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28 Nov 2005

Confessions of a Football Junkie: Long Division

by Russell Levine

It's conference championship game week in college football, when the 12-team superconferences hold their one-game playoffs to determine their champions and Bowl Championship Series representatives. The ACC joins the fray this season, becoming the third of the six power conferences (along with the SEC and Big 12) to do so.

Former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer came up with the idea for these superconferences, which were supposed to transform the sport. But it's probably safe to assume that when the ACC decided to go to 12 teams, commissioner John Swofford expected something more compelling than Saturday's matchup of 10–1 Virginia Tech -- a worthy enough participant, to be sure -- and 7–4 Florida State, which will limp into Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium on a three-game losing streak.

The Big 12 can't be overly thrilled, either, as it sends 11–0 and second-ranked Texas against a 7–4 Colorado team that lost its last two games and only backed into a berth in the title game when Iowa State fell to a mediocre Kansas squad in overtime Saturday.

In the ACC, Swofford and the ABC executives who agreed to televise the game had a right to expect something more. The league was Florida State's personal playground throughout the 1990s.The Seminoles were so dominant that the regular season was rendered largely meaningless.

Surely the addition of Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech over the course of 2004–05 -- along with the development of better programs at Maryland and North Carolina State -- would produce a better regular season followed by a highly talked-about pairing of teams featuring gaudy regular season records.

That was the theory, anyway. But conference championship games, born in 1992 when Kramer exploited an NCAA loophole to create one for the newly expanded SEC, have been a mixed bag when stirred together with Kramer's other gift to the college football landscape: the BCS.

During the seven-year BCS era, there have been complaints that these league championship games hurt the chances of the of the SEC and Big 12 champions to win national titles because they are forced to win an extra game. But the evidence doesn't really support the argument. Three previous BCS champions -- Tennessee in 1998, Oklahoma in 2000, and LSU in 2003 -- won conference championship games on their way to national championships. Oklahoma in 2004 is the only team to win a conference championship game before losing in the BCS championship game.

The Big 12 has also disproved the "extra win" requirement, as Oklahoma played in the BCS championship in 2003 despite being upset in the Big 12 championship. In 2001, Nebraska qualified for the BCS championship despite failing to reach its own league title game.

While it's true that a few national-championship contenders have been derailed in their league title games -- Kansas State in 1998 and Tennessee in 2001 come to mind -- more often the problem has been that the divisional play leading to the championship game ends up denying a more worthy team a chance to play for a BCS berth.

The BCS allows for two at-large berths to one of the four BCS bowls (the Orange, Rose, Fiesta, and Sugar.) In the seven years of the BCS's existence, only one of the 14 at-large spots has gone to the loser of a conference title game: Oklahoma in 2003, when the Sooners were the only unbeaten team in the country before being upset by Kansas State, allowing Oklahoma to remain in the top two positions of the BCS standings.

That trend will continue this year unless Colorado pulls off a monumental upset in the Big 12 championship, perhaps allowing Texas to still sneak in as an at-large team.

Furthermore, the league games haven't been that compelling. The average margin of victory in 13 SEC title games is more than 15 points, with only two games decided by fewer than seven. In nine years, the average margin of victory in the Big 12 title game is 18 points, with only three games decided by seven or fewer.

Knowing all this, why would the ACC follow Kramer's lead to expansion and a championship game? The simple answer is: "because it can." Like nearly every decision in big-time college athletics, this one is driven by the pursuit of revenue and exposure. ABC and CBS have been ready and willing to pay big money to televise the championship games, which have also attracted corporate sponsors like Dr. Pepper. The SEC title game has been played at Atlanta's Georgia Dome since 1994 and usually sells out months in advance. While the Big 12 game hasn't been quite as successful as a gate attraction, it still adds plenty of dollars to conference coffers.

The ACC was heretofore known for its basketball prowess, but Swofford's move to add Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech made an unspoken statement that the league would cast its lot and future earning potential with football. A big part of that was the ability to play a lucrative championship game.

So, even if the inaugural matchup is unappealing, and the ACC's new two-division format prevents 9–2 Miami from any realistic shot at an at-large BCS berth, Swofford can still say the decision has raised his league's profile by stretching its footprint beyond the Southeast and adding a major media market in Boston.

