Key issues surrounding the Plus-One model
After the group of 11 FBS conference commissioners as well as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met the last two days in Dallas to discuss the implementation of a new college football postseason system, there are still major issues remaining for the Plus-One model — essentially a mini-playoff — to become a reality.
The concept of a Plus-One system — four teams and three games to crown the sport's national champion — has emerged as the path that these administrators and university presidents will take after the current BCS television contract runs out after the 2013 season. The same group of 12 men will meet again in Dallas with BCS executive director Bill Hancock on March 26, and they are expected to convene in the Miami area in late April, when the plan is expected to be fine-tuned so that this new postseason model can be shopped to television executives at various networks, including ABC/ESPN, CBS and NBC, which is the sleeping giant in this mix after its deal with Comcast.
However, among the issues currently facing the group of commissioners and Swarbrick:
• Where will the three playoff games be played? And will bowl games serve as the semifinals and/or the final?
Will the Rose Bowl be a part of or separate from college football's eventual new postseason format?
It's almost a lock that the BCS standings will be used to choose which four teams will play in the Plus One. However, there is no consensus on how the bowl games will fit into the equation. For instance, the Rose Bowl is an institution in the sport, and it's going to remain on January 1. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany may be open-minded to a Plus One and Pac-12 commish Larry Scott is the most innovative leader in the sport, but I can't see Pasadena not being a part of New Year's Day — unless there's a second game scheduled at the Rose Bowl like there has been when Pasadena hosts the title game every fourth year in this current cycle. But if the Rose remains a separate entity in this model, and with the semifinals almost certainly being played before New Year's Day, could an Orange or Sugar Bowl be moved up to late December and serve as possible semifinal sites? Or will a game like the Alamo Bowl or Holiday Bowl fit the bill? The other option is to keep the bowl games for teams that don't make the Final Four and have major cities like Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, etc. bid for the semifinals and final. This is one of the major issues that needs to be ironed out before this group meets with TV execs.
• How can the games fit into the academic calendar?
Most fans of the sport and the media that cover it chuckle when the term "student-athlete" is used when referring to college football (or basketball) players. But the fact of the matter is that university presidents don't want to do anything that tampers with the academic calendar, with final exams running the first week of December through December 21 — especially when so much money is being made on these games and it's clear that they are profitting. This new postseason model will have to take into account final exams, as well as the start of the next semester. Although teams flying back the night of the title game only to go to class the next day likely won't happen (as it did with Florida under Urban Meyer) because these games are likely to move up in the calendar. The bottom line is that college presidents want to make sure that academics — at least the perception of academics — is the primary concern with any change to the system.
• Should the regular season end earlier?
Protecting what they feel is the best regular season sport in the country is of central concern to these BCS administrators. Since the BCS began in 1998, the money has only become bigger and the sets of eyeballs glued to television sets have only increased despite some dwindling TV ratings of bowl games in recent years. The fact is the BCS has made the regular season even more compelling, so no one in Dallas this week wanted to mess with that aspect of the game. College basketball has March Madness, but a Big East game on Big Monday has nothing on a Saturday afternoon SEC game on CBS. That's just reality. So college football administrators will do their damndest to make sure that the regular season remains as significant as possible, which means tweaking the regular season calendar to allow for it to end a bit earlier is a huge issue. However, definitely look for the postseason dates to change so that we avoid a title game around January 9 or 10.
• Will games overlap with NFL contests?
College football is arguably this nation's No. 2 sport. No. 1 is unquestionably the NFL, so no one wants to go up against Roger Goodell's behemoth of a league. There was talk at these meetings about scheduling the semifinal games the Friday after Christmas to avoid conflict with NFL games on Sundays, with the championship game being played a week later. Keep in mind that the NFL also has Saturday games late in the season, so scheduling on Fridays is the best option. Nonetheless, the NFL will play a major role in scheduling these playoff games.
Answers to these questions aren't likely to come until we get to the dog days of summer, but the administrators at least took a big step forward this week.
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