Win, win, win. Smile, smile, smile.
The majority opinion on college football’s new playoff plan is that it’s yet another postseason victory for the Southeastern Conference. There are plenty of good reasons to say/write/think that.
Heck, a recent poll by ESPN showed that the majority of America’s football fans who chimed in believe the SEC will land multiple teams in the new playoff “more often than not.”
Not to be Mr. Negative, but there are still a few concerns SEC fans should be worried about with this new system. A new system, we might add, that hasn’t been completely fleshed out just yet.
So what’s the verdict look like as of today, before said fleshing out is complete? Below is our list of positives and potential negatives for Mike Slive’s conference.
GOOD: Despite fears that the playoff could become a “conference champions only” affair, the nation’s most powerful league can still theoretically put two, three or even four teams into the four-team tournament. Slive and interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas fought hard for “the four best teams” to be included and even those who were supposedly in favor of a champs-only model — like Jim Delany of the Big Ten — have said they never really pushed for any such plan.
BAD: Yeah, but… depending on who gets a spot on football’s new selection committee, the playoff could still become a champs-only event in practice if not in name. Strength of schedule and conference championships are supposed to be weighed by the panel members. How will those issues be weighed? How much will those issues be weighed? How big will the panel be? Who’ll be on it? And what will their biases be? We’ll have more on this below, but a selection committee doesn’t guarantee that the four highest-ranked teams will form the playoff field.
GOOD: It’s expected that the money will eventually be distributed based upon past BCS performance — meaning BCS bowl bids, BCS bowl wins, and/or all-time BCS standings. If that’s how things eventually shake out, then that’ll be a big win for the SEC (and Big 12). While the details still need to be worked out, everyone knows full well the five remaining “big boy” conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — will get the majority of the cash. More dollars is a good thing for the SEC and its member institutions. (One quick sidenote — The Big Ten’s Delany has pushed the idea of factoring academics into the revenue-sharing formula. Sounds nice and collegiate and all, but the television networks won’t be forking over billions to show college football players work math problems or compete in a spelling bee. Huge money will be made by the conferences because certain leagues have ramped up people’s interest in college football through their successes. Delany doesn’t need to get greedy, his league is one of those that deserves a big cut. Just not for its test scores.)
GOOD: The playoff will be viewed as a win for Slive’s legacy. And not just as SEC commissioner but as one of college football’s steward. As we’ve written on several occasions, if there was ever a league that should be fine with the status quo, it’s the SEC. The league has won six consecutive BCS titles, it’s had the only two-loss BCS champion, and it filled the first-ever BCS title game between conference mates. But Slive helped to give the fans what most of them wanted. Rather than fight against a playoff, he embraced the concept this time around and even led the charge for such a system in 2008 along with the ACC’s John Swofford. Of course, he also knows that his league stands to make some killer bank off this deal. Let’s not kid ourselves on that front. But still, in terms of his league’s on-field success, Slive made a risky move for the overall good of the game.
BAD: Yeah, but… Slive just made a risky move for his league’s on-field success. Did you just read that part about how the SEC was dominating the BCS’ poll and computer-formula-driven system? Well you can toss the polls and the computers out the window because now a selection committee will handle the picking and the seeding of teams. As noted above, that might not be a great thing for the Southeastern Conference… a league many people are simply sick to death of at the moment. Six years into the playoff era we may find that the SEC has rolled up another six national crowns. It’s possible. It’s also possible that the SEC’s dominant run of titles could end this season under the current BCS format. But the reality is, the league is leaving a world that it has owned for one that’s yet to be explored. There’s risk involved in such a bold move.
GOOD: The SEC does not want to expand again anytime soon. Schools 13 and 14 were not easy pills to swallow in terms of scheduling and divisional alignments. Adding more schools would only make things even tougher. (That said, Slive could announce by sunset that Delaware and New Mexico State have joined his league.) We’ve been told by sources at darn near every school in the league that further expansion is not an immediate goal for anyone. This new playoff and its payouts could slow the expansion/realignment train and ease the pressure on the SEC to have to make reactionary moves. ACC teams will still have a shot at the title belt as will Notre Dame. The ACC still figures to make serious coin as well. No wonder the blog that once said Florida State and Clemson to the Big 12 were a done deal is now reporting that the Big 12 has decided not to extend invitations after all. (I remember a commenter or two loudly demanding that I admit to being wrong about FSU/Clemson to the Big 12 when those rumors started flying… so it’ll be interesting to see if they return and admit that — according to their own scoopster — they’re the ones who appear to have made the mistake?) If expansion does come to a halt in the top-level leagues while everyone takes a breath and sees how the new system will impact them, that means the SEC won’t have to worry about who’ll be dance partner #15 and #16 — and possibly #s 17, 18, 19, and 20 — for a while.
BAD: With a new selection committee factoring in strength of schedule, a lot of cupcake-feasting coaches across the SEC will have to stop playing so many FCS foes. That’s great for fans who buy tickets. That’s great for fans who like to watch meaningful, competitive games on television. But that could be bad news for those squads on the cusp of greatness. Let’s take Mississippi State as an example. The Bulldogs don’t appear to be on track for a national crown anytime soon, but Dan Mullen has clearly pushed his program forward and with a break or two, well, you never know. But let’s say MSU had a shocking year, pulled off a number of upsets and wound up in a future playoff conversation. Great news, right? Not if the school’s nonconference slate consisted of Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and MTSU as it does this year. AD Scott Stricklin has admitted that he was against a nine-game SEC slate because he feared adding a tough game would hurt State’s chances of reaching a bowl. The Bulldogs are just one example of that thinking. But if you’re a mid-level SEC program that wants to guarantee bowl appearances in the present, yet believes you’re thisclose to hitting it big… how do you handle nonconference scheduling in a playoff world? Go for the creampuffs and guarantee bowl status? Or ink at least one “name” foe in case you wind up in the playoff hunt? The jobs of several SEC coaches and ADs just got tougher.
UNDECIDED: The new “Champions” Bowl between the SEC and the Big is the biggest chad still left hanging from yesterday’s election of a new playoff system. Co-owned by the conferences, the SEC and Big 12 planned to bid out the game every year and split the mega-profits. Today, there’s no telling what becomes of the game. Many believe it will become part of the six-bowl rotation for semifinal games. If that happens, will the game become just another BCS bowl? If so, will the SEC and Big 12 still be able to bid the game out to different cities and pocket the cash? Will they pour a portion of the proceeds into the overall BCS pool? Will they keep all the cash in the years when the game isn’t a semifinal and share the booty when it is a playoff game? Or could the game actually merge with an existing game, like the Cotton Bowl or Sugar Bowl, for example? (Our vote would be for the Sugar because New Orleans is more fun than Arlington, Texas, but the Cotton would likely offer more cash.) The “Champions” Bowl is a new model that hasn’t been tried before and now it will have to be somehow worked into another new model — the playoff — that hasn’t been tried before, either. When in doubt, expect the SEC to be a winner in the long run, but the jury is very much still out on this one.