Not every conference has taken the same approach. When Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, creating an 11-team league, most figured it was just a matter of time until the league added a 12th team, split into divisions, and played a championship games. But 13 years and one failed overture to Notre Dame later, the Big Ten remains a gang of 11. Perhaps the Big Ten, with a presence in larger media markets than the SEC, Big 12, or ACC, hasn't felt the same push to inflate its profile. Then again, the league has garnered four at-large BCS berths since 1998, more than any other conference, meaning added bowl revenue has helped to offset the lost revenue from not having a title game.

It's ironic that on Saturday, while the ACC, Big 12, and SEC are staging their ho-hum championship games, most fans will train their eyes on Los Angeles and the Pac-10, where 11–0 USC faces 9–1 UCLA in the day's best game.

The Pac-10, with just two at-large BCS berths since 1998 (the Big 12 and SEC have three each; the ACC and Big East none) has made no visible effort toward expansion, and has remained content to allow its champion to be determined over the course of the entire regular season rather than in a single, made-for-TV event. If Florida State or Colorado pull off upsets later in the day, ACC and Big 12 officials might wish they had done the same.

John L. Smith Trophy

This week's winner of the John L. Smith Trophy comes from a little bit under the radar, probably because it didn't exactly turn out to be a deciding factor in his team's loss. Still, the question must be asked, what was Dave Wannstedt thinking in the second quarter of Pittsburgh's loss to West Virginia Thanksgiving night?

Pitt would go on to lose 45-13, but the score was just 14-13 West Virginia midway through the second quarter when Pitt faced a third-and-18 at its own 47-yard line. Tyler Palko threw a screen pass to Derek Kinder that gained 14 yards, leaving the Panthers with a fourth-and-4 on the West Virginia 39 -- certainly a decent position to consider going for the first down. But West Virginia was flagged for offsides on the play, giving Wannstedt the option of trying again on third-and-13 from the Mountaineers' 48.

For some reason, Wanny elected to decline the penalty, which would be fine if he planned to go for it on fourth down, but Pitt punted the ball anyway. Huh? I thought the object of offensive football was to make first downs and score points? Why would a coach ever turn down the opportunity to take another crack at a first down, instead opting to give the ball back to the opposition?

Wanny's actually done a good job this year turning the Panthers around after a miserable start, but he earns the JLS Trophy for that head-scratcher.

BlogPoll Ballot

Here's my latest ballot in MGoBlog's BlogPoll. Last week's ranking in parentheses.

1. Southern Cal (1): USC-UCLA: take the over.
2. Texas (2): It was a rivalry game, on the road; those things happen.
3. Penn State (3): Fiesta vs. Notre Dame would be sweet, but probably Miami-bound.
4. Virginia Tech (5): There's still a statement to be made vs. FSU.
5. Louisiana State (4): Not pretty, but 10-1 counts for something.
6. Ohio State (7): Sorry Oregon, I think the Buckeyes are taking your bid.
7. Notre Dame (6): Trust me, BCS bowl officials aren't debating their worthiness.
8. Auburn (8): Al Borges's stock is rising.
9. Oregon (9): Would it kill the Pac-10 to find a better spot for its #2 team than the Holiday Bowl?
10. Georgia (10): Team doesn't wow you with anything they do, but they're effective.
11. Miami (Florida) (11): No BCS soup for you.
12. UCLA (13): Three weeks to prepare for USC. Expect some trick plays.
13. Alabama (14): DNP.
14. West Virginia (15): They should fare better than Pitt did last year.
15. Florida (18): Urban's offseason just got a little easier.
16. Louisville (17): At least Petrino's not such a hot property anymore.
17. Fresno State (12): Wow, talk about a letdown.
18. TCU (18): DNP.
19. Boston College (21): DNP.
20. Wisconsin (22): Nice job in the islands.
21. Georgia Tech (19): Calvin Johnson is awesome.
22. Michigan (23): DNP.
23. Clemson (24): DNP.
24. Texas Tech (25): DNP.
25. Oklahoma (NR): The program's demise was overrated.

Dropped out: Florida State (21)

Games I watched: Parts of Pitt-West Virginia, LSU-Arkansas, Wisconsin-Hawaii, Florida State-Florida, Notre Dame-Stanford, Georgia-Georgia Tech.

