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Big Ten Might Jump on the Playoff Bandwagon

If I could put my finger on one reason why I don't like Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, it's that he comes off like the worst kind of politician. He's devoted solely to his conference and rarely acts like he cares about the big picture. He reeks of condescension while sometimes engaging in spin doctoring. And now, he's jumping on the bandwagon of an inevitability either to make it sound like it was his idea all along or to guide it in a direction that suits his desires (or both).

A college football playoff is coming. It's a matter of when, not if. Actually, it's probably not even a matter of when anymore, as "after the current BCS contract expires" is a pretty sure bet.

Yesterday, the Big Ten leaked details of a possible plus one playoff plan that would fit most of the conference's desires. I say "most" because, based on past comments by its power brokers, one of those desires is actually not having a playoff. The top four of the BCS would be skimmed off the top and entered into a separate bracket. The semifinals would be played on campuses, while the final would rotate around sites that bid on the right to hold it.

Most importantly for the Big Ten, this playoff takes place entirely outside of the bowl system. Having the final be bid on by disparate sites rather than rotate among the BCS bowls preserves the Rose Bowl, and preserving that is arguably the conference's top priority. You could even argue that it enhances the Rose Bowl over the current BCS, because it won't be overshadowed every four years by a BCS National Championship Game being played on the very same field a week later.

Honestly, I really like the idea of bidding out the final. Currently, schools essentially pay for the right to play in bowls via ticket guarantees. Sometimes the fan bases pick up the entire tab, but often the schools get stuck with giant bills for unsold tickets. This strikes me as backwards. The bowl committees should pay the schools or conferences first and then be on the hook for making that money back via selling all the tickets on their own. That's how pretty much every other non-in house ticketed event works. This idea of bidding out the title game also fits right in with the Big Ten's and Pac-12's exploration of possibly running their own bowls, another way to cut some leeches off of the surface of college football.

I've seen a lot of praise for the idea of playing the semifinals on campuses, and rightfully so. The on-campus experience is one of the big things that makes college football so awesome. However, I'm disappointed to see so many people acting like the Big Ten came up with the idea. It is part of the years-old Death to the BCS plan, and it's been kicked around in informal debates for far longer than that.

The idea of southern teams having to play up north in the cold is an appealing one to the Big Ten constituency, but it's largely overblown. For one thing, look at a map of all the I-A schools, or even just the current BCS schools. There are a lot more schools outside of heavy snow areas than in them.

Plus, let's hunt through the BCS's history. If we assume that the top four of the standings wouldn't change if we had this plus one plan—and that's a very poor assumption given how voter manipulation works*—on only five occasions would a team have been sent to a place with an average January high temperature more than 10 degrees colder than home. Two of those would have been Colorado (47°) being sent to Nebraska (35°) and Miami (74°) being sent to Tallahassee (63°). Only three times, with two SEC teams plus Oklahoma getting sent to Ohio State, would a team have played somewhere with average January snowfall greater than two inches above what they get at home. In fact, 21 of the 28 on-campus games would have been played in places that average less than two inches of snow in January, period.

This plan, by the way, is generically a "seeded plus one" because the top four teams get pulled off to the side and seeded after the regular season. I expect to see other conferences float other plans, some of which might be an "unseeded plus one". In that case the bowls would play out largely as they are now, and then the top two teams after the bowls get pulled out to play a championship game. Now you can keep those two terms straight if you haven't heard them before as the debate unfolds.

*For instance, I don't think Florida jumps Michigan to get to the No. 2 spot in 2006 if this plus one plan was in place. Both teams would have been in, so voters would have spent most of their time debating LSU or USC for No. 4. There would have been some amount of argument as home field advantage for one of the semifinals would have been on the line between UM and UF, but that pales in comparison to the debate between who is in the playoff and who is out.

Here is my entire table of climate data for the hypothetical BCS on-campus matchups, in case you were interested.

Season Host Jan Avg. High Jan Avg. Snow Visitor Jan Avg. High Jan Avg. Snow Temp diff Snow diff
1998 Tennessee 47° 3.2" Ohio St. 37° 9.3" +10° -6.1"
1998 FSU 63° 0" Kansas St. 41° 4.9" +22° -4.9"
1999 FSU 63° 0" Alabama 53° 0" +10° 0"
1999 Virginia Tech 41° 7.2" Nebraska 35° 5.8" +6° +1.4"
2000 Oklahoma 49° 1.9" Washington 47° 1.3" +2° +0.6"
2000 FSU 63° 0" Miami (FL) 74° 0" -11° 0"
2001 Miami (FL) 74° 0" Oregon 47° 1.5" +27° -1.5"
2001 Nebraska 35° 5.8" Colorado 47° 11.5" -12° -5.7"
2002 Miami (FL) 74° 0" USC 68° 0" +6° 0"
2002 Ohio St. 37° 9.3" Georgia 54° 1.1" -17° +8.2"
2003 Oklahoma 49° 1.9" Michigan 31° 13.8" +18° -11.9"
2003 LSU 61° 0" USC 68° 0" -7° 0"
2004 USC 68° 0" Texas 62° 0.4" +6° -0.4"
2004 Oklahoma 49° 1.9" Auburn 55° 0" -6° +1.9"
2005 USC 68° 0" Ohio St. 37° 9.3" +31° -9.3"
2005 Texas 62° 0.4" Penn St. 34° 14.1" +28° -13.7"
2006 Ohio St. 37° 9.3" LSU 61° 0" -24° 9.3"
2006 Florida 66° 0" Michigan 31° 13.8" +35° -13.8"
2007 Ohio St. 37° 9.3" Oklahoma 49° 1.9" -12° +7.4"
2007 LSU 61° 0" Virginia Tech 41° 7.2" +20° -7.2"
2008 Oklahoma 49° 1.9" Alabama 53° 0.6" -4° +1.3"
2008 Florida 66° 0" Texas 62° 0.4" +4° -0.4"
2009 Alabama 53° 0" TCU 57° 0.4" -4° -0.4"
2009 Texas 62° 0.4" Cincinnati 40° 7.2" +22° -6.8"
2010 Auburn 55° 0" Stanford 59° 0" -4° 0"
2010 Oregon 47° 1.5" TCU 57° 0.4" -10° 1.1"
2011 LSU 61° 0" Stanford 59° 0" +2° 0"
2011 Alabama 53° 0" Oklahoma St. 49° 3.1" +4° -3.1"