Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Because it's all about the playoff thing

Hokay, so ...

... zee playoff thing. The guys who would know have been saying stuff about it for most of the past week, a week that was largely spent bouncing ideas off each other and trying to figure out exactly how much Centrum Silver they'll be able to buy with the pile of cash they'll be swimming in starting in 2014. Most of that stuff was probably meaningless posturing; that won't stop me from reading too much into it here.

Let's start with this: There will be a four-team playoff. There is no other plausible option on the table at this point since Bill Hancock has actually said that "the status quo is off the table" and there has been zero support for anything larger than a four-team bracket. There will be four seeded teams in a bracket that features semifinals one week and a national championship game a week or two later.

There are two not-insignificant takeaways from the above paragraph. The first is that this playoff thing will not be a plus-one featuring a vote/selection after the bowl games but will actually be a playoff, which makes sense since trying to pick the two best teams after the bowl games often wouldn't be any easier than picking the two best teams after the regular season. The second is that Jim Delany's insistence that everybody get off the Rose Bowl's lawn has been thoroughly disregarded/discarded. I will now refer back to this quote from SEC commissioner Mike Slive:
A four-team playoff proposal that would ensure a Big Ten/Pac-12 Rose Bowl semifinal pairing ... prompted a smile from Slive.

"It's not one of my favorites," he said. "What we're trying to do is simplify in many ways. I don't think that adds to the simplification of the postseason." 
BOOM SLIVE'D. It's a four-team playoff, not a maybe-five-team-or-six-team-depending-on-the-conference-affiliation playoff.

Anyway, what's still a matter of debate is pretty much everything else. To be more specific: (a) the sites for the semifinal games, (b) the involvement of the bowls -- which is directly related to aforementioned site issue -- and (c) the manner of selecting the four participating teams.

This is where things stand, according to Stewart Mandel: 
Multiple sources with direct knowledge of last week's discussions in South Florida have confirmed to SI.com that the new favored proposal for a four-team playoff within the bowl system would place the two semifinal games at the traditional anchor bowls of the No. 1 and 2 teams' conferences. For example, No. 1 Alabama of the SEC would host the No. 4 team in the Sugar Bowl, while No. 2 USC of the Pac-12 would host the No. 3 team in the Rose Bowl.
Bolded for emphasis. It is probably not a coincidence that this became the "favored" proposal right after Jim Delany got done being laughed at since it allows a top-two Big Ten or Pac-12 team to host its semifinal at the Rose Bowl, which makes Delany happy and thus makes everyone else happy since his whining will be minimized. I'm not sure (and haven't seen any explanation of) what would happen if a Big Ten team and a Pac-12 team finished first and second; that's probably low on the risk of concerns but is worth thinking about.

There are apparently two potential alternatives: a predetermined rotation for the semifinals among the current BCS sites -- the way the championship site is rotated now -- and (gasp) using college football stadiums to host college football games!

Mandel's source says the rotation thing is "not as likely" to be implemented because of the less-than-ideal scenarios that feature USC playing LSU at a hypothetically neutral-site game in the Sugar Bowl while the Rose Bowl hosts a Virginia Tech-Oklahoma game nobody really wants to go to. I'm not even sure how to say this: That ... like ... actually makes sense (ducking lightning bolts).

As for the on-campus option that had supposedly been eliminated a couple weeks ago ...
Contrary to some reports, on-campus sites remain "very much alive," according to two sources. One said the commissioners left the meetings split about "60-40" in favor of using bowl sites.
... that's not exactly eliminated but doesn't sound super promising either. It's pretty easy to figure out the 60-40 split: Jim Delany and whoever is now representing the Big East are on one side and everybody else is on the other. There's little reason for anybody in the SEC/Pac-12/Big 12/ACC to give up what basically amounts to a home crowd at every prominent "neutral" site in exchange for the possibility of playing in Ann Arbor/Columbus/Madison/Lincoln/wherever in early January; unfortunately for people who want on-campus playoff games (me among them), that's a numerical advantage that probably isn't overcome-able. But I'll keep hoping.

Speaking of Delany, his new pet project is just as stupid as his last one. This is from CBS Sports' Brett McMurphy:
Delany, who met with CBSSports.com and other reporters on Wednesday in Chicago, said one proposal being considered is the conference-champion-only model but that the conference champion would have to be ranked among the top six teams in the country to qualify.

If a conference champion was among the top six in the rankings, it would automatically qualify for the four-team playoff. The top four ranked conference champions among the top six would qualify, and if less than four conference champions were among the top six teams then the remaining spots would be filled by the highest-ranked non-conference champions or an independent (Notre Dame, BYU, Army or Navy).
Quick side note: I like how Army and Navy are included for journalistic fairness lol.

Anyway, the stupidity: There's a lot of it here. I understand maximizing the importance of the regular season and the conference championships and whatnot but don't understand the desire to create a four-team playoff and not just take the TOP FOUR TEAMS. Why does it need to be so complicated?

I can't find the story now but saw a breakdown showing that a top-four team would have been left out under this playoff scenario seven times in the BCS era. That's seven times in 15 years! It defeats the purpose of having a playoff if it includes a relatively arbitrary selection of participants and doesn't necessarily represent the teams deserving of being in said playoff.

