Their influence got rid of the BCS, but they must be vocal until the new system is flawless.
Amid the private arm-twisting and public posturing that accompanied the soon-to-be-announced birth of a real, live postseason tournament in college football, one comment leaped off the page.
It was uttered by Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany, a longtime proponent of the despised Bowl Championship Series whose change of heart started the ball rolling toward the seeded, four-team playoff that is now on the table.
“The drumbeat of criticism was so significant over time that it forced the change,” Delany said.
It is not often one hears such an admission from Delany, but the playoff proposal the 11 conference commissioners (plus Notre Dame’s athletic director) will send to the Presidents Oversight Committee this week is first and foremost a sign that college football has been dragged, however unwillingly, into the 21st century.
By you, it turns out.
Congratulations, college football fans, your voice was finally heard. Even as the sport’s popularity spiked, your constant clamoring for a more equitable, understandable and meaningful postseason was the catalyst for a playoff after 14 years of never-ending BCS controversy.
Despite that, my pep talk to you is simple: Don’t get complacent. This isn’t the end, it’s a start. It’s the necessary first step toward a full-blown playoff. Any system that is approved will need tweaking. You’ve shown you can effect change, so keep expressing your dissatisfaction if you don’t like what you’re seeing.
First things first, however.
This week, the members of the Presidents Oversight Committee will discuss the commissioners’ consensus proposal — the best four teams regardless of conference, chosen by a selection committee, with the semifinals held at current bowl venues and the final going to the highest bidder — along with the less-radical “Plus One” proposal of picking two teams after the bowl games.
At this point, the only thing set in stone is that the BCS — toxic name and all — will disappear in 2014. However, the presidents aren’t expected to overturn a year of effort by their commissioners and athletic directors, which means they’ll probably adopt a four-team playoff that will start in the 2014 season.
Beyond that, there is work to be done. If, as expected, a basketball-style selection committee is created, who will be on it? And what criteria will the committee use to weigh the merits of the teams contending for the four playoff berths?
Clearly, a playoff will make the postseason better and more interesting. It will not, however, make it any less controversial.
The first hot spot will be the criteria for picking the teams. It is imperative that the selection committee have clear guidelines to follow, rules that everyone understands going in.
People have stated that SEC commissioner Mike Slive got everything he wanted in the proposal, but Delany probably struck the best deal he could for the Big Ten, assuring that an emphasis would be placed on conference championships and strength of schedule in the selection process. That means that if, say, Big Ten champion Michigan and SEC runner-up Florida have similar resumes, the team that won its title will almost surely get the nod.
But no matter how clearly the criteria is defined and how transparent the selection process is, people will disagree vehemently with the results. A selection committee might be better than the overly rigid BCS system, where the combination of secret computer and flawed human polls arrived at a numeric rating, but even the evaluations of a committee made up of former coaches and current commissioners and athletic directors will be heavily questioned and criticized.
Instead of picking two teams like the BCS does now, the committee will pick four, leaving too many qualified teams on the sideline. The No. 5 team in 2014 is going to make the same complaint as the No. 3 team does now, and it will probably have a strong case. Basketball has shown that you can never eliminate the post-selection criticism, but the larger the playoff field the more you can diffuse the “bubble” controversy.
Finally, seeding will be an issue, especially since the semifinals will be alternated among the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls. Mindful of filling its stadiums, will the committee fiddle with the seedings in order to get, say, a Pac-12 team into the Rose Bowl or an SEC team into the Sugar Bowl? Rest assured the opponent that is forced to play a quasi-road game will be squawking about that.
As you can see, the controversy is just getting revved up. Adopting a playoff is a giant leap forward for a sport as handcuffed by tradition as college football, but until a four-team playoff becomes an eight-team playoff or more, the debate will remain the same. And that, we now know, is the cue for you fans to raise your voices.