, well-earned shot at the title belt. Teams #5 and up would have more holes in their resumes. So this writer’s happy they’re likely to be excluded.
And that looks to be exactly what’s going to happen. After Day One of the latest conference commissioner meetings in Florida yesterday, none other than Bill Hancock himself — the Grand Poobah and chief PR man for the BCS — said that things are definitely changing and that the status quo is “off the table.” Most sources say a four-team, seeded, Plus-One format is on the way. Therefore, the only questions now are:
* Who’ll pick the teams? (A selection committee is being discussed as one possibility.)
* Will champions only be allowed in? (Not likely.)
* Where will the games be played? (Best bet — the semifinals at a bowl site and the championship game bidded out to a different city each year.)
* How will the money be split? (This is the stickiest part because the current BCS leagues won’t want to give the second-tier leagues an even share.)
But the real news today is that the Bowl Championship Series as we know it will die after the 2013 college football season (which means we’ll have just two more years of it). Shouts of jubilation can be heard from Seattle to Syracuse, down to Coral Gables, and back to San Diego.
We suggest, however, that SEC fans hold their applause for just a bit.
Everyone in America knows that the Southeastern Conference has thrived under the current system. The SEC won the first BCS title after the 1998 season. It’s won the last six BCS titles including an SEC versus SEC affair this past January. In between there was an eighth SEC champ crowned as well. That’s eight titlists in 14 years under the current BCS system. Not bad.
The thought in Dixie is that the SEC will really come to dominate an era of playoffs. That makes sense. The SEC is the best league around and as long as leagues can land multiple teams in the semifinals, Mike Slive’s bunch seems likely to keep it’s current roll going.
There are new variables to be thrown into the equation, though.
First, who picks the teams who get in? There are always some who want the voters and the computers tossed out and a selection committee founded. Trouble is — and we point this out every March — folks scream, holler and moan about the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s work in basketball. That evidence suggests a blue-ribbon panel would not be perfect. And depending who’s on it, such a committee could be plum bad for the SEC.
If a committee is used, it’s likely each conference would have some form of representation, at least on a rotating basis — an ex-ACC player here, an ex-Big Ten coach there, a couple of current conference commissioners tossed in for good measure. Well right now the SEC is the bully on the block. The idea of a group of non-SEC folks tabbing two SEC teams to take part in a playoff would seem slim. The term “spreading the wealth” comes to mind. In fact, that’s exactly why we’re on the doorstep of a playoff now.
Just four years ago — two years into the SEC’s reign of championships — Mike Slive and ACC commish John Swofford pushed for a seeded Plus-One system. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Now six years into the SEC’s “Golden Age,” the rest of the conference commissioners are looking for a share of the glory. So don’t think that a committee or panel or governing body would be fair to the SEC. The league might have two of the top four teams in the polls, but it might not land two teams in the playoff if there are five major conference champions in the Top Five, for example.
For that reason, the best hope for the SEC is for some modified version of the current BCS formula to be installed into the new selection process. Think about it. Voters have a healthy respect for the Southeastern Conference. Fans of other leagues might feel the SEC gets too much respect, but as long as the SEC keeps winning crowns, the longer the polls will continue to feature several of its teams in the Top 10.
There’s a scene from the movie “City Slickers” in which Billy Crystal’s character is trying to outwit an ice cream salesman by naming a dish that would be impossible to pair with a perfectly-flavored dessert. The guy throws out an answer anyway and he and his brother high-five over it. When Crystal asks how they know their answer is correct, David Paymer’s character says: “How do we know? Fourteen-hundred retail outlets from coast to coach, that’s how we know.”
And that’s the argument for the SEC being the best in the football biz. How do we know? Six consecutive national titles. Poll voters subscribe to that line of thinking.
So do computer geeks. The old SEC — the one with 12 teams — was “strength of schedule” dynamite in the computer portion of the BCS formula. Now toss in two more solid programs and those strength of schedule rankings are likely to rise further. That gives the SEC an advantage against other leagues.
Computers don’t feel the need to “spread the wealth” of championships from conference to conference, either.
Another new variable is the increased risk of injury. In the current format, two teams — usually one an SEC squad — have 40 days to heal up and prepare for one game. In a playoff, an injury to a key starter in a semifinal could have a big effect on how the finals play out.
Additionally, coaching staffs will have to prepare for three teams rather than one during the month of December — a semifinal foe and then both possible final draws. That would be a pretty big change, too.
Look, today is a good day for college football fans. A bizarre championship format is going to change. Probably in a big, big way that will make for great television and — hopefully — will help take back New Year’s Day from a host of second-tier bowl games. The SEC is still the best football conference around and it should do well no matter what the future plan is put in place.
It’s just that that old, bizarre championship format has served the Southeastern Conference pretty well over the last decade-and-a-half.
Depending on what new postseason format is adopted and who it is that will be selecting the teams to play in it, some of us down South may eventually come to mumble another old saying — “Be careful what you wish for.”