Dienhart: Examining Latest BCS Conversations

The league commissioners in charge of the BCS along with Notre Dame met for the fourth time this year to discuss ways to alter the sport’s postseason, which has grown stale and stagnant after 14 seasons. During this meetings, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany says BCS officials are narrowing the field of possible changes to college football’s postseason.

When does the current system expire? What systems are being debated? What are the pros and cons about some of the ideas being floated? Here’s what you need to know coming out of the recent meetings in Hollywood, Fla.

Q: When does the current system expire?
A: The BCS system—which was hatched in 1998–will run through the 2013 season. So, any new postseason configuration would be put in place for the 2014 season.

Q: What systems are being debated?
A: There are four, but really only two that seem plausible to me.

One is the “Plus One.” This idea has been kicked around for a while. To review, the BCS formula would be used to determine the top two teams in the nation AFTER the bowls. They would meet in a national championship game.

The other is what I call a “Final Four” playoff. This system would use the BCS formula to pick the top four teams in the nation before the bowls. They would then be seeded, 1-4, with No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3. The winners would meet in the national championship game.

Q: What system would be used to rank teams?
A: Ah, good question. It’s believed BCS hotshots want some type of strength-of-schedule component as part of the formula to rank teams. Not all undefeated or on-loss records are equal. But how would that meld into the current BCS formula? Or would a new formula be developed?

Another idea being kicked around is using a selection committee to pick the teams in the same fashion that’s used to pick teams for the NCAA basketball tournament.

Q: What’s good and bad about the Plus One?
A: All the major bowls conceivably could have a team in contention to play for the national title, making more of them relevant. How many times has the nation really cared about the other BCS bowls aside from the title game? Exactly.

The con? It’s not really a playoff.

Q: What’s good and bad about the Final Four?
A: There’s debate on where the national semifinal games would be played: on home fields of higher seeded teams or at neutral sites? Some think the SEC wants no part of playing on home fields for fear of having to trek to frigid environs up north. Others have logistic concerns, which mean worries about money. Some honchos feel some host schools would have inadequate stadiums to hold a big-time game. Fewer seats and fewer luxury boxes would mean less money. And, Econ 101 tells us that’s never a good thing. There also could be issues with adequate accommodations in smaller cities for fans and media.

Still, with neutral sites, would fans have the wherewithal to travel to a semifinal game and then a title game? And if neutral sites are used, would current bowls be used in a rotating fashion? Or would three separate games be developed apart from the bowls?

One idea has the four BCS bowls rotating among the three playoff games. Another idea has the four BCS bowls rotating among the two semifinal games with those bowls and other cities bidding for the national championship game.

Q: What’s the craziest proposal?
A: There is a proposal favored by the Big Ten and Pac-12 that would have the four highest ranked teams meet in semifinals games; meanwhile, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs would meet in the Rose Bowl even if one or both is among the top four teams in the nation.

So, essentially, there would be three semifinal games producing three schools from which two would be picked to play for the national title. Sound confusing? Sound contrived? Sound downright silly? You are correct on all fronts. That’s why this proposal has almost zero chance of being adopted.

Q: What’s this talk about a playoff with conference champs only?
A: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany likes this because he believes it will strengthen the aspect of the sport that makes it so great: the regular season.

But others—namely TV chiefs—fear a one-loss team that didn’t win its conference but clearly is one of the four best squads in the nation would then be left out of the playoff. That would undermine the new system’s street cred and hamper ratings.

Look, people: This is about finding the four best teams—regardless of conference, record or league championship.

Q: Is it true money may not be shared equally among leagues?
A: Yep. And, honestly, why should it when really only-five leagues figure to be involved in this playoff each year? Sorry, MAC, Mountain West, etc. The current BCS deal is estimated to be worth $150 to $180 million. Conservative estimates have the new cash pot being at least double that for a new postseason structure. Wipe that drool from your face, Commissioners.

Q: Is there a chance the current system could stay intact?
A: I doubt it. In fact, the possibility likely is off the table. But if for some crazy reason the current system was preserved, it would be with some tweaks. Automatic bids would be eliminated; conferences wouldn’t be limited to just two teams in BCS bowls; bowls would have more flexibility to create interesting matchups.

But, again, this option probably no longer exists. The current system is wildly reviled and ridiculed. A tweak here and there won’t make it any more embraceable. (Think earrings on a pig.)

And, honestly, do you think the rest of America REALLY wants to see three SEC teams in BCS bowls? Sorta like seeing the rich neighbor down the street get a fourth Cadillac. Enough is enough. Let’s spread the wealth.

Rather than tweaking the old system as a fallback, it seems the Plus One system is the fallback plan if the Final Four scenario can’t be agreed upon.

Q: When will a decision be made on any new postseason structure?
A: It won’t happen at these meetings. The goal is to give leagues information to debate, discuss and analyze over the next month or so. Then, a decision can be made perhaps sometime in 2012–perhaps in July.

Q: What system do you think is best?
A: I like the Final Four system—and it clearly appears to be the favorite of decision makers, but details like neutral site/home field need to be worked out.

Me? I don’t like neutral sites for the semifinal games. I would like to see the games played on the home field of the higher seeded team. Isn’t the point of being a higher-seeded team to have an advantage? And I can’t think of a better one than home-field advantage.

I don’t care if that team plays if a small stadium that lacks the bells and whistles of a major venue. For me, that’s part of the kitsch for the home team.

But, money is driving this train. So if the Final Four system is adopted, I think neutral site semifinal games will be adopted. There’s a pretty good wrap-up of Wednesday’s meetings from Teddy Greenstein at the Chicago Tribune here.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, and all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart. Send questions to his weekly mailbag, subscribe to his RSS feed, and check out his video Q&A.

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