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Big Ten Discusses Merits of a Plus-One

It’s a start. As first reported by Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, Big Ten leaders — and legends, I assume — have discussed the basic parameters surrounding a plus-one playoff model, one that would theoretically be adopted once the B.C.S. system is overhauled following the 2013 season. In short, the Big Ten’s model takes the top four teams in the final B.C.S. poll and creates a national semifinal, with the round of four played at the home field of the higher-ranked seed and the national final played at a rotating, Super Bowl-like neutral site. The Big Ten is not the first conference to offer up such a plan, but the conference is the first to discuss one publicly since the outcry against the B.C.S. reached its current fever pitch. Sometimes, being first can yield significant dividends.

Up next will be the requisite proposals from the SEC, A.C.C., Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East, with few paying attention to the latter and all paying very close attention to whatever plan Mike Slive and the SEC offer to the masses. The SEC, as we well know, is the one league that can go eyeball-to-eyeball with Jim Delany and the Big Ten.

And not blink first, more often than not. What would happen if the SEC opted for an eight-team model played at a neutral site with all the generated revenue — television, advertising and the like — going towards an around-the-world cruise for university presidents and administrators? Well, watching Delany and the Big Ten go to the mat against Slive and the SEC would be… something. It would certainly be worth the price of admission.

But by being first, even if Delany did not sign off on any public discussion of the topic, the Big Ten gets in on the ground floor of any future postseason alterations. And those alterations are coming, with Greenstein suggesting as soon as the end of this coming season. Having this plan in place, one that seems somewhat logical for all B.C.S. conference parties, might put the Big Ten in the position of dictating the conversation when all groups come to the table.

Better yet, the Big Ten’s initial foray into a post-B.C.S. existence has merit. There are pieces of the puzzle that would be fine-tuned — and fine-tuned again, and again and again — but there’s little argument to be had with the plan’s basic premise: four teams, two semifinals at a home field and a national title game played with all the pomp and circumstance befitting such a nationally-relevant sporting event.

The main issue, without delving too far into the nuts and bolts, is also what might make the plan so appealing to the B.C.S. conferences. According to Greenstein’s story, the final four — lowercase, for now — would pit the top four teams in the final B.C.S. rankings. What this would do is virtually ensure that four B.C.S. conference programs advance to the national semifinals; only two non-B.C.S. conference teams, T.C.U. in 2009 and 2010, have finished in top four in the final B.C.S. rankings.

That’s the plan’s lone drawback if you’re someone who views the F.B.S. as a 12-league organization, not someone who views the F.B.S. as an organization built on supporting the six B.C.S. conferences and Notre Dame. The push for the top four would trump the politicking done in recent years to earn one of the top two spots; under the Big Ten’s proposal, being fifth would be the current-day equivalent of finishing third in the B.C.S. rankings.

How many teams could have made a case for being among the top four at the end of the 2011 season? And what about the fact that Stanford was fourth while Oregon, the Pac-12 champs, were fifth?

But it’s a start, and a solid one at that. Where the Big Ten would need to make concessions is in its home field proposal, which would leave warm-weather conferences at a disadvantage. In terms of the weather, Ohio State would have no problem with heading down to Gainesville in December; Florida, used to fun in the sun, would have qualms with a plan that might send it to frigid Ann Arbor in December.

Two flaws that need to be addressed before this plan goes forth to a to-be-named N.C.A.A. committee: the ranking system — whether it retains a computer-based, B.C.S.-like system — and the idea of a home field advantage for the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final rankings. For now, the next move belongs to the rest of the B.C.S. conference landscape, with the SEC front and center.

And as Greenstein noted in his story, the SEC put forth the idea of a plus-one playoff model four years ago, only to have every other power broker in college football, minus the A.C.C., voice their displeasure. Among the batch not in favor of the plus-one model was, surprisingly enough, the Big Ten. Perhaps Delany knows that now, and not 2008, is the time for such discussions to begin. One thing is for sure: Delany is fully aware that getting in on the bottom floor can only be good for the future of the Big Ten.

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  1. Dave says:

    Would be nice to see this incorporate the existing bowls in some way, i.e. have two of the semi-final games actually *be* the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, maybe rotating with the Orange and Fiesta each year.

