Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The playoff gaps: They're getting (more) filled in

Since the timing of these things never makes any sense, Tuesday was BCS/Playoff-Type Thing Information Dump Day. Apparently there have been a lot of things decided of late, some of them interesting and some of them largely irrelevant to the people who won't be swimming in the accompanying pile of money. Since you and I care little about the details of the revenue distribution, the stuff that matters is as follows:
The BCS commissioners and Presidential Oversight Committee settled Monday on a rotation of six bowls for the semifinals of the upcoming college football playoff system.

Also, the highest-rated champion from the "Group of Five" conferences -- the Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Mid-American -- will receive an automatic berth in one of the six access bowls.
Hokay, so ... the upshot: The hypothetical seventh BCS/playoff bowl -- a game that would've been technically considered equal to the other major bowls in the new postseason format but would've been created solely to house the best non-major-conference team, basically -- will not exist.

That means, of course, that there will be six major bowls. Two of them will host the semifinals (on a rotating basis) and the other four will, um, not. As for the participating bowls, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl will unquestionably be a part of the rotation since they all have a tie-in with at least one of the five automatic-qualifying conferences. The identity of the other three bowls is basically the worst-kept secret ever: It'll be the Fiesta, the Cotton and the Chick-Fil-A, with the latter two getting in because they've been trying to wriggle into the BCS forever and have made it known that they're willing to throw their wallet weight around to do so. So that's that.

The second graf above is pretty self-explanatory: Basically, whichever non-major-conference team is ranked highest at the end of the year gets a spot in a to-be-determined-annually BCS bowl. I'm pretty neutral about that, although it's definitely preferable to the system in place now that guarantees a spot only to the usually blah Big East champion and makes all the other similarly meh conference champs earn a spot via a top-six finish. The downside, obviously, is that basic math indicates that one additional autobid means one fewer at-large bid.

The thing about the at-large bids, though, is that they're not all true at-large bids. Buried in yesterday's information dump was this tidbit:
The contract bowls are: Rose (Pac-12 versus Big Ten), Sugar (SEC versus Big 12) and Orange (ACC versus Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame).

While a Big Ten or SEC team could be selected to the Orange Bowl, the commissioners have agreed that when the Rose and/or Sugar bowls are hosting the semifinals, the Big Ten or SEC champion will not be placed in the Orange Bowl. Instead, it would have to be placed in one of the three other access bowls to increase the worth of that bowl, sources told ESPN.
That excerpt is pretty confusing inasmuch as it seems to contradict itself; I had to do some research to figure out that the Orange Bowl actually has a deal in place to take the highest-ranked at-large team from among the Big Ten non-champions, the SEC non-champions and Notre Dame. What the blockquoted portion is adding to that info is that the Orange Bowl will never have the Big Ten/SEC champion in the years in which the Rose or Sugar is unavailable due to semifinal-hosting duties; that team would instead be distributed out to the bowls without tie-ins (the Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A) so as to make that game incrementally more marketable, meaning the Orange would still pick from its normal allotment of available teams.

So the Rose, Sugar and Orange will basically have their choices made for them via contractual tie-ins, whereas the Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A will have only one contractually mandated pick -- that being the Big East/Mountain West/Other Blah Conferences automatic qualifier -- and five spots that will be filled entirely by at-large selections or displaced conference champions.

This seems relatively straightforward; however, it's become pretty evident via the glorious world of Twitter that a large majority of people have been unable to wrap their heads around both the bowl details and the built-in four-team playoff, which will consume two of the six aforementioned bowls every year. So a couple points of clarification are in order.

The first: The tie-ins have nothing whatsoever to do with the playoff-type thing. The playoff participants will be the top four teams (no conference limits or anything of that nature) as determined by some sort of selection committee that has yet to be assembled/defined. Those four teams will play in the semifinals, which will rotate between the six games. Based on a schedule that can be manifested from the various bowl contracts, one of the semifinals each year will be hosted by the Fiesta/Cotton/Chick-fil-A group and the other will be hosted by the Rose/Sugar/Orange group.