Ed. Note: Portions of this article appeared in Monday's New York Sun

Posted by: Russell Levine on 28 Nov 2005

35 comments, Last at 01 Dec 2005, 5:24pm by Richie


by Trogdor (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2005 - 11:45pm

Of all the Martz/JLS winners, that may be the most ridiculous ever. Wow. Just, wow.

by JonL (not verified) :: Mon, 11/28/2005 - 11:53pm

This might not fall within the scope of CFJ, but I just read that Vandy's Jay Cutler might be the second quarterback drafted next year. I know he looked pretty good when they almost beat Florida, but are there any more specific reasons why?

by Chris I. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:04am

Wanny! Still crazy after all these years.

And I don't think Wannstadt deserves any credit for "turning around" a team that went 5-6 after returning 18 starters from last year's 8-4 team.

Sorry, Pitt fans, get used to it as long as Wanny is in charge. As a Bears fan, I speak from painful experience.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:05am

Yes, Cutler has some good skills and the QB crop is very weak this year (pending any underclassmen). It's an okay class, there will most likely be only one first round QB (Leinart) and then maybe one in the second round.. I did like the skills of Paul Pinegar (QB-Fresno State) v. USC a few weeks ago minus all the 3rd quarter INT's.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:11am

Also I think it's more of a slap in the face when your head coach (Walt Harris of Pitt) leaves to go to STANFORD.

And yeah the prospects of Dave Wannstedt having a big year eventually don't look good. Even though Pete Carroll made the move from NFL to NCAA, Wannstedt is no Carroll*.

* but let's remember USC had a 6-6 first year with Carroll... but Wannstedt isn't exactly the most energetic coach.

by Larry (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:11am

Of course BCS officials aren't debating Notre Dame's worthiness, they're hearing cash register bells go off in their heads. The one thing has nothing to do with the other. That said, PSU-ND would sure be nice to see. Sadly, we won't get that either.

Nice interesting and obscure JLS trophy.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:54am

2. Texas (2): It was a rivalry game, on the road; those things happen.

That's what I thought, too - until halftime. And then after halftime, when I saw Texas A&M running the same play, over and over, I started thinking maybe there was something wrong with Texas.

Texas's linebackers were just overpursuing, and letting lanes open up. Vince Young's horrible game - that I can accept is pressure/rivalry game/etc. But Texas's defense never adjusting to the option at all? That I can't just ignore. That's exploitable.

And it just makes me want to go find Tressel and strangle him. Keeping Zwick in that game was by far the dumbest coaching move of the entire year.

by ajn (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:27am

as a vandy season ticket holder, i am hopeful for cutler, as despite some off-the-field issues early in his career, he's a great athlete and a real leader of his teammates.

having said that, his mechanics are poor, he overthrows his receivers constantly, and he's very quick to tuck the ball and take off. granted, he plays for whom i believe is the worst game coach in college football in bobby "the commodore" johnson (not to badmouth b.o.b.b.y., as he's an o.k. recruiter and by-all-accounts an excellent motivator).

anyway, i have no idea what nfl scouts think of cutler, but i can't think of a franchise quarterback in the nfl (past or present) that cutler reminds me of, so i can't say with much confidence that he's destined for stardom...

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:08am

Hey, I understand badmouthing the ACC and Big 12 conference "championships", but I think the SEC has been putting a stellar product on the field every single season since it started the conference championship. What does the SEC have that the Big 12 (aka the "little dozen") and ACC don't? Good teams. Lots and lots of them. And balanced divisions. In the SEC, you've got Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida who are perennial powers in the East, and Alabama, Auburn, and LSU who are perennial powers in the west, and Ole Miss and Arkansas can always be counted on to make it interesting every once in a while (with a Matt Jones or an Eli Manning), and now South Carolina has Steve Spurrier and Vanderbuilt isn't such a pushover. Lots and lots of quality teams, evenly divided between the two divisions, ensures that whoever reaches the championship game in each division surely DESERVES to represent the conference. Even if the second best team is sitting home (Auburn), the third best team in the SEC is still pretty darn good.

Meanwhile, you've got the little dozen, who for some inexplicable reason can't turn a single school in the north into a power since Nebraska fell off the map, and the ACC, who put 3 of the 4 teams they suspected would be good in a single division. The result? Lopsided conference "championships" and the chance that a truly undeserving team gets a fluke win and a BCS bowl bid. It's a travesty, a sham, a mockery. It's a traveshamockery.

