Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The playoff gaps: They're getting filled in

The past couple weeks have been pretty slow outside of a steady stream of tweets (mostly) and buried stories (a few) about playoff details that hadn't been finalized when the original announcement was made. Since I have nothing better to do and have a crapload of tabs open in my browser with various things I've been wanting to mention, I'm gonna go ahead and compile them in one place.

Commence data dump about things that will be happening as of 2014.

A name: It "probably" has one. According to incoming Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the Bowl Championship Series will cease to exist in favor of ... wait for it ... the National Championship Series. Settle down, creative monkeys.

The BCS NCS bowls: There will be six. Two of them will host the semifinals (on a rotating basis, obviously) and the other four will, um, not. As for the participating bowls, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl (more on that momentarily) and the Orange Bowl will unquestionably be a part of the rotation since they have or will have tie-in deals with all the relevant conferences; that leaves two spots, with the Fiesta almost definitely taking one of those and the Chick-Fil-A probably getting the other since it's been trying to get into the BCS forever and offers (a) a relatively big-money payout and (b) another Southeast-ish location.

As for the Cotton Bowl, word on the interwebs is that it will alternate Champions Bowl hosting duties with the Sugar Bowl; basically, whichever one isn't hosting a semifinal game that year will host that Champions Bowl. That would give both bowls an SEC/Big 12 tie-in and thus a guaranteed spot in the rotation (which Jerry Jones will just buy anyway if the aforementioned deal falls through).

The rotation: It might not be a true rotation since that would be simple and logical. The Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl are both being stupid and trying to get out of hosting a semifinal every four years because of (a) the Rose Bowl's absurd insistence on a Big Ten-Pac 12 game at the expense of everything else, including relevance, and (b) the determination by the SEC and Big 12 that the Champions Bowl will be more valuable -- in terms of TV revenue -- as their property featuring their teams than it will as a semifinal game featuring two random teams with no affiliation. I'm skeptical of that. I'm also not clear exactly how two games rotate between six sites when two of the six sites don't want to be regular hosts; maybe they each get a game every four years instead of every three (if that's even possible mathematically)? That'd be a pretty sweet deal for the other four bowls, especially the Chick-Fil-A one since that isn't even a major bowl right now but might be hosting a national semifinal two out of every five years starting in 2014.

The rankings: They will matter. How much they will matter is not entirely clear. According to Bill Hancock, BCS/NCS bowl selection will be based strictly on rankings, which means the top 12 teams in whatever formula/system is in place will be the teams eligible for the above-named bowls ... maybe. According to the Rose Bowl/Champions Bowl/Orange Bowl contractual arrangements, a conference that loses its champion to the playoff can assign a replacement regardless of ranking. This is an SI.com breakdown of what a hypothetical 2011 playoff would've looked like:
• Dec. 31, 1 p.m. Chick-fil-A: No. 11 Clemson (10-3) vs. No. 13 Baylor (9-3)
• Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. Cotton: No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 7 Boise State (11-1)
• Dec. 31, 8 p.m. Fiesta: No. 2 Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. No. 3 Alabama (11-1)
• Jan. 1, 1 p.m. Sugar: No. 6 Arkansas (10-2) vs. No. 7 Kansas State (10-2)
• Jan. 1, 5 p.m. Rose: No. 5 Stanford (11-1) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin (11-2)
• Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. Orange: No. 1 LSU (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oregon (10-2)

Obviously, it's impossible to say exactly how the committee's rankings would have differed from the BCS standings, but I elevated Oklahoma State (from No. 3 to No. 2), Oregon (No. 5 to 4), Wisconsin (No. 10 to No. 8) and Clemson (No. 15 to No. 11) for their conference championships and/or head-to-head wins over similarly ranked foes and downgraded Boise State (from No. 7 to No. 10) for poor strength of schedule. We also don't know if there would be an at-large selection order or a teams-per conference limit (the SEC placed four in this lineup).
Please note Baylor's presence and ranking; that's not a top-12 team, obviously. What that means -- if accurate -- is that the whole AQ/non-AQ thing won't entirely cease to exist. The question is whether there will be any overriding eligibility requirements so that a hypothetical (and by "hypothetical" I mean "2011") Boise State team that goes 11-1 and is ranked seventh or eighth or whatever won't get stuck in the Las Vegas Bowl playing a craptacular Arizona State team so a not-quite-as-craptacular-but-still-pretty-meh Baylor team can have a guaranteed spot just because it's a member of the Big 12. I have to imagine there will be since the alternative allows for the possibility of four contractually mandated selections (if the four playoff teams are from four different major conferences), any/all of which could be from outside the top 12, and thus only three total at-large spots for qualifying teams.