  2. Hokieshibe says:

    I think the plus-one model is the one I’d expect to see emerge. I mean the SEC proposed it a few years ago (with ACC support), and Larry Scott seems to be in favor of some playoff as well. Really, I just felt like the Big 10 was the only major conference so vehemently oppossed to the playoff idea.

  3. Lee says:

    This is going to be so much fun if they don’t muck it up. I am weary of the home field advantage in the first round. The weather could ruin a ton of great games if those games are held up north. The month of January is brutal up north. They should be played at the BCS bowl sites where the weather is a non issue.

  4. BobJ says:

    Clearly, only teams from the six B.C.S. conferences would be playing in the semifinals. For a non-B.C.S. team to be considered, it would have to go undefeated, including wins over not one, but two reasonably good B.C.S. teams. We probably won’t ever see that.

    There would have to be schedule equity in the B.C.S., too. Some of those conferences currently provide an easier route to a winning record than others do.

    1. There would have to be a national agreement that teams in these six conferences must play nine conference games on their schedule, not eight. You’d be surprised how much that extra conference game changes things.

    2. One F.C.S. team per year, not two.

    3. Each team plays no fewer than five road games.

    Once we get a “playoff” system like this, conferences would have to give up local control on matters such as this so a conference does not have an opportunity to unilaterally make things easier for their representative(s) to get into the elite grouping. With so much at stake, I can see it happening easily.

  5. Dave says:

    BobJ, good points all, but let’s make it NO FCS teams while we are at it.

    There are different sub-divisions for a reason. Can you imagine if MLB teams padded their resumes by playing AAA-teams? Ridiculous.

  6. BobJ says:

    Unfortunately, Dave, we need the FCS teams. Oregon has to put them on their schedule now because it’s the only way they can fill up the non-conference part of it. No one in the BCS part of the FBS wants to play in Eugene, and Oregon sure isn’t going to go on the road for their first three games.

    In the past, Oregon has had long-scheduled games cancelled with only a few months notice. Scheduling a local FCS team at the last minute was the only way they could get twelve games in.

    Oregon never played FCS teams until it started getting good and stopped being an easy win for somebody else.

  7. Dave says:

    Why would it have to be BCS teams? There’s plenty of decent non-BCS FBS teams looking to schedule OOC games of their own. I’m sure teams like Fresno State, San Jose State, and Hawaii would be happy to schedule home-and-homes with Oregon.

    And what’s wrong with more neutral site games against other BCS powers, like Oregon-LSU last year?

    USC and ND prove that you don’t have to schedule any FCS patsies.

  8. Dave says:

    At the very least, in addition to not counting towards Bowl eligibility, a win over an FCS team should not be factored into BCS rankings.

    Bottom line, you should not be rewarded in any way with respect to the post-season for winning what is essentially an exhibition game.

  9. BobJ says:

    Oregon had a series of home/road matchups with Big Ten schools (both Michigans, Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana) for a while, and one with Oklahoma. They did h/r with Mississippi State in the mid-2000s and went to Tennessee in 2010, but don’t look for the Vols to come here.

    They have Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech this fall at home. The Ducks won’t travel unless it’s worth their while, and a team like that probably won’t invite them right now.

    As for games against FCS teams in the standings, you have to count them, because they were played (see Appalachian State vs. Michigan in 2007) but in my ranking system, wins against FCS teams are heavily discounted.

  10. Andrew says:

    2011 Season if there was a +1

    Stanford: “We only lost 1 game including a win over USC, plus we have Andrew Luck. They have 2 losses, we are rightfully Number 4″

    Oregon: “We came into the Farm and tore you apart. Sorry that we have the guts to go play LSU in Louisiana! (Well, basically). We will schedule Duke next time and see how that goes”

  11. AdamShell says:

    via blackshoediaries.com

    “Over the last seven seasons, the Big Ten has played 21 bowls in the opposing team’s home state. Compare that to the SEC, which has played a grand total of two bowl games in the opposing team’s home state.”

    There’s going to be a home-field advantage one way or another… might as well make it fair. If you don’t like it, win more games and get a higher rank than a northern team.

    Paul: Great stat.

  12. Lawrence says:

    Keep the home field advantage. IT’S FOOTBALL not baseball. If high schools and lower-level college football teams can deal with cold-weather december playoff games – so too can fbs schools.

