Today, on June 1st, 2012, the state of college sports can best be described as a powder keg. Hot-headed, stubbon, arrogant conference commissioners who are more interested in what’s best for their own leagues than they are what’s best for the whole will gather in Chicago later this month.
Might as well just meet at Lexington, Massachusetts. The posturing’s been done. Battle lines have been drawn. And all that’s needed to blow college athletics all to Hell is just… one… shot.
In Chicago — first on the 13th and then on the 20th — the commissioners of the FBS conferences and the athletic director from Notre Dame will attempt to cobble together a new playoff system. The only issue? Everyone’s got a different take on what should be the result of said cobbling. And representatives from the most powerful leagues are already letting everyone know that they won’t compromise.
As for the playoff itself, Matt Hayes of The Sporting News says the format won’t impact the amount of cash television networks are willing to bid for the rights to air the three new games (if there are three new games). CBS, ESPN, NBC/Comcast and FOX are all expected to bid on a new playoff. There will also be huge money rolling in from a process that will likely include bidding out the championship game site each year, a la the Final Four or Super Bowl.
“College football is hot,” one BCS source told Hayes. ”Everyone wants a piece of it.” For that reason — regardless of the format — the money will be the same.
As for that format…
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC are all in favor of systems that would give some sort of special consideration to conference champions (mainly because their leagues haven’t produced many BCS title game contenders in the past 14 years).
Meanwhile, the Big 12, the SEC and Notre Dame want the best four teams involved (mainly because the first two entities are more likely to land multiple teams in the field while the last one is just trying to secure a possible entrance point). The Big 12 wants to see a selection committee do the choosing. The SEC would apparently be willing to compromise on how the selection is done, so long as it means keeping the 1-2-3-4 system. But according to Florida president Bernie Machen, that’s the only compromising his league will do.
“We won’t compromise on (1-2-3-4). I think the public wants the top four. I think almost everybody wants the top four.”
Strong words. Especially from the chairperson of the SEC’s presidents and chancellors. And Texas AD DeLoss Dodds said yesterday that he didn’t “see a compromise position,” either.
Is all this just a negotiating ploy like certain Big Ten and Pac-12 officials kickstarting talk of a simple post-bowl Plus-One? Perhaps. After all, according to Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News, Machen also said this yesterday:
“I’ve thought about this: Suppose everybody says they’re going to do this (playoff) and one or two say we’re nto going to to do this. I don’t know what the next step is…
I think this has to be a consensus exercise. I think that’s why the BCS has sort of worked is that everybody bought into it. I don’t know quite how they got everybody together back in the day. I just don’t foresee a strong-armed kind of solution. We’re all going to have to, if necessary, compromise and get something we can all live with.”
It seems a pretty far stretch from “we won’t compromise” to “a consensus exercise,” doesn’t it?
When the playoffs were first tossed out as a possibility, we wrote that the most likely solution would be a 3+1 compromise. Take the three highest-rated conference champions and then the next highest-rated team. Most network executives and media members seem to think that’s where things will go, as long as guys like Mike Slive, Larry Scott and Jim Delany are willing to find some common ground.
Andy Staples of SI.com writes that all this talk of not compromising shouldn’t be taken too seriously. ”So don’t worry too much about the playoff falling apart, even if the rhetoric gets stronger in the next three weeks. Cash is the ultimate consensus builder, and it hasn’t had its say yet.”
That’s a fair enough point aside from one thing — college presidents and conference commissioners have passed on the huge television dollars available through a playoff for years. The economy is in a different state now. There are more networks to bid now. Yes and yes, but egos, arrogance, a lust for power and some already existing feuds — Big Ten versus SEC — could still win the day. After all, if issues like ego, arrogance, lust for power and feuds can lead men and nations to war, they could certainly upend the momentum for a college football playoff.
Asked by The Birmingham News about how things might shake out, BCS executive director Bill Hancock had this to say:
“I really don’t know. It narrowed to the few four-team options we gave the commissioners back in April for them to take to their conferences. You saw there’s a little more interest (since then) in the plus-one. It would not be inappropriate for someone to have a new idea. But the time is coming that a decision has to be made and I hope that time is the end of June. I’m confident the group will come to a decision, but there’s a lot more work to do…
I don’t know (if there will be a playoff). I think the will of the group is they want to do something different. But the question is can they come up with a format that everyone wants to participate in? I think they will, but I think it’s not 100 percent.”
Hancock also said that he believes “all the conferences will have to” compromise to get a deal done. ”The BCS was built on collaboration and compromise.” And the BCS evolved from the Bowl Coalition (1992-1995) to the Bowl Alliance (1995-1997) to finally the current model, though even the formulas and polls used to select teams have changed repeatedly since the BCS’ inception in 1998.
All that collaboration and compromise didn’t occur overnight, which is what’s basically needed now. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl did their own thing from ’92 through ’97. Even though there was more money on the table in the BCS partnership that they eventually joined.
It could be that the Big Ten and Pac-12 hold out again. After all, if X amount of dollars are available this year, Y amount or even Z amount could be available a year or two down the road. (That’d be a risky gamble considering the teetering global economy.)
If or when the conference commissioners — including all those small conferences who’ll want any kind of cash they can grab for themselves — arrive at a playoff format, you can probably expect more shifting of the college sports landscape. That’s the view of none other than NCAA president Mark Emmert who made a surprise drop-in at the Big 12 meetings in Kansas City yesterday.
“If there’s going to be significant movement by FBS institutions over the course of the summer, it will be driven by (the playoff and the gulf in finances it could create between the “haves” and “have nots”)…
When you go back and look at history, the financial differences have always been there, but some universities have huge competitive advantages through history and geography and decisions they’ve made over decades that are in some ways insurmountable. It just reinforces some of those inherent advantages that some universities have had for a century.”
Emmert then pointed out that there is still “a laundry list of issues” to work out before a playoff is lined up and more realignment/expansion occurs. ”Is it going to be part of the bowls? Isn’t it? How do you handle the allocation of money? How do you pick four teams? Do you play on campuses or not?”
Yes, and all that’s supposed to be settled by June 20th and then approved by the BCS presidential oversight committee on June 26th. All by men who have their own league’s best interests at heart and who are currently talking about how uncompromising they will be in Chicago.
It’s a powder keg, folks. The playoff, the format, the makeup of conferences, etc. A first shot will be fired in a couple of weeks. From there, things could fizzle out for a while or the whole darn system as we know it could go up in smoke. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether there will even be a playoff.
Even with hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.