The Big Ten has sat back this spring as representatives from the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have ruminated about the future of college football’s postseason.
Jim Delany talked the future of college football's postseason format on Monday
That changed on Monday as Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman participated in a media teleconference where various postseason models were discussed. The call came one day after Big Ten presidents convened in Chicago for their annual spring meeting.
It seems almost certain that some type of new championship structure will be established once the current Bowl Championship Series contract expires after the 2013 season. That will wrap up a 16-year run for the much-maligned BCS format, which has pitted the nation’s top two teams in its designated title game.
Delany said he and conference officials have participated in no fewer than 60 meetings or conference calls with various partners and colleagues both inside the Big Ten and outside to discuss the future of the postseason.
“I think we have fully participated and we continue to learn,” Delany said. “We’re in the process of communicating with student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, presidents, faculty, the Rose Bowl and other BCS partners. That provided our presidents a good platform for their decisionmaking.”
Perlman talked about the Big Ten’s objectives as it participates in the postseason discussions.
“We have always come at this issue with some principles in mind,” Perlman said. “One was to preserve the bowl tradition and the bowl experience for our student-athletes. One was to preserve the number and timing of competitions in order to protect the health and academic progress of our student-athletes. And one was to protect the significance and outcomes of on-field competitions during the regular season, including the conference championship game.
“Given those principles, we also realized that we needed to be realistic. We weren’t the only conference that had a say in this matter. We have tried to be flexible. We have authorized Jim, as our commissioner, to explore numerous options.”
In somewhat of a surprise, Perlman said Big Ten presidents would likely vote to maintain the status quo of the BCS if they had their way. He and Delany also noted, however, that seems unlikely to pass muster with the other conferences or with college football’s ravenous fanbase.
“If we were to vote today, we would vote for the status quo,” Perlman said. “We think it best serves college football. We think it best protects our student-athletes. I don’t think any of us are anxious for our student-athletes to play a 15th game. In many respects, (the BCS) is as good as you could probably do with some changes about automatic qualifying and perhaps about how the top two teams would be selected.
“But we are also realistic. That doesn’t seem to be one that has gotten a lot of support. We know some movement is necessary.”
Declining television ratings and attendance figures for the five BCS bowl games have helped pave the way for talk about a new postseason format. Delany talked about how constant criticism about the BCS – mostly by the media – led some fans to turn their back on those games.
“We don’t find the fault with the (current) system that others do,” Delany said. “We think it has served us well, although obviously over time it’s been battered and criticized. My hope is whatever we do and whatever we decide to go with, that we support it and understand it’s not perfect and that we do what’s in the best interest of college football.
“We want to make it a great experience for the players, the coaches and the fans and we also need to get away from this constant drumbeat of criticism.”
Given the fact that keeping the current BCS format is a non-starter, Perlman said the Big Ten’s next preference would be for a plus-one format. This would create a scenario where the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions would always meet in the Rose Bowl. Following all of the bowl games, the top two teams coming out of the bowls would then play in a national title game. There would be no designated national semifinal games under a plus-one.
“The (plus-one) would provide maybe three or four games – maybe more – in the bowl system that could be exciting games and could implicate the national champion,” Perlman said. “It would provide access to any team – regardless of conference or independence – that played well during the regular season and played a nationally significant bowl game. And it would honor the conference champions, which we think is important.”
Despite most talk surrounding a straight four-team, Delany said he thinks there could still be some support for a plus-one format.
“I would say it is still on the table,” Delany said. “I met with our coaches in February and they asked, ‘Why are we doing this?’ I said one of the reasons we are because nobody has come to the defense of the BCS for the last 15 years. It’s been a piñata. You can’t maintain a system without some support.
“My hope is whatever we do, we decide to do it together. We have to be cognizant of the public. But we also have to be cognizant of the universities, the teams, the coaches and the players.”
Of course, part and parcel of any format will be the desire of the Big Ten and Pac-12 to preserve the tradition of the Rose Bowl. Other than just a few years since the inception of the BCS, their champions (or at least their representatives) have played one another there since 1947.
Plus, television ratings show how the Big Ten and Pac-12 have a winning partnership with the Rose Bowl. In the first 12 years of the BCS, the designated championship games combined for an average TV rating of 16.5. The Rose Bowl was next at 13.5 – a number that allows the bowl to command a hefty rights fee, which it in turn passes on to its two partner conferences.
“The Rose Bowl is one of the outstanding sports brands and sports properties in the world,” Delany said. “I don’t think that’s an overstatement. As a single-day type of event, it’s a global property. It generates the kind of ratings that any sporting event would like to have, whether it’s the seventh game of the World Series, seventh game of an NBA Finals or even some years the college football national championship.
“Over the last decade or 15 or 20 years, the number of one, two, three, four and five-ranked teams has been substantial. If you’re playing in a plus-one and your teams are ranked one, two, three or four and you’re successful in the Rose Bowl and somebody else loses, you could have access to the one-two game.”