    Besides, I love watching snowy/cold games. It adds an additional element to the game. Before you say it “decreases” the product just look at NFL Conference Championship games – they are typically the most competitive and interesting games all year, imo.

  13. Chris Phillips says:

    I think the final rankings should not have ANYTHING to do with selecting the teams to play in the playoffs. There’s way too much subjectivity in those rankings and I think that is the cause of many of the problems.

    The playoff teams should be the winners of the conference. That would make winning your conference much more important than it is now, and it completely removes all subjectivity. You win your conference, you’re in the playoffs. You don’t win your conference, you have no chance at being in the playoffs.

  14. DMK says:

    Just vote. Vote four teams, eight teams, whatever. Short seasons, no round-robin, programs of of vastly different caliber: there’s absolutely no way to squeeze any sort of convincing metric out of that, so why try? Never mind that the exchange of opinions, stories, ideas is what has long fueled the mystique of college football and is what makes it so wonderfully different than other sports.

    The “computers” are pseudoscience at it’s worst and should be gotten rid of at once. Get a bunch of experts — coaches, writers, players — and have them vote. Then play a +1 or whatever.

    However unjust it might have been that Boise was for so long stranded in a crap conference and unable to demonstrate its eliteness week in and week out, well, it would be ten times as unjust that LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, USCe, and Florida are by pure chance stuck in the same conference and able to take only one playoff bid.

  15. Dave says:

    @ DMK – not unjust and not by pure chance – all those teams CHOOSE to be in the SEC. I’m sure the Sun Belt would take any of them with open arms.

  16. Lee says:

    Well said DMK,

    They need to form a committee of about 25 former coaches, players, and sports journalist that meet/discuss/and vote on the top 25 every week. Also, the polls shouldn’t be released until the 5th week of the season.

    Combine this with a plus one or a top eight and you will solve college football’s national title problem.

    Also, please spare me the bull$$$$$ that only a conference champion should make this final 4/8. Bama/LSU, Ore/Stan, UF/Bama, UT/OU/TT, OSU/UM, USC/Ore are perfect examples from years past that show there are multiple teams from the same conference that were without a doubt 2 of the top 4/8 in the country at the end of the year. It would be a travesty to screw those teams and let some 8-4 Big East or ACC Champ make it….just because they won a pathetic conference.

    Just have a educated committee decide the top teams and lets roll. Like DMK said, there is simply to many differences between the conferences to apply some simple metric to everyone equally(like winning your conference). Some conferences play 12 games, some 13, some play a round robin, others have divisions, and some conferences are stronger than others etc….

    We just need to overhaul the voting system completely and throw in a mini playoff.

  17. DMK says:

    I guess the Sunbelt would take Bama, LSU, UF …

    I doubt it would be good for football if all of the elite teams started to flee their current leagues in order to and jockey for position to get into the weakest A-playoff-Q conferences available.

    Give the WAC a playoff spot, send UGA out there, watch UGA make the playoffs every season.

  18. Randy says:

    1. Put strength of schedule back in
    2. Find a computer model that actually works and make it totally transparent to everyone.
    3. Take away the coaches vote (they don’t watch games anyway) and set up a selection committee like basketball does.
    4. The first “Plus One poll doesn’t come out until 4 or 5 games into the season to counter act the preseason polls fiasco.
    5. Find a way to weight the poll so as to offset conferences with championship/no championship game.

  19. Dave says:

    “I doubt it would be good for football if all of the elite teams started to flee their current leagues in order to and jockey for position to get into the weakest A-playoff-Q conferences available”


    Straw man – has never happpened and never will. No team would ever trade the prestige/money/exposure of a premier conference for an easier path to post-season play.

    What will not be good for college football is if it becomes a regional, as opposed to national, sport. Which is what we are heading towards if we get an all-SEC playoff, as a voting system would enable. Don’t believe me? Look at the ratings for this year’s BCS Championship…

  20. DMK says:

    Perhaps once every decade or so the two best teams just happen to come from the same conference. It’s possible that voting biases up to this point have actually wrongly *obscured* that fact more often than they’ve *revealed* it.

    Voters/Computers allowed an all-SEC contest this year only after virtually all other options were exhausted (yes, losing to Iowa St. exhausts your option).

    And if ratings are what we’re after, then Notre Dame needs to play Texas every single year.

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