The second: The semifinal rotation will result in pretty regular displacement of at least one conference champion. Hypothetical example: The Orange Bowl is hosting a semifinal. Florida State wins the ACC and therefore should be playing in the Orange Bowl but can't as a non-semifinal team outside the top four. Florida State thus ends up in one of the two "access bowls" (that's the term being used for the Fiesta/Cotton/Chick-fil-A group) that isn't hosting a semifinal. This is pretty much exactly what happened back in the days before a fifth BCS bowl; remember 2001, when the Rose Bowl's hosting of the national title game required Oregon to play in the Fiesta Bowl and Illinois (guh) to play in the Sugar Bowl? Same thing.

If it helps (and even if it doesn't), here's what the system would look like if implemented for this year; for the sake of simplicity, I'm assuming that (a) the semifinals will be the late games this year just because, (b) the highest-ranked "Group of Five" team will go to the Chick-fil-A Bowl this year just because, (c) rankings will hold the rest of the way (other than Alabama beating Georgia in the SEC title game and Florida State beating Florida due to Florida's decision to no longer field an offense) and (d) the selection committee will have some flexibility to create interest-generating matchups:

Chick-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31, 1 p.m.): Louisville ("Group of Five") vs. Georgia (at-large)
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m.): Florida State (ACC champ) vs. Texas A&M (at-large)
Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 31, 8 p.m.): No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.): LSU (at-large) vs. Clemson (at-large)
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 5 p.m.): Nebraska (Big Ten champ) vs. Oklahoma (at-large)
Orange Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m.): No. 1 Kansas State vs. No. 4 Alabama

And here's another scenario in which the midday games are hosting the semifinals:

Chick-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31, 1 p.m.): Louisville ("Group of Five") vs. Georgia (at-large)
Cotton Bowl (Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m.): No. 1 Kansas State vs. No. 4 Alabama
Fiesta Bowl (Dec. 31, 8 p.m.): Nebraska (displaced Big Ten champ) vs. Oklahoma (at-large)
Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1, 1 p.m.): Georgia (at-large) vs. Clemson (at-large)
Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 5 p.m.): No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Notre Dame
Orange Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m.): Florida State (ACC champ) vs. LSU (Big Ten/SEC)

Got it? If yes, continue. If no, turn to Page 78. What's interesting in this scenario is that since three of the four playoff teams are from major conferences (as will almost always be the case unless it's four of four), a lot of the hypothetical tie-in picks become at-large picks. So among the four non-semifinal games, there will usually be only two or three autobids and therefore five or six at-large teams (the numbers will obviously vary depending on the qualifying teams and the semifinal hosts).

But really, nothing changed yesterday other than the not-particularly-relevant conferences' role in the new system; they'll have one guaranteed rather than having to collectively earn one, which whatever. Everything else was just confirmation of the original six-bowl-game plan and clarification of the contractual obligations within those bowls.

And this:
Sources said the group is close to finalizing the revenue distribution deal for the new playoff. The oversight committee gave the commissioners authority to finalize a media rights deal with ESPN. It is projected to be worth about $500 million a year over 12 years, Sports Business Journal reported.

The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 will receive the biggest chunk of the new revenue. Each of those leagues will receive the same base amount of revenue, sources said. The remaining "Group of Five" leagues -- Big East, C-USA, MWC, Sun Belt and MAC -- will split a smaller amount among themselves. How the "Group of Five" will divide that revenue is still to be decided.
Negotiating can be pretty dang easy when there's so much money to go around that the number of zeroes doesn't even matter (hence my comment at the top of this post). And with that, any concern that the revenue-distribution-details were gonna hold up the deal as a whole has been eliminated with authoritah and a bunch of "$" bags.

It's on; it's OK to consider the logistical details.


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