Last month, most college football fans and media members rejoiced when a group of 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick made it clear that some form of a four-team college football playoff was in the works.
But last week, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman threw cold water on that playoff plan as well as on all those in favor of such a thing. Speaking with ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg, Perlman made it clear that school presidents and chancellors would have the ultimate say in whether or not a playoff comes to pass. More specifically, he said Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents and chancellors would have their say:
“It is clear the presidents will still make the final decision. We’ve had some informal meetings, the Big Ten presidents and the Pac-12 presidents, and I think we’re largely aligned in thinking a plus-one with a different ranking after the bowl games to select No. 1 and 2 would be acceptable. Our second choice would probably be a four-team playoff inside the bowls. Our highest priority is to preserve the status of the Rose Bowl and our connection to it… I don’t think we would be very enthusiastic about any of the other options.”
Buzz = killed.
But Perlman went on to shoot down a proposal put forth by his own league’s commissioner, Jim Delany, too. Regarding a four-team plan that would include semifinal games played at campus sites, Nebraska’s chancellor said:
“I don’t think that’s acceptable to us at this point. There would be some advantages to the Big Ten in doing it that way, but the end result would be that the bowl system and the Rose Bowl would be kind of like the NIT in basketball. If you have a playoff system outside the bowls, it would do serious damage to the bowls. … I don’t think anybody would pay attention to the bowls…
I can’t figure out a good reason to have a playoff to start with. We play enough football games,”
By ignoring the rather obvious “good reason” of beaucoup dinero, Perlman makes it clear that he’s just not a playoff guy, regardless of the potential rewards. That’s not surprising. Until the SEC put two teams in the BCS Championship Game and television ratings for bowls began to drop, neither were most school presidents and conference commissioners, including the Big Ten’s Delany.
Perhaps Perlman is just a lone hold-out, an old-timer who’ll fight to hold on to tradition, money be darned. Or maybe he really is “aligned” with the majority of his fellow Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents in believing that an unseeded, Plus-One system after the bowls is the best option for college football. (In reality, it’s the worst option. It’s worse than the current system in fact. Imagine two undefeated teams meeting in a bowl… and then the winner being forced to play some one-loss team in a Plus-One title game a week later. And what about 2004? Southern Cal, Oklahoma and Auburn would have all been tied to different bowl games and you’d still have had three undefeated teams vying for two slots even after the bowls. It’s literally a step backward from the current system.)
Whether Perlman is clued in or clueless — and if he’s clued in, then it’s Delany who looks clueless — the rest of the college football world should encourage him and his Big Ten/Pac-12 mates to shuffle off to Pasadena and enjoy their Rose Bowl.
It’s time for bluffs to be called. And if Perlman and his fellow presidents aren’t bluffing, it’s time for doors to be shown. ”See ya… wouldn’t wanna be ya,” should be the rallying cry from every other conference commissioner and college president across the country.
1. The NCAA will not be put in full control over whatever new postseason format is decided upon anyway. This won’t be a fully sanctioned, official, everybody-splits-the-revenue-evenly, NCAA basketball tourney-type of situation. So if the Big Ten and Pac-12 want to do their own thing, the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and all the other smaller leagues and smaller schools should let them. They can still create their own four-team playoff just as they’ve created their own bowl alliances and coalitions in the past (more on that in a minute).
2. The Big Ten and Pac-12 would be marginalized, trivialized and further regionalized by doing their own thing. Can you imagine the coverage a four-team seeded playoff would get in comparison to the Rose Bowl? In 2012 there will be 125 FBS schools. If that number held moving forward, there would be 101 schools vying for a national title via the new four-team playoff. There would be 24 schools vying for a Rose Bowl championship. That’s 101 versus 24. Do the math and tell me which system would be viewed as the producer of the real football national champion. Let’s also remember that due to the time differences, there isn’t much East Coast coverage of Pac-12 football in the first place. You’d have America versus the Midwest and that league out West that most people don’t get to see anyway.
3. Looking back over the last 20 seasons (1992-2011), here are the current Big Ten/Pac-12 schools that have claimed either an AP title, a coaches’ poll title, or a BCS crown: Nebraska (1994, 1995, 1997), Michigan (1997 — note that Michigan and Nebraska are now in the same conference, so one of them would be scratched from the list), Ohio State (2002), and Southern Cal (2003, 2004 — and both were NCAA tainted). That’s it. Now, here’s a list of all the other major title-winners over that period: Alabama (1992, 2009, 20011), Florida State (1993, 1999), Florida (1996, 2006, 2008), Tennessee (1998), Oklahoma (2000), Miami (2001), LSU (2003, 2007), Texas (2005), Auburn (2010). One group has but four members while the other has nine. If the Big Ten and Pac-12 want to emphasize the fact that they don’t play football as well as most other leagues, then by all means they should stick together with their Rose Bowl.
