Last week, it looked as though the Big Ten and Pac-12 were driving hard for a playoff system that would be heavily weighted toward conference champions. At the same time, the chancellor of the University of Nebraska had recently said that his fellow Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents and chancellors still favored a simpler Plue-One game tacked on after the bowl games… in order to preserve the majesty and tradition of the Rose Bowl.
Seemingly in response to the Big Ten/Pac-12, the SEC and the Big 12 — the two leagues that have by far owned the BCS era in terms of championship game appearances — worked out a deal of their own. Last Friday they announced that they would start their own bowl game. The apparent messages sent:
* Big Ten and Pac-12, don’t think you can jam a playoff format we don’t like down our throats.
* Our game will be better than your Rose Bowl.
* A playoff is most definitely on the way.
But Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has told The Wall Street Journal that the true Plus-One model mentioned above is now back on the table and gaining steam. This is all about spin and negotiations, of course, but Scott’s comments suggest that the SEC’s and Big 12′s plan might have backfired:
“I’d say before Friday that idea of a plus-one didn’t have much traction, but I think the announcement on Friday’s a game-changer. We’re pretty far down the path on four-team playoff options, but given the very positive reaction to what the SEC and Big 12 have done, it’s possible that (a plus-one) could get some traction.”
At least that’s the Pac-12′s view of things. And Scott might be right.
If a true Plus-One is put in place, the champions of the two best leagues in America would do battle in a de facto semifinal. For leagues like the Pac-12 and Big Ten that have earned just three BCS title game appearances each — thanks largely to those slots being filled by SEC and Big 12 teams — a Plus-One makes the path to the national crown easier. Ditto for all the small leagues out there.
How many leagues would love to see the SEC and Big 12 beat each other up and cancel out a title game slot in the process? Most? All?
We can’t stress enough, however, that Scott’s comments are a negotiating point. The SEC, Big 12 and others will counter it. This just gives Scott’s bloc a better starting point. Suddenly the “four from six” plan tossed out by the Big Ten’s Jim Delany might be a more likely compromise than the “three champs and a wild card” plan we at MrSEC.com expected to be the final compromise.
Either way, we don’t think a Plus-One will be the final destination.
In addition to recent SEC dominance, one of the reasons playoff discussions have come so far in recent months is the fact that fans now have more power than ever. They have the power to complain via talk radio and social media. More importantly, they have the power to turn off their televisions come December and January (which they’ve been doing with more regularity). Even more importantly, they have the power to stop buying tickets to games.
So it’s unlikely that the same men who’ve spent so much time working on a playoff in order to keep fans from tuning out will stop, shift, and suddenly throw things into reverse. And let’s be honest, a true Plus-One is about as far into reverse as things can be thrown. Such a system would accomplish nothing. It would be worse than the existing BCS.
If three teams from three different bowls were all undefeated post January 1st… some team would still be left on the outside looking in. That’s the same thing fans hate about the BCS.
If the only undefeated team in America wins its bowl game… should it really have to turn around and beat some other once-beaten club to win the national title? In fact, wasn’t this issue in the form of January’s LSU-Alabama rematch part of the reason we started down the playoff road in the first place?
Look, a Plus-One is unlikely. But Scott’s response to the SEC/Big 12 move from Friday shows just how formidable a commissioner he is. The SEC and Big 12 countered the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Now Scott is letting everyone know that Friday’s move wasn’t quite the checkmate that many had assumed it was.
UPDATE — A lot of folks are taking Scott’s statement to mean that the Plus-One after the bowls would consist of the Rose Bowl’s winner playing the “Champions” Bowl winner. But that’s not what Scott said. He simply said a Plus-One. And if he’s referring to the traditional Plus-One plan that Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman floated recently, then he’s suggesting the best two teams after all the bowls would be picked. Is it logical to think that that would probably mean the Rose and “Champions” winners? Yes. But that’s not technically what he said.
In addition whether there’s a true Plus-One or those two games become official semifinals — good luck legally closing the door completely on all the schools outside the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC, by the way — the SEC and Big 12 would be meeting in one game while the Big Ten and Pac-12 would play in the other. Things tend to move in cycles, but since the BCS era dawned, the two former leagues have been better than the latter two when it comes to producing championship game contenders. For that reason the SEC-Big 12 game would be like playing the championship game first and then forcing that winner to face off against a team from the Pac-12 or Big Ten in a second championship game.
Which is why Scott’s now using this as a negotiating tool.