Seriously though, I don't get how the Big 12 North can't get a single good school. You would think they would be the most appealing destination to high school recruits in the entire nation. They simply have to sell the recruits on the fact that all they have to do is beat up on the weakest 6-team division in all of college football, put together one fluke win in the championship game, and suddenly they're in a BCS bowl. What other school could combine that degree of suckitude (guaranteeing super-prospects lots and lots of playing time) with that easy of a road to a BCS bowl? How are high school recruits not flocking to these schools in droves?

by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 11:08am

Have you ever been to Kansas?

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 11:24am

I find myself rooting for Florida State this weekend, because I'd love to see Bowden-Paterno.

Of course, I am also rooting for UCLA, Colorado and Georgia, because I'd like to see another PSU national title. If that happens, FSU can lose by 100. That, and the BCS might just explode if it has to take so many mediocre teams.

ESPN.com is currently listing this afternoon's game as "Air Force at Air Force".

by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:05pm

While it’s true that a few national-championship contenders have been derailed in their league title games — Kansas State in 1998 and Tennessee in 2001 come to mind

Don't forget Nebraska in 1996.

Seriously though, I don’t get how the Big 12 North can’t get a single good school. You would think they would be the most appealing destination to high school recruits in the entire nation.

The Huskers are on their way back. #5 recruiting class in the nation last year, #9 so far this year, according to Rivals.com.

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:14pm

Maybe it's time to reconsider the John L. Smith Trophy's name, now that Wanny has proved himself to be over-matched in college football, too. I suggest it should be known as the "lopsided moustache trophy"

by Russell Levine :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:16pm

Re: 9

Kibbles, the early years of the SEC title game were pretty strong when it was Florida-Alabama every year. But the average margin of victory and the near-total lack of close games in recent years speaks against your point. It's mostly played out like one of those bad second-tier bowl games.

by Flann (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:24pm

Larry, you'll get to see Penn State and Notre Dame play next September 9.

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 12:25pm

So, if the Big 10 can't convince Notre Dame to join, then who should be the 12th team to join? I suppose you could make arguments for West Virginia or Pittsburgh, but neither one is as enticing as the prospect of one day enticing Notre Dame.

by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:00pm

#10 --

Duck, Kibbles is from Colorado, I believe; he may be indulging in some oblique Gary Barnett references. Gary isn't exactly short in the ego or cutting corners departments, so the Buffaloes should certainly be dominating the current slop that is the Little 6 North.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:05pm

So Nebraska is in the running for the February National Championship?

by Derek (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 1:09pm

Mandel at CNNSI wrote a similar article about conference "championship" games. He argues for an 8-team playoff that would replace the current system which, I agree, leaves much to be desired.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 2:58pm

Pitt would be a nice 12th team, both to get the Pitt-Penn State rivalry into the conference and to add a geographically reasonable team to the conference; non-revenue sports could do a Pennsylvania swing to play those teams, cushioning the blow of having to travel to Happy Valley. West Virginia would also be a decent geographic fit, but has no natural rivals in the conference.

Unfortunately, there really aren't any schools that make a lot of sense. Unless ND loses its TV contract, it has no incentive to join any conference in football, and it would probably rather dominate the Big East than compete at the top of the Big Ten. Iowa State and Missouri have been mentioned before, but you'd probably have to put someone into the Big 12 to get someone out. Louisville might have been a possibility, but less likely after their move.

Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Minnesota don't have I-A schools that would fit, and I don't see the Big Ten adding a school farther away from the core than Penn State is now.

by Ferg (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 3:08pm

If the Big Ten really wish to be even more egregiously misnamed, why not consider some of the top MAC schools, like Miami or Northern Illinois?

by Richie (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:42pm

What did John L Williams do to deserve recognition as a bad coach? Where does he coach? Is this the same John L Williams that played RB for the Seattle Seahawks?

by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 5:27pm

Russell, I see that you flipped OSU and ND from last week. That shows me that you carefully think about and review your rankings every week, and I think that's commendable. I'll bet there are a lot of writers that don't do that kind of review.


by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 5:28pm

My post was a facetious response to a facetious remark. I mean honestly, have you ever been to Kansas? I'm sure a person from Colorado will appreciate that.

