College football has finally acquiesced to a playoff. I’ll be honest, though, that I don’t fully understand how it’s going to work:
The group of presidents also endorsed a rotation of the semifinal games among six bowl sites and a rotation of the championship game among neutral sites. The semifinals either will be played on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, and the national title game will be played on “Championship Monday,” the first Monday in January that is six or more days after the final semifinal game is played. […]
There will be three contract bowls — the Champions Bowl, which is a partnership between the Big 12 and SEC, the Rose Bowl, which has a longstanding tradition between the Big Ten and Pac 12, and a bowl to be determined for the ACC, which is likely to continue its partnership with the Orange Bowl.
“In terms of our contract bowl, and our New Year’s Day tie-in, we expect to have an announcement on that jointly in the very near future,” Swofford said.
The three other bowls, called “access bowls,” have yet to be determined, but the decision will force the Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl to become bidders.
Okay, here is what I don’t fully understand. Let’s assume that the final three bowls are the Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Cotton Bowl. Let’s also assume have included Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma State, and Oregon. Let’s further assume that in the rotation, the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl were the semi-final games. LSU and Oregon to Sugar, Alabama and Oklahoma State to Rose Bowl.
Does the Champions Bowl take the number three team in the SEC and the number two team in the Big 12? Or does this create vacancies so they take the best teams they can find? In the BCS, the Rose Bowl would take teams like TCU, but in the BCS they were limited in which teams they could take and it’s not clear whether the new system would be so limited.
With only four teams, it’s going to be tough for teams outside of the big four to get in, and will require a fair amount of luck. The ACC will have a tough time of it, the Big East tougher, and I don’t see how any team from any other conference gets in period. So their access - or lack thereof - to the premier bowls is important.
Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter. If the bowls are expanding to 12 teams, then the Champions Bowl having Arkansas (#6) and Kansas State (#8) isn’t the end of the world. The question, ultimately, is whether Boise State (#7) would have gotten in at all, or if instead big conference schools outside the top 12 get in. If it’s up to the bowls, it may well be the latter. If it’s up to committees or some formula, it’ll be the former.
For all of the complaints about the BCS by the lesser conferences, they at least had guaranteed admission if they fit certain criteria. If the new system does away with that, it will actually be much worse than the status quo. They’re still probably left out of the playoff system*, and may get passed over for worse teams with bigger followings for the big bowl games. It remains to be seen whether or not this is the case.
Right now, this announcement raises more questions than it answers about the college football post-season.
* - TCU twice managed a top 4 ranking from a non-AQ conference. However, that conference no longer exists in that form (a form many argued was AQ-worthy) and a current champion from either the Mountain West Conference or Conference USA can go undefeated and will still likely be outside the top 4.