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NCAA Football Politics

2008 May 6
by Brian Goff

Several years back, I thought that the process toward a playoff would have played out by now. The 1998 BCS agreement struck me as a key step toward a playoff in that it eliminated a major impediment — the exclusive tie-in of the Pac-10 and Big Ten to the Rose Bowl. Now, ten years later, it appears that we are still at least six years away from another step as
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! writes in his consideration of the failure semi-final/final proposal by the SEC Commissioner in Too Good to Go

In the end, according to interviews with people in the room, the decision to proceed or not probably came down to the Big East and Big 12.

The Big Ten and Pac-10, thanks to an economically advantageous relationship with the Rose Bowl until at least 2014, were going to oppose just about anything put on the table. The smaller conferences and Notre Dame were likely to support whatever the majority did as long as their access and revenue weren’t cut. The ACC was in favor of the SEC’s proposal.

That left two swing votes, the Big East and Big 12, who had they pushed for further discussion could have weakened the Big Ten and Pac-10’s silly obstruction talk – “they’ll have to pry a playoff system out of my cold dead hands,” the Ohio State president barked last year.

The interests of the Pac-10 and Big Ten are transparent enough. Wetzel exposes the “lengthening the season concerns” and other such nonsense for just that in his piece. The behavior of the Big East and Big 12 is the real question. Are they just risk averse — not knowing very well how they will fare in such a system and therefore reluctant? Concerns about the impact on the regular season seem to be at the core:

Best I can tell, after years of discussions with the people in power by me and my colleague Josh Peter, is that while there isn’t a single reason, the oft-cited “protection of the regular season” is a critical one.

Increasing the value of some games without diminishing the value of others, is, indeed, tricky business. The current BCS system makes a lot of regular season games count. The downside is that it makes only one post-season game count. In addition, it can make winning a conference championship meaningless, even for a highly regarded conference because of too many losses for the champion. The old polling system to determine a national champion placed weights on a combination of regular season and bowl game results. A “plus-one” system as proposed might diminish the regular season’s value more than a “6-plus-2″ playoff involving six conferences winners (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac 10, SEC) and two at-large teams. Such a system would value regular season games by putting a premium on winning one’s conference, while also putting attention on the post season.

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