Dienhart: Pros & Cons of Latest Playoff Idea

Dienhart: Pros & Cons of Latest Playoff Idea

News that the Big Ten is offering structure ideas for a college football playoff is good news for those who dislike a BCS system that has been in place for 14 seasons. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune reported this on Monday. I take a look at the benefits and problems with this idea, but you tell me what you think in the comments box below.

In years past, the Big Ten and commissioner Jim Delany had not been advocates for a playoff, staunchly supporting a BCS system that was born in 1998. Back in 2008, the SEC proposed a plus-one postseason system—essentially a “final four.” The ACC backed the idea, but the other power conferences—including the Big Ten–didn’t.

But the Big Ten has changed its stance, with poor TV ratings for the most recent BCS championship game between Alabama and LSU being an impetus to study change and offer alternatives to a system whose only purpose is to determine the two teams to play for the national championship at a venue that is rotated between Los Angeles, Glendale, Ariz., New Orleans and Miami.

The Chicago Tribune’s Greenstein wrote:

“Sources told the Tribune that a Big Ten plan would remove the top four teams from the BCS bowl pool and have semifinal games played on the college campus of the higher seed. That would do away with the facade of “neutral” sites such as New Orleans, Miami and Pasadena, Calif., and ease travel concern for fans.”

“The championship game then could be bid out, like the Super Bowl.”

“We have to listen to the fans; we cannot be tone-deaf,” Northwestern athletics director Jim Phillips, who chairs the Big Ten’s Administrators Council, told the Chicago Tribune. “The Big Ten is open and curious.”

The current BCS contract runs through the 2013 season, but a new postseason structure could be approved as soon as this fall.

What would be some of the pros to a “plus-one” four-team playoff?

  • It’s a playoff, for crying out loud. No, it’s not a full-scale 16-team playoff that some would like to see. But it’s a start. America would at least be given the four best teams, according to the BCS standings, in a mini playoff. And that’s a good thing, especially when you realize that college football is the only major team sport in America without a playoff. It makes no sense and is why the nation never has fully embraced the BCS, regardless of the rhetoric from BCS honchos.
  • Playing semi-final games on campuses would reduce travel costs. But more importantly, it would reward teams seeded higher by allowing them to play on their home field. And for Big Ten teams, home playoff games in December likely would mean cold weather for visitors. Do SEC schools have gloves and heaters?
  • M-o-n-e-y. Think about the cash even a plus-one would generate from a TV money standpoint? And in this day, when colleges continually are looking for more ways to generate revenue, this cash windfall would be a welcomed addition.

What would be some of the cons?

  • The Rose Bowl may lose relevancy. With semifinal games being played on campuses, and the championship game being bid out, where would that leave the importance of the Rose Bowl? Honestly, that seems like an overblown concern. Since the BCS was born in 1998, the Rose Bowl has lacked national relevance on many occasions. Remember Oklahoma-Washington State? TCU-Wisconsin? Illinois-USC? Wisconsin-Stanford? Those games meant nothing on the national landscape.
  • The mortar board crowd wrings its hands over lost classroom time and additional games for student-athletes. Many feel this too is an overblown concern. For years, we have seen FCS (20 teams) and Divisions II (24) and III (32) conduct playoffs that annually see schools that advance to the title game play 15 games. Somehow, those student-athletes and institutions still find a way to balance sports and books with playoffs that far exceed the proposed four-team FBS model. If the “little guys” can do it with far fewer resources to assist their student-athletes, why couldn’t FBS schools?
  • The team that finishes fifth in the BCS standings will hoot and holler about being left out, screaming about the injustice of the selection process. Sound familiar? No matter where the line is drawn—after four, eight, 12, 16 teams—the first team left out will feel robbed.
  • Once the lid is taken off a plus-one system that involves four teams, will the playoff grow into eight teams? Then 16? Maybe this would be a good thing—depending on your side of the fence.

Aside from a new way to crown a champion, another idea being discussed is requiring a team to win seven games to qualify for a bowl. This could spell the end of some bowls in a system that has swelled to 35 bowls that requires 70 schools, many of which have dubious 6-6 records and/or coaches who have been fired. Having teams that like rewarded with bowls seems to cheapen the reward, doesn’t it. And it’s hardly compelling viewing on a Tuesday night in late-December.

Stay tuned. College football looks like it’s about to undergo some major changes—again. And they all look good to me.

Here are some tweets from around the Twitterverse reacting to the Tribune’s story:

Find all of BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart’s work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and subscribe to his RSS feed.


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