4. The big schools of the SEC, ACC and Big 12 would have an even easier path to the national crown minus their Big Ten and Pac-12 brethren. More importantly, they’d have more money to share. Oh, the TV rights for a four-team playoff wouldn’t be as high without the Rose Bowl conferences included, but you can bet the money would still be enormous. A heckuva lot bigger than what the Rose Bowl contract would be worth, that’s for sure.
5. That’s good news for every single school not in one of the five power conferences, too. Everyone from Boise State to new FBS schools like Georgia State and Texas State would have a greater opportunity to make the Football Final Four and they would receive a bigger share of the money. Again, there would be 24 fewer teams competing for spots in the playoff if the Big Ten and Pac-12 went their own way. There would be 24 fewer slices to the total playoff-revenue pie, as well. If anyone should be in favor of the Rose Bowl leagues splitting off it’s the little guys. And the little guys in the West and Midwest especially. Think Boise State wouldn’t like to take part in a national championship playoff while Oregon was confined to the Rose Bowl? ”Have at it,” they’d say as they laughed all the way to the bank.
6. The Rose Bowl is about tradition. It’s a beautiful field in a beautiful setting and I try to watch it every year. It’s a spectacle. But I’m 41-years-old. Today’s recruits could give a flip about the history of the Rose Bowl. Sixty-year-old Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents? Yes, they love it. Eighteen-year-olds from Florida and Texas? No. From a recruiting standpoint, the Big Ten and Pac-12 would be setting themselves back years. If given the choice between taking part in a college football playoff or playing in a Rose Bowl, there aren’t many top prospects who’d choose the latter over the former. And while that would be bad news for the Big Ten — a league located in an area of country that is already growing at an alarmingly slow rate — it would be wonderful news for the other power leagues and the smaller conferences and schools. Better to make a playoff and win a real national title at Boise State or Cincinnati than to play for a Rose Bowl berth at Wisconsin or Southern Cal.
7. The Big 12 — even with a new commissioner who has ties to both the Big Ten and Pac-12 — should hope that the Rose Bowl leagues break away from the pack. Want to further stabilize your conference, Bob Bowlsby? Align yourself with the SEC, ACC and all the other schools in the country as a pro-playoff man. As the Big Ten and Pac-12 damage their own recruiting, the Big 12 — like every other league — would stand to gain. That’s important for a conference that currently has a footprint of just five states.
8. All that goes for Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame, too. If there’s any school in the country that should pray — pun intended — for a Rose Bowl breakaway it’s Notre Dame. Suddenly the Irish would have an easier path to the Football Final Four as well as the recruiting advantage that goes with it when vying with Big Ten schools for prospects. Add it up: an easier shot at football relevance, better recruiting, and more money. Join a conference? No, thanks. The Irish would be able to survive and thrive as a lone wolf.
Now, we’ve actually been down this road once before.
From the 1992 through 1994, you might remember a precursor to the BCS called the Bowl Coalition. It was a terrible system that featured the Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta, Gator and John Hancock bowls. The Rose Bowl, Big Ten and Pac-12 refused to take part.
Then came the Bowl Alliance from 1995 through 1998. It involved the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls. The SEC, ACC, Big East, Notre Dame, old Big Eight, and old SWC took part. The Rose bowl, Big Ten and Pac-12 again steered clear.
Ah, but even though those two half-hearted attempts to define a national champion were flawed and heavily criticized, they did make money. They did give those other bowls and those other leagues an advantage over — yep — the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten and Pac-12. So much so that by the time the 1998 season and the January 1999 bowl season rolled around, the Rose Bowl, Big Ten and Pac-12 had all tucked their tails and signed up for the rebuilt Bowl Championship Series.
History would no doubt repeat itself. If the those three entities learned the hard way that staying out of a hard-to-explain bowl mix was bad for business in the late-90s, what might they find if they decided to avoid a true four-team playoff system in mid-2010s? How much damage might they do to themselves while learning that lesson?
If Perlman and his fellow presidents and chancellors in the Big Ten and Pac-12 want to go out on their own and lock arms around their beloved Rose Bowl, the rest of the college football world should encourage them to do just that. In the end, 24 schools in two conferences would lose money, recruits and prestige. All while at least 101 other schools would find the path to a playoff easier, the recruiting better, and the cash greener.
In other words…