Perlman said the Big Ten is also open to discussing the merits of a four-team playoff.
“We would be in a position to consider a four-team playoff within the bowls,” he said. “That would preserve our connection to the Rose Bowl and move things forward. We are trying to be open to conversations that need to occur among the conference presidents.
“We have tried not to put a stake in the ground where we’re going to say, ‘Over our dead bodies.’ We want to find a way to do what’s best for college football.”
The Big Ten has been portrayed – at least by representatives of other conferences – as the one hold-up to a true four-team playoff. But Delany said he has not felt any rancor in his talks with commissioners and officials from other conferences.
“I can tell you that everybody has taken the high road,” the commissioner said. “Everybody has been acting in good faith and exploring options and looking at strengths and weaknesses of each model. We’re trying to understand the others’ position. Most of the comments have been from people who haven’t been in those meetings.
“People feel strongly on the issue and they have expressed their view. We have made progress on some issues and need to continue to make progress on some others.”
Picking The Teams
Delany was originally portrayed as supporting a model where just the top four conference championship teams would be selected for a playoff.
However, he has since come off that stance. His new idea – delivered through various outlets on Sunday – is to take the three highest rated conference champions (as long as they are in the top six) and then take the next highest ranked team, whether it is also a champion, an independent (such as Notre Dame) or a conference also-ran (as 2012 national champion Alabama was in the SEC last season).
“Conference championships are the bedrock,” Delany said. “(Former SEC commissioner Roy) Kramer put out a plan in February using only conference champions. It got some notice. I didn’t think that conference champions only met the public’s need of elite teams playing each other. I thought the combination of champions plus an elite at-large team – it could be a champion, an independent or a division runner-up or championship game loser – was probably the right formulation.
“But that was just to get the discussion going. Perhaps some things were lost in the translation. I think our search was to find the four best football teams, however you do that. Typically, it’s going to involve a lot of champions.
“The key issues are honoring champions, honoring strength of schedule, honoring teams and coaches that try to play a tougher schedule and recognizing that a team that plays an additional championship game has an additional obstacle.”
While the Big Ten officially would still like to keep the BCS, it also took a step toward distancing itself from the poll-based formula used by the BCS to select its teams for the national title game. Time and again, the coaches poll has been criticized as coaches have used their votes to benefit themselves or their conference brethren or to punish teams or coaches who they believe have wronged them personally.
“Everybody recognizes that current poll system is not a good proxy because it’s not transparent,” Delany asserted. “It has people who have a stake in the outcome voting. It has people measuring teams before they play a game. The computer doesn’t have an eye. The eye test is missing.”
The SEC and Big 12 have said they favor using just the top four teams at the end of the regular season, regardless of affiliation or championship designation. Delany, putting it in his own terms, would agree – provided the selectors (whoever they may be) view at least three of those supposed four best as conference champions.
“I would agree,” he said. “I think it should be the four best teams. The question is whether a computerized poll, as we have today, is the best way to find the four best teams.
“The three (champions) plus one (at-large) is just an overlay or a way to think about who is in the event.”
Perlman was asked whether the presidents have given any thought on selection criteria or who will make that call.
“Even if you move to a selection committee, there will still be issues about what instructions they are under in how they determine who the best four teams are,” Perlman said. “No matter what system we employ, there will be controversy regarding which teams are picked.”
Delany said whatever the dividing line might be – two teams, four teams, eight teams or whatever – there will always be somebody to dispute the findings.
“There will always be controversy,” he said. “There is controversy now between two and three. That’s where the cluster is. That’s where you have to untangle it. The cluster at three, four and five will be hard to untangle. If you go to eight teams, the tangle would be at seven, eight, nine and 10.
“It’s endemic to any selection process. The question is what is the best selection process?”
The Site Selection Process
Some have opined that the national semifinal games in any four-team playoff would fit nicely on college campuses at the home sites of the top two teams.
But Delany said the Big Ten backs a plan for those games to be played at bowl sites – likely at the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Rose bowls, which are the current BCS partners.
“We strongly prefer inside the bowls,” he said. “We think outside the bowls is a slipperier slope. We think inside the bowls can be accomplished. We looked at on-campus. We thought there were some competitive advantages and some fairness advantages. But we thought, from a variety of perspectives, it was difficult to do.”
“We looked at off-campus and we thought was a slipperier slope and less collegiate. We thought the bowl system – of those two methods – was the preferred method.”
Of course, those major bowls have been embroiled in any number of controversies and scandals in recent years. Plus, there have been complaints about how they gouge participating schools by making them purchase more tickets than they need and also foot the bill for expensive hotel rooms they can’t use.
“We recognize the bowls aren’t perfect,” Delany said. “In fact, they have suffered some pretty serious black eyes. From a governance perspective and a transparency perspective, we feel like we have made some progress in that area.”
