Maybe it’s the declining interest in college football for the first time in years.
Although a BCS official said it wasn’t.
Maybe it’s the unrest regarding the BCS system.
Although the system has been defended vigorously – by the BCS.
Or maybe it’s just time.
The Big Ten – the Leaders and Legends themselves – have taken a significant step in adjusting the sport’s postseason beginning in 2014. The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that the Big Ten is “kicking around” the idea of a four-team playoff with the semifinals played on campus sites.
While the idea of a Plus One is nothing new – it has been mentioned prominently as a replacement for the BCS – the Big Ten’s apparent increased interest is intriguing.
The Tribune quoted Northwestern AD Jim Phillips as saying, “The Big Ten is open and curious.”
Since spring 2008, various administrators from four of the six BCS leagues (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12) have supported a Plus One. Most recently, ADs from the Big Ten and Pac-12 supported a Plus One in a straw poll in August.
The BCS pays out $180 million to participants per year. One powerful BCS AD indicated that a Plus One would be worth significantly more than double that amount. The 11 FBS commissioners next meet to discuss the issue later this month in Dallas. No final decision is expected. Significant progress is expected to be made in late April during the annual BCS meeting, this year in South Florida.
“I think sports fans are conditioned to playoffs,” Delany told the Tribune. “I don’t begrudge them that. They’re looking for more games, but we’re trying to do the right thing.”
The Big Ten Plan – what else you going to call it? – involves having the semis played on the campus of the higher-seeded team. This past season that would have meant Stanford playing at LSU and Oklahoma State playing at Alabama. The problem, as you may have noticed, is that in 2011 a Plus One would have included Stanford from the Pac-12 but not the Pac-12 champion, Oregon.
Right now, that may be a mere detail. The Big Ten is seemingly onboard in light of recent lower attendance numbers and TV ratings. Regular-season attendance declined, if only slightly, for the second time in three years. Average bowl attendance hit a 33-year low this season. Overall BCS bowl ratings were down 10 percent from the 2011 bowls and down 21 percent from when Fox last had the contract in 2009.
The 13.8 rating from the LSU-Alabama game was down 14 percent from last year's Auburn-Oregon game and down 24 percent from the Alabama-Texas game two years ago. BCS executive director Bill Hancock cautioned last month to reacting too early to attendance and TV ratings.
But perhaps a convergence of all those factors is now forcing change. If a Plus One is adopted expect more games grouped around the traditional Jan. 1 date. ADs and presidents are not only concerned about ratings and attendance but about second-semester football. The BCS Presidential Oversight Committee is particularly concerned about the BCS bowls being played further and further away from Jan. 1. There have been several times when teams had to get back from those games just in time for the second semester or the second semester had already begun after a BCS bowl.
“We had two experiences where we had to fly back the night of the game,” Ohio State AD Gene Smith said of two recent national championship games. “We played Florida [2007 in Glendale, Ariz.] and flew back right after the game. I remember stopping at the In-N-Out Burger. Our kids had to go to school the next day.
“We can’t do that, we can’t.”
The chairman of that BCS oversight group, Tulane president Scott Cowen, said the sport must proceed carefully.
“Two-thousand eleven was not a great year for intercollegiate athletics in America,” Cowen told CBSSports.com “I think all university presidents want to find more ways that we can cooperate and repair intercollegiate athletics.”
At least 50 different postseason plans were exchanged among the FBS commissioners Jan. 10 in New Orleans. There was no consensus but it is clear powerful people are getting used to the idea of a four-team playoff. NCAA president Mark Emmert has said on multiple occasions that there would be some interest in what he termed a football “Final Four”. SEC commissioner Mike Slive as well as Delany have been quoted as warming up to the idea.
If semis are played on campus sites then that could mean the championship game could be bid on. With the Cotton Bowl played in Cowboys Stadium, waiting on the doorstep to join the BCS that could be a huge step. One touchy issue for current BCS bowls is the preference to stay in the current four-year rotation for the championship game because of concerns about retaining sponsorships.
The Big Ten would have to consider the impact on the Rose Bowl. If one or more of the bowl's partners – Big Ten and Pac-12 – were in the playoff, how would that affect the Rose? The conferences and Rose Bowl are already uncomfortable with losing teams to the BCS championship game.
The current deal with ESPN expires after the 2013 regular season/2014 BCS bowls. BCS commissioners are expected to have a new model for consideration by presidents by summer.