BTW, there are no circumvent-the-rankings exceptions for Notre Dame.

The committee: It probably will be constructed similarly to the NCAA tournament committee, which is comprised of totally unbiased athletic directors and conference presidents. This is a (really long and edited-for-clarity) tweet from Joe Schad:
Possible Football Selection Committeee members could include members of the current BCS AD Advisory Group:

Members: Jeremy Foley (UF), Dan Radakovich (GT), Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Joe Castiglione (OU), Pat Haden (USC), Tom Jurich (Louisville), McKinley Boston (NMS), Rick Greenspan (Rice), Dean Lee (ASU), Jim Livengood (UNLV), Mike O'Brien (Toledo)
I don't see how this solves the problems inherent in the coaches poll; the biases and politicking will be an issue unless/until the selection committee is filled with people who aren't directly associated with the schools and conferences involved. I'd prefer national media members from a variety of outlets and areas but won't be getting that no matter how many times I write it. I haven't yet seen an estimate of how many people will be on the committee; for reference, the NCAA tournament committee has 10 members.

As for its specific tasks, there's some ambiguity that exists between the contractual tie-ins and this note from the Big Ten Network:
The selection committee will also play a part in creating matchups for the games at the four sites that do not hold a semifinal in a given year.
I don't think that's entirely accurate. Based on the contracts, the Rose Bowl and Champions Bowl are guaranteed to be filled by their conference affiliates in their non-semifinal years; that means only the two other non-semifinal bowls will have any at-large openings and thus any matchup flexibility. Not that it matters much anyway; to me, bracket flexibility (as in the playoff bracket) is the real benefit of a selection committee.

The schedule: It will be glorious for those of us who inherently associate New Year's-related holidays with football engorgement. There will be three games on December 31, including one semifinal in primetime, and three games on January 1, including the other semifinal in primetime. The Rose Bowl undoubtedly will be the New Year's Day late-afternoon game from now until the end of time (when it's not a semifinal, anyway); the Orange Bowl (locked in via contract) and Champions Bowl (allegedly) will be the other games that day, which leaves the other three -- including the Fiesta -- for New Year's Eve. That gives you a pretty good idea of how the semifinals will rotate since there'll be one each day.

I cannot underestimate the awesomeness of this takeover. Last year was inexplicably awful because New Year's Day fell on a Sunday and thus was ceded to the NFL, which resulted in me arising from a slumber and yelling profanities at the TV when I realized that there were not seven Big Ten-affiliated bowls to flip between while consuming appalling amounts of food. THIS MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

And this is typically great insight from Matt Hinton:
Aside from USC's insurgent victory in the 2004 Rose Bowl, the annual Jan. 1 smorgasbord hasn't featured a game with any sort of national championship implications – insurgent or otherwise – since 1998, when the newly formed BCS began spreading the major bowls thin across the first week of January. Since the addition of the fifth big-money bowl, the BCS Championship Game, in 2006-07, the winner-take-all, 1 vs. 2 showdown for the title has come at least days into the new year, and has naturally tended to blot out the sun for everything else that happens between that date and the end of the regular season. The result has been increasingly pathetic ratings across the board, culminating last year in record lows for both the title game and the Series as a whole.
In summary: Everybody wins.

Conference calls: There will be many, and they will decide all the other things related to the selection committee's formulation and the new rankings and revenue distribution and blah blah blah. So expect another one of these (probably with fewer categories) at some point in the relatively near future.


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