But seriously, I find myself growing to accept the inevitable screwing that the bowl committees will be handing down this weekend. It will become a fun bit of trivia: name the only 1-loss team from a major conference that didn't play in a BCS bowl in 2005(6). But as Clint Eastwood said at the end of Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." I just hope we don't pull a Cal and sleep walk through the Holiday Bowl.

by Chad (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:28pm

Nix the conference championship games, bring back ties, revert to the traditional bowl matchups, and let the AP decide the national champion. Period.

by Brandon (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:35pm

Not to start a conference war, but the Big 12 North has not historically been a poor conference, this is a recent development. Nebraska has historically been excellent, KSU mixed in some very nice runs, Colorado was in the Top 5 as recently as 2002. Also, Iowa State was real good through the Seneca Wallace times and hasn't been atrocious in a long time, while Mizzou always seems to be a decent team with a great running QB (Brad Smith, Corby Jones, etc.). If you are talking about the last, couple years, you are absolutely right. If you're speaking in more general terms, I think you are doing a little too much "what have you done for me lately". By the way, Alabama has had some real rough years and it's stretching to call them a perennial power while knock Nebraska and KSU.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 6:41am

Re #10: Yup. Can't be much worse than Michigan or Pennsylvania or even Boise Idaho, now can it.

Re #14: Just because the games haven't been close doesn't mean that they haven't been a matchup of two very very good, very very deserving schools. Allow me to remind you how close the average Superbowl has been, too- or last year's national championship, for that matter. The point is, every season the SEC sends two top-10 schools to the SEC Championship game, and they usually have another top-10 school or two sitting on the outside looking in. Show me another conference that can make the same claim, and I'll show you another conference that deserves to be hosting conference championship games.

Re #17: I'm originally from Colorado, but I certainly don't cheer for Colorado football. I'm a Florida fan, actually. I'm just saying, I've always wondered how it was that no team in the ACC (pre-expansion) other than Florida State could ever be worth anything, and how power voids could ever come to exist in divisions of BCS conferences. All you have to tell the recruits is that they need to win one game, just one measly game against a top-25 opponant (either the Big 12 championship, or the game against FSU) and they're in a BCS bowl game.

Re #26: No, of course the Big 12 North hasn't always been bad. I mean, I seem to recall my Florida Gators playing someone from that conference after the '95 season. I can't recall who they were, but I seem to vaguely remember them being halfway decent... jeez, who was that team? Now that's going to bug me all night. ;)

Anyway, all kidding aside, I know that the Big 12 North has had a LOT of success in the past, and I'm not trying to disparage its history. I'm just saying that, if I were a coach in that conference, as soon as it looked like schools were slipping (which was obvious to me as early as 2003), I'd start selling Super-Recruits on the whole "easiest road to the BCS" arguement. You'd think it'd lead to some of the best recruiting classes in the entire country.

Again, my arguement wasn't limited to the Big 12. I've always felt the same way about the pre-expansion ACC, where Florida State was the only quality school they ever seemed to have. I also felt similarly about the old Big East, although it seemed to have other schools step it up from time to time (mostly VaTech with the Brothers Vick), but the current Big East is the poster child for the "easiest path to the BCS" recruiting pitch.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 9:10pm

That is what really aggravates me about these dunces; their decisions are driven by the desire for ever-larger dollars, yet they fail to make the one move, a good playoff format, which could really turn on the cash spigot. A good playoff system which solely rewarded conference champs (hello, 11 game conference schedules) would result in a regular season every bit as meaningful, if not more so, than is the case today. It would end the incentive to schedule non-conference cupcakes, which is the worst aspect of the current college system, and if a lop-sided strength of non-conference schedule factor was worked into a tiebreaker formula, the incentive for those teams in 12 team conferences to schedule one (or two, and perhaps three, if the 12 team conferences were comfortable with naming champs without a round robin) truly formidable non-conference opponent would increase greatly.

Toss in the monumental t.v. revenue to be garnered from a well-marketed playoff system, and such an improved regular season is just another money injection. For those of us who think gathering opinions to determine a champion renders college football only a slightly less ridiculous "sport" than gymnastics or figure skating, it is too bad these money-hungry dolts are so incompetent.

by chris (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 9:34pm

Damn right, Kibbles. The SEC championship game always features the best of the best.

Warmest Regards,

1998 Mississippi State team (ranked #25)
2000 Auburn (ranked #20)
2001 Louisiana State (ranked #21)
2002 Arkansas (ranked #22)

P.S. -- The big schools don't like a playoff, especially a 16-team format, because it might compromise the wall between the haves and have-nots. (USC 50, Fresno State 42 would be a good example.)