Here's a great example (and not because of the team that would've gotten screwed) from Tony Barnhart:
... my personal favorite is 2006: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 USC, and No. 6 Louisville are in. No. 3 Michigan (11-1 with a 42-39 loss to Ohio State) and No. 4 LSU (losses to No. 3 Auburn and No. 2 Florida) are out. So Michigan, which was No. 2 but idle on Championship Saturday and got leapfrogged by Florida by .0101 in the final BCS Standings, doesn't get in. But Bobby Petrino's Big East champions, whose best non-conference win was over a 7-6 Miami team, gets to be in the Final Four? 
Yup. No further discussion needed, although it's also noted that a hypothetical conference-champions-only playoff last year would've been one fewer Wisconsin loss from featuring No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 5 Oregon and No. 6 Wisconsin and leaving out No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Stanford, which ... ummm ... no. I like my four teams to be the best four teams plzkthx.

Fortunately for me and the glorious awesomeness of common sense, it appears that I'm not alone:
While there's been considerable public sentiment toward limiting the field to conference champions, one source said most commissioners are leaning toward an unrestricted top four, which figures to be more appealing to television partners. "One through four is more easily understandable," said ACC commissioner John Swofford.
Thank the Lord; for once, television contracts might actually produce something beneficial to the general viewership. BTW, I'm way beyond skeptical that there's "considerable public sentiment toward limiting the field to conference champions." I'd say it's the opposite based on the (coherent) things I've read and all the stuff I just wrote.

Swofford gets it:
"I'm a big believer in conference championships, and that resonates with me," said Swofford. "But if you're selling a four-team playoff, and it's not 1-2-3-4, then the credibility of the system is undermined."  
There it is. A four-team playoff that leaves out the team at No. 3 or (AAHHH) No. 2 will almost immediately cease to exist in whatever form it's in; might as well just cut the inevitable poopstorm out of the process and play it straight from the beginning. FWIW, I'm guessing that the threat of disaster will be a sufficient deterrent. I also have little confidence in the conference commissioners to do things that aren't necessarily in their best interests. We'll see.

As for the selection process -- which everyone will hate regardless of the details -- there's apparently been a lot less progress/agreement, although that'd seem to be a far less divisive issue than the sites/bowls/bids/revenue stuff and therefore shouldn't be all that difficult to get figured out. Relevant quote:
"The whole topic of selection and who would get in is something that we've really parked for now," said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. "We realize that's going to require a whole lot more debate and study."
I'm not sure exactly what aspect requires much debate or study; the options are (a) a poll/formula and (b) a selection committee. Back to Mandel:
The commissioners are a ways aaway from deciding whether to use a revised BCS formula, a selection committee or some combination of both.
If they do employ a formula, sources said there's a near-universal desire to emphasize strength of schedule. One source said the commissioners also aren't keen on preseason polls, which could signal an end to using the USA Today Coaches' Poll.
The coaches poll should absolutely, positively, unequivocally play no part in the process. The biases are laughably obvious and should be removed from the equation before somebody gets totally hosed because Steve Spurrier still loves Duke. The Harris Poll is also stupid since it's a really odd collection of people loosely affiliated with college sports, and seeing as how removing both of those polls leaves computers and nothing else, I'm obviously on board with a selection committee made up of an assortment of people, all from different conferences. Biases will still exist (as they will in any scenario outside of straight math) but will be minimized by the existence of several other voices and therefore shouldn't really be a factor, or at least not enough of a factor to outweigh the benefit of having logic and expertise involved in the decision rather than just the skewed BCS numbers. To be clear, I'm a fan of numbers but don't particularly trust numbers that aren't drawn from a full set of data; in the case of the BCS, that means things like margin of victory and schedule-adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

One other (potential) committee benefit I haven't seen mentioned anywhere: bracket flexibility. In a scenario in which No. 4 has already lost to No. 1 but appears to be of near-identical quality to No. 2 and No. 3, why not flip the third- and fourth-ranked teams to (a) avoid a rematch and (b) provide an extra data point?

Maybe an example would make more sense; I'll use last year for simplistic purposes. Let's say Alabama finishes No. 4 rather than No. 2 (don't worry about the how and why), which means Oklahoma State is No. 2 and Stanford is No. 3. If there's some uncertainty as to whether LSU and Alabama are the two best teams -- and there was -- what's the benefit of having them play each other in a semifinal game? What I want is a level of flexibility that would allow Alabama to move into the other bracket to play Oklahoma State (yay) and eliminate the possibility of a semifinal rematch that'd determine basically nothing in regards to the national title. Only a committee would provide that, obviously. Whether that's something being taken into consideration is totally unknown.

FYI, the commissioners' meetings ended last week (as did John Marinatto's paychecks), which means the stories for the next month or so will be limited to crap like this:
Speaking as a member of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman told ESPN.com Thursday that his committee is not on board with the BCS commissioners' recommendation to move forward with a four-team playoff -- and doesn't sound ready to be persuaded otherwise.

"I can't figure out a good reason to have a playoff to start with," he said.
Ugh. That dude is hilariously out of touch (and doesn't have nearly as much power as he thinks he does if he can't stop Jim Delany from negotiating something he apparently doesn't want while working on behalf of his own conference).

Anyway, I said "the next month or so" because there is (gasp) a target date:
Delany also said he's optimistic that when the commissioners meet June 20 in Chicago they will have the playoff model finalized to present to the Presidential Oversight Committee for approval.
Commence the countdown at 43 days.


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