May 17, 2012
Is Notre Dame behind Big Ten's playoff push?
You knew the Big Ten agreeing to any kind of college football playoff was going to be tangled, sticky, hard, cumbersome ... and did we mention self-important?
What we're seeing from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany right now as college football tries to iron out a four-game playoff beginning in 2014 is almost comical in its selfishness.
The Big Ten is championing a four-team playoff that would require the participants all be conference champions.
Think about this for a second. Beyond the fact this is the ultimate, self-serving move by a conference that has only had one school from its league play for a BCS national title (Ohio State, three times, 2002, 2006, 2007) since the BCS' inception in 1998 - such a move would almost certainly invite more realignment.
By having four conference champions in a playoff, it's almost inviting the 16-team super conferences most of college athletics has said is too radical, too exclusive and too much like the NFL to bring to college football at this time.
ALL ABOUT NOTRE DAME?: But the biggest footnote to a playoff with only conference champions that no one is talking about is the impact on Notre Dame.
Quick history lesson: All of the realignment at the BCS level and below the last three years began when Jim Delany said the Big Ten was looking at expansion in 2009. That's when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon raised his hand and basically said take the Mizzou Tigers because we'd rather be with Northwestern than Texas Tech.
That destabilized the Big 12 and sent schools like Texas and Texas A&M scurrying for a backup plan that would become Larry Scott's bid to lure six Big 12 schools to the Pac-10 in the summer of 2010. The Big Ten would ultimately end up with Nebraska, but, make no mistake, the target of Delany's expansion search was Notre Dame.
Notre Dame football was in turmoil at the time with the Charlie Weis Era careening off the rails and TV ratings bottoming out. Delany probably thought he pluck a Notre Dame program with self-esteem issues. But the Irish remained steadfast in their independence.
Now, if Delany gets his way, the Irish might panic and think they could be left out of a potential playoff without being aligned with a conference. Delany is just obsessed and maybe delusional enough to think the Irish would surrender all of its independence - I mean ALL of its independence - and turn over ALL of their TV rights to the Big Ten.
Other conferences, including the Big 12 and ACC have been whispering into Notre Dame's ear that the Irish have options - them. DeLoss Dodds at Texas has been wooing the Irish non-stop for three years, even proposing the Irish remain independent in football and bring their non-football sports to the BIg 12 and start their own third-tier network.
ALL ABOUT THE ROSE BOWL?: Then, there's the matter of the Big Ten flip-flopping on whether the playoff games should be played in the current bowl structure or at neutral or on-campus sites. After first touting campus sites, Delany's stance is now that bowls should be used for the playoff games - namely the Rose Bowl.
In parroting Delany's new position, Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne told Yahoo! columnist Dan Wetzel:
"If you took them (bowl games) out of the playoff, it would pretty much destroy the bowl system."
Wrong. What kills the bowl system is a playoff that includes only conference champions. Because if that does trigger realignment to the tune of four, 16-team super conferences, then the bowls have nothing new to pick from.
With only four conferences, schools selected by the bowls will have either played each other that season or most seasons, and would not excite fans or provide new matchups. Some of the more intriguing bowl matchups occur when schools from different conferences meet for the first time.
That possibility would disappear. Bowl games would stop drawing because TV and fans wouldn't be excited, and the bowl system would shrink and die a slow death.
MY TAKE: The Southeastern Conference is pushing for a playoff that takes the top four teams in the BCS rankings, regardless of whether those teams are a conference champion. If we could get maximum transparency in the computer formulas and votes in the coaches and Harris polls, this is probably the best selection model.
If the two best teams in the country are from the same conference, so be it. Who wants to see an undefeated conference champ against a 2-loss Wisconsin in a semifinal game when there's 1-loss team who didn't win its conference but played a much tougher schedule and is more deserving?
College football has never been without controversy in the way it selects its national champion, dating back to polls that would pick its No. 1 before the bowl games were even played back in the 1970s.
On the matter of location for the playoff games, semifinal games on campus are probably the way to go to not only reward the two top seeds, but also to ensure fans will be in the stadium - fans who might have just had to pay to travel to a conference title game and might have to pay for a trip on short notice to a national title game.
You can't expect fans to make three straight road trips that include airfare on short notice. Way too expensive and could cause the excitement and anticipation of a long-awaited playoff to play in less-than spirited atmospheres.
I think there's some merit to bidding out the national championship game site to cities years in advance the way the NCAA does with the Final Four and NFL does with the Super Bowl. It would build anticipation and would probably cause college football fans to buy tickets, just to be a part of a bucket-list event, regardless of whether their team reaches the game or not.
One thing I do know is Jim Delany and the Big Ten have lots of reasons for pushing their agenda as it pertains to a four-team playoff - and most of those reasons help the Big Ten more than they help college football.
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