For the haves, it's better to fortify that wall while making good money (BCS)instead of instantly going after the big money (playoff) when you still have a somewhat flimsy wall.

by Richie (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 11:33pm

I always hate the "the regular season is already like a playoff" argument. That's good? It's good to tell about 70 Div I schools that their season is already over by September 1?

It's good to tell UCLA that even if they upset USC this weekend, they still probably can't do any better than the Holiday bowl?

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 11:44pm

Unfortunately for UCLA, they lost to Arizona, making their game against USC completely pointless in terms of their bowl placing. They could go to the Holiday Bowl or the Sun Bowl, sure, but it's not like they really care about either.

The Pac-10's esoteric tiebreaker system when three teams are tied goes by "worst loss among common opponents". UCLA lost to the worst team of the three (Arizona), and is eliminated. Between USC and Oregon it goes to head-to-head result, USC won, USC takes the BCS spot no matter what.

Re: the money in a playoff, any playoff would at the minimum need to take the champions of the 5/6 power conferences (or those conferences wouldn't agree to the system). Suddenly, for those teams, nonconference games mean nothing, because they can win the conference without them. The Big 10 uses nonconference record as a tiebreaker, but that encourages teams to schedule worse nonconference opponents, not better ones (unless it was redone to account for strength).

It is true that there'd be more money from a playoff - but we're forgetting the main thing. Control of the money. Any playoff would likely require some NCAA involvment, and that means the NCAA would be taking a cut of the pie. The conferences would rather have the entire slightly smaller pie, than run the risk of the NCAA exerting control and taking a big chunk of a larger pie (think the NCAA basketball tournament). Remember that while the NCAA doesn't name a champion now, it does create the rules for postseason play and sanction all postseason games - and you can bet if any big changes were in the pipe, the NCAA would demand greater control as part of an agreement.


by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 1:09am

Tarrant, it would be pretty easy to set up a formula by which a close loss to a high quality non-conference opponent would mean more than a lop-sided win over a non-conference cupcake. Suddenly, matchups like this year's between OSU and Texas would not be so rare.

It would be best to make only conference champions play-off eligible, and to guarantee the power conferences bigger slice, in order for them to buy into it. The money would be so large that the non-power conferences would still be better off, with enough to buy off the NCAA as well.

Personally, I think the the top eight conference champs would suffice, with the top four seeds getting a first round home game. However, I could also see a case for a format with the top ten conference champs, two at-large berths seeded 11 and 12, with the top four seeds getting a first round bye, and the higher seed getting home field advantage until four teams remain.

Start the games for everybody on the last weekend in August, and the season wouldn't be much more extensive than it is already.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 11:43am

If you only bring conference champions into the playoff, then better nonconference games are going to be rarer, I think, because teams will know they don't need them.

Simply win your conference, and you're in. The 12-team conferences always have a single champion, so there's no problem there. Starting next year, the Pac-10 will play a full every-team-plays-every-other-team round robin schedule, with appropriate tiebreakers, so no problem there. Only the Big 10, of the major conferences, will still have the chance of the 2002 "Iowa and Ohio State, both undefeated, but didn't play each other" case that was broken by nonconference results.

As it stands today, nonconference games affect a team in only two situations:

1. There's 3 or more temas deemed worthy for the 2 spots in the BCS championship game. In this case, the team with a lousy schedule (especially nonconference) gets raked over the coals by the computers (e.g. Auburn - everyone blames the polls for what happened to them, but the fact is they were close to OU in the polls - but they had no shot because of the computers).

2. A team isn't going to win their conference but is in the mix for an at-large berth. That one I-AA team on the schedule can push them down in the computers far enough to ruin their shot (e.g. Oregon).

What can be done is for the BCS to say something like "To be eligible for an at-large berth to a BCS game, a team must play at least one nonconference game against a team that played in a BCS game in the past ten years" or something (suddenly Illinois', Utah's, and Pittsburgh's schedules fill up). Or something. They won't do that, because the BCS is controlled by the power conferences, and most of the power conferences are perfectly happy bribing some Tungsten Tech $500k to come and lose at their stadium.


by Will Allen (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 1:43pm

You may be right, Tarrant, although three-way ties aren't completely rare, and if the first tie-breaker in those circumstances factored non-conference schedule strength, then it may be enough of a inducement to keep the cupcakes off the calender.

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 5:24pm

It would be nice if there was some way to both encourage good teams to play other good teams in their non-conference schedule, and also encourage them to play up and coming small conference schools, like Fresno State, Boise State, Tulane, Marshall, etc.