During the call, 247Sports.com asked Delany why college football’s universities and conferences would cede control of the semifinals – as well as any share of the revenue – to the bowl partners. He pointed to the inability of some college towns to adequately host a national semifinal college football game.
“The logistics of it are difficult,” he said. “Some universities are located in communities without necessary or adequate hotels to handle the fanbase or even the national media. Some people are concerned about the weather.
“There are positives with each model and also some negatives. That’s what we’re trying to figure out the compromise and the sweet spot that accommodates as many interests as we can.”
In regards to the site of the national championship game, it seems a certainty that the conferences will ask interested cities to submit bids to host the game. Delany said the current BCS partners – who may be best equipped to host such a game – would also be invited to participate in that process.
“(The title game) doesn’t have to be in the bowl system,” he said. “That 15th game should be a national game. It should be one that is available to different regions in the country and should be bid out. I have no problem with that. I think that would be good for college football and all of its constituencies to descend on a place and celebrate it.
“That isn’t to say that a bowl community couldn’t have an organizing committee and bid on the game. But I don’t think as a matter of right it ought to go to a bowl. But a bowl should not be precluded from bidding on it.”
Delany was asked if the conferences have any indication just how lucrative a plus-one title game or a four-team playoff might be.
But Delany said they haven’t gotten that far just yet.
“Some of these issues are further down the road than others,” Delany said. “The model is the what. We’re moving in that direction. The who and the how is less mature. We have TV consultants, but they can’t test the marketplace until they know what they’re selling. They won’t know that until we reach closure on the model – the who and the how.
“When that happens, they will be able to take the property into the marketplace. That could be in September or October of 2012. At that time, we’ll be able to determine what the value of the property may be.”
The Presidential Oversight Committee is due to meet June 26 in Washington, D.C. It is possible a format will be readied for a vote at that time or that group could at least narrow the field of possible formats and selection criteria as well.
Delany said he senses this is a good time for a new college football postseason package to be in the marketplace.
“That’s been shown on any number of occasions over the last 24 months with conferences selling regular season (rights fees),” he said.
And, in that vein, Delany reiterated how important it is that whatever format is adopted that it correlates directly back to the importance of the regular season.
“The competition in the regular season needs to be reinforced in the postseason so it continues to be one of the most powerful regular seasons in all of sports,” he said. “I hope people see that connection and how it’s connected back to every Saturday counts.”
Big Ten Network Humming Along
One of the Big Ten’s biggest profit centers comes from its half ownership stake in the Big Ten Network. (Fox Networks owns the other half.)
BTN is nearing its five-year anniversary since signing on in late August 2007. According to BTN president Mark Silverman, BTN is now in 50 million of the nation’s homes and is also seen in as many as 20 countries worldwide.
“We actually have more subscribers outside the nine Big Ten states than inside the nine Big Ten states,” Silverman said. “It’s truly a national network.”
Silverman said the network’s online streaming package, called BTN To Go, has 30 million subscribers. More network notables:
* Ratings this past year for the network were up 15 percent over the previous year with the network setting new records in football and men’s basketball.
* Advertising revenue was up 20 percent over the previous year and the network sold out its football inventory for the second year in a row.
* The network produced 900 events with 600 of them televised and the rest streamed online and/or recorded for future broadcast.
* BTN broadcast 43 football games – all in high definition. Forty percent of those games featured at least one top-25 team.
* The network televised 130 men’s basketball games with 50 of those games featuring at least one ranked team.
* BTN’s documentary series The Journey was nominated for an Emmy award. It will be expanded for football this year after focusing on basketball last season.
“We want to continue to build the BTN brand, expanding our distribution across all platforms and continuing to improve our programming,” Silverman said.
* Delany said the conference will distribute a record financial windfall to its member schools this year.
“We will distribute $284 million to our members for this fiscal year,” he said. “That’s a record for us. It’s important for us to be clear where we are. That’s a result of NCAA revenues, bowl revenues, BTN revenues and CBS and ABC (ESPN) revenues.”
* Nebraska, which just wrapped its first full school year as a Big Ten member, does not receive a full revenue share yet. Perlman said it is a “matter of confidence” between the school and its Big Ten partners on the specifics of its agreement with the conference.
When asked what year Nebraska will start to receive a full share, Perlman replied, “We’ll get there in good time.”
* With conference realignment running rampant across the college landscape, Delany was asked if he foresees a day when there will be four mega conferences whose champions will advance and play for the national championship.
“I don’t sense that,” Delany said. “I read about it on the blogs. I’m not a consolidationalist. Some conferences will grow and some will stay where they are.
“We had one 16-team conference, the WAC, and it didn’t stay at 16 teams for very long. We’ve seen the Big East morph in a variety of ways. One of the most underrated qualities about any conference is its stability and the glue that holds it together. Whenever you go beyond a certain level, you run into dilution issues.
“The larger you are, the less you play each other. The less you play each other, the less tradition you have.”
He added, “I don’t think we will see that, but who is to say? My crystal ball is not that clear.”