Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Big Ten is happy with the BCS; nobody cares

I said last week that my where-things-stand-with-the-playoff-stuff post would be outdated by approximately Wednesday; I was way off. The Big Ten finished its presidents/chancellors meetings Sunday and then sent Jim Delany out into the world to say a bunch of things over the course of the next two days, which makes this post a little late (food poisoning FTW) but probably still useful to those of you who have lives and don't follow way too many people on Twitter.

There were two notable takeaways, one of which didn't come from Delany and one of which might be completely inaccurate depending on your interpretation of Delany-isms. The first:
"I think if the Big Ten presidents were to vote today, we would vote for the status quo. We think it best serves college football," Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said. "I don't think any of us are anxious to ask our student-athletes to play a 15th game. We think, in many respects it is as good as you can do."
Errr what? Perlman and I apparently have much different definitions of "best serves college football." I literally cannot comprehend any desire to maintain the debacle that is the status quo and would be infuriated if the above-quoted comments actually meant anything in terms of slowing/halting progress toward the playoff thing; they do not. Even Perlman realizes this:
"But we're also realistic that that doesn't seem to be something that has gotten a lot of support and that some movement is necessary. Our second strong preference would be for a plus-one."
Translation: A playoff cannot be stopped but might be manipulable to our benefit.

How much weight this "strong preference" carries is kinda hard to say; everyone other than sources from the Big Ten and Pac-12 has been saying that a plus-one is "off the table," which leads me to believe they're the only conferences pushing it and therefore are gonna end up getting thoroughly outnumbered come negotiatin' time. Here's an amusing response-type thing from Big 12 overlord Texas president DeLoss Dodds:
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told the Wall Street Journal that a plus-one – a championship game after the bowls – was still on the table. When reminded of that news, Dodds smiled dismissively without commenting.
He then lit a ground-up-money-filled cigar with a $10,000 bill and commanded Iowa State to dance for his pleasure.

Anyway, "dismissive" would also accurately describe my reaction. I've explained repeatedly that I don't really see the benefit of a plus-one that's kinda/sorta like a playoff but isn't really a playoff and retains most of the problems inherent in the current system, and I don't think the support for it exists seeing as how everybody else -- even Jim Delany -- has already moved on from the format stuff and is instead debating the who/how selection issues.

I'm also not sure why the plus-one would be preferable to the Big Ten. What's the purpose of staying as close as possible to the status quo when the status quo has resulted in a 10-year national title drought and a 1-7 record in the Rose Bowl in that time? At no point in the last decade would a plus-one have resulted in a Big Ten team even playing for the national championship, let alone winning it, but WOO LET'S DO THAT!

The only conceivable benefit: The Rose Bowl has a basically guaranteed spot as a relevant semifinal-type game. That's apparently worth never actually winning anything.

The beauty in all of this is that the inevitable implementation of a four-team playoff (and I really believe it is inevitable based on the consensus support from everybody else) will save the Big Ten from its own Rose Bowl-centric stupidity and irrelevance. Yay for that. Boo for holding up the process with nonsensical negotiating-stance comments about things that have already been decided.

As for the second takeaway, here's the comment from Delany that made everybody run to the intertubes to discuss:
"I think it should be the four best teams," Delany said.
O RLY? That quote immediately jumped out at me as being significant in the determining-the-participants process seeing as how he's (apparently) completely reversed course in the past month. This is from a couple weeks ago:
At the Big Ten meetings earlier this month, Commissioner Jim Delany voiced support for a "hybrid model" that would give preference to high-ranked conference champions but would also make allowances in case one league had more than one elite team. At this point, the factions seem to be a group made up of the Big 12, the SEC and Notre Dame (top four) and a group made up of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12 (preference for conference champs).
So ... that's interesting. Also interesting was this tweet from Joe Schad, who was there when Delany made his "four best teams" comment and offered this interpretation:
Jim Delany has not done a 180. He still wants preference for conference champs. Some are misinterpreting "four best" comment.
There was little explanation as to what that meant; I'm assuming he's saying that Delany wants the four "best" teams but thinks that the top four in the standings don't necessarily represent the four "best."

That doesn't totally align with the rest of Delany's comments, though:
"I didn't really think that the conference champions-only (model) met the public's demand for elite teams playing each other," Delany said. "I thought the combination of champions and an elite at-large team regardless of status -- it could be a champion, could be an independent, could be a divisional runner-up or championship loser -- was probably the right formulation. But that was just to get the discussion going.

"I think that people understand now that our search right now is to find the best four football teams. However you do that, typically it's going to involve a lot of champions. I don't care whether it occurs in a committee, but I do think the two key issues are honoring champions, honoring strength of schedule, honoring teams and coaches that try to play a good schedule and recognizing teams that play an additional championship game versus one that doesn't."
I'm not entirely sure how to interpret all that but am going on the assumption that a top-four playoff would be acceptable to Delany (and, by proxy, the Big Ten) if there's either (a) a selection committee that can tweak the bracket to reward conference champs with higher seeds or (b) a ranking system that is weighted toward conference champs via bonus points or something.

Example: An extra 0.05 BCS-standings points for a conference title would have put Oklahoma State ahead of Alabama last year and almost entirely eliminated the gap between fifth-ranked Oregon and fourth-ranked Stanford but still resulted in Alabama finishing No. 3, which would have been fine (IMO) for maintaining the credibility of the playoff as a whole. Anything beyond that really starts to skew the standings to an unreasonable degree. FWIW, I'm on record as supporting a committee because of the potential benefits of bracket flexibility.

Whether that would fit into Mike Slive's "One, two, three, four" mandate from the SEC meetings is unclear since he hasn't really expanded on the possibility of modifying the selection formula. There's also still the Larry Scott problem: He's made it abundantly clear that the Pac-12 wants "competing in our conference and winning our conference to mean no less than it does today and maybe even more." That's pretty vague in terms of specific requirements but implies something much different from what the SEC is demanding.

As I wrote a few days ago, I still think there's a preference-for-conference-champions middle ground that can/will be found eventually. I'm less optimistic that it'll happen by the time the Presidential Oversight Committee gathers to compare monocles on June 26, though; the reneging on an apparent four-team consensus makes it hard to believe that everything from format to siting to eligibility to selection method is gonna be totally finalized in 16 days, especially with only two meetings in the interim (June 13 and June 20). I'll hope for the best anyway.


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