Commissioner of Big Ten backs proposal for 4-team playoff

Previously, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, had rejected the idea of a playoff format, saying, “We’d like to stay where we are.”

by Andrew Krammer

The Big Ten has changed its tune on the Bowl Championship Series system, switching its once-defensive stance to a new view — a possible football playoff.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney told the Chicago Tribune last week of his proposal for a four-team playoff, which would remove the top four teams from the BCS bowl pool and have semifinal games played on the college campus of the higher seed.

Under this latest proposal, bowl games would survive and be played adjacent to the playoff.

After the proposed semifinals are completed on the higher seed’s home field, the championship game could then be bid out — like the Super Bowl.

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith told the Associated Press that playoff talks spawned from feedback “that we need to do something different,” especially after the recent national title game, which drew in the lowest TV ratings in the BCS system’s 14-year history.

BCS executive director Bill Hancock told the AP on Jan. 10 that commissioners from the 11 conferences and independent Notre Dame’s athletics director presented 50 to 60 possibilities for various changes to the postseason.

Most of the proposals, pitched in New Orleans after the BCS title game was held, lacked detail, Hancock said.

However, Hancock said he expects a conclusion on BCS changes to come in July for the 2014 season and that a group of BCS decision-makers will meet again at the end of this month.

“This means there’s going to be a four-team playoff,” Dan Wetzel told the Minnesota Daily. Wetzel is a sports columnist and bestselling author who co-authored “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.”

“Delaney was the biggest opposition, and they’re not only blocking [the BCS] but taking an active role in trying to [re]shape it. I don’t know how the BCS stays,” Wetzel said.

Complications still exist

“The tricky part is our 11 conference commissioners and the Notre Dame AD may have 12 different opinions about the direction we should go over the next six to eight months,” Hancock said.

The Big Ten backing a playoff proposal seemed farfetched in December when Delaney told the Chicago Tribune, “Our view is we’d like to stay where we are. We believe in the slippery-slope theory.”

In 2008, the Southeastern Conference proposed a similar, “plus-one” model, but the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12, Big East and Notre Dame disapproved. The plan never materialized.

“What would [a playoff] look like and whether it’s actually going to happen, all of that is premature,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive told the AP last Wednesday. “I think we need the time to sit down and analyze it.”

Now, the possibility of a four-team playoff growing into an eight- or 16-team bracket has those like Delaney fearing that a “slippery slope” could all but dissolve the BCS.

However, NCAA President Mark Emmert has already said he favors the four-team playoff format but is against a 16-team format. 

Opponents of the BCS, like Wetzel, have trouble buying into the “slippery slope” theory.

“If it is successful, then it will expand,” Wetzel said. “I don’t know how in college football success and popularity is [sic] considered a negative. A slippery slope is something that slides down on its own. [A college football playoff] would only expand if the people running the sport wanted it to, because it worked.”

Two college administrators told the Chicago Tribune that a football final four could generate $400 million — twice the amount that the BCS reportedly generates. It could possibly garner more if the championship game is then bid out to the city and stadium willing to pay the most.

“It’s way more money,” Wetzel said. “[The Big Ten] would get to keep all the TV money, parking money, marketing money, all the popcorn and all the fixings it generated.”  

Proponents of the four-team playoff have said that it would finally do away with the facade of “neutral” bowl sites like the SEC-heavy New Orleans and Miami or in the PAC-12 regions of Pasadena, Calif., and Glendale, Ariz. Fans would also not have to travel across the country to see their team compete.

The SEC has represented the BCS national champion for six straight years. This year’s matchup featured two members: LSU and Alabama.

Questions have also surfaced about how the NCAA would view crucial games possibly being hosted in cold-weather sites like Wisconsin or Michigan.

It wouldn’t be often, though, as a Big Ten team hasn’t finished in the top-two since 2007.

“I think weather [could play a factor],” Wetzel said. “But you’re picking one day out of every couple of years. In my opinion, all weather is football weather. ”

Despite the Big Ten’s playoff interest, many considerations will come into play; chief among them is the Rose Bowl, with its storied history in two of the nation’s biggest conferences.

“The Rose Bowl is extremely important to Michigan State, just as it is to every school in the Big Ten and Pac-12,” Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis told the AP. “There are more questions than answers about how any format would work, including where the games would be played and what the bowl-type experience would be like in a championship format.”

Smith and Hollis declined comment to the Minnesota Daily for this report. Including Minnesota, six Big Ten athletic departments declined comment to the Daily.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.