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Yesterday the battle lines became official, the Big 12 formally endorsed the idea of the top four teams advancing to a playoff.
That means the five major conferences have split with two in favor of awarding the best four teams while the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac 12 favor rewarding conference champions. (It remains to be seen whether the Big East will even be given a seat at the big boy table, but they favor the conference champs. On the flip side, all the other smaller conferences favor the top four teams).
But there’s a wild card that hasn’t been discussed very much — what do the TV networks bidding on this package want?
In recent conversations with multiple television network officials it has become clear that TV wants the top four teams.
How much does TV want the top four teams?
Anything less will mean a lower payout for the playoff television package.
Why is this significant?
Well, money always matters.
Especially to the smaller conference teams that don’t figure to be in the mix very much at all. The money they receive from a playoff is the most important part of the equation. The more money the playoff sells for the more money these smaller conference schools receive. Toss in Notre Dame, who wishes to remain independent and doesn’t want to give up definite spots to conference champions it isn’t competing to win, and you’re left with an intriguing calculus.
It’s likely that the SEC, Big 12, Notre Dame, and the smaller conferences will all break in favor of the top four teams advancing to the playoff. So we’ve got a battle royale developing over the only major issue left, how do the teams get selected for a playoff?
And are the Pac 12, Big Ten, and ACC conferences really willing to leave money sitting on the table over which teams advance to the playoff?
We’ll see as the epic June 20th gathering of conference commissioners nears.
So far the Pac 12, Big Ten, and ACC have escaped the national opprobrium that I believe their position deserves. Why should political calculus govern sports championships? All the Pac 12, Big Ten, and ACC have done is attempt to reward teams for their geography.
But we aren’t setting up a tournament of regional champions, we’re setting up a playoff of the four best teams in the country, irrespective of where their campuses happen to be.
As West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck noted, selecting the four best teams is, “the American way.”
What’s more, the conferences that oppose awarding the four best teams are basically acknowledging they can never hope to compete with the SEC or the Big 12. If you’re a Big Ten fan isn’t it insulting to you that the Big Ten believes it isn’t likely to ever have two of the best four teams in America? Same with the Pac 12, and the ACC.
Yes, the SEC is strong right now, but by favoring the conference champions model what you’re basically doing is admitting that the SEC will always be this strong and that you can never hope to catch it.
That’s the ultimate in defeatist rationale.
It’s amazing, really.
Which is why television wants to eliminate the political process and select the four best teams.
Put simply, fans want the four best teams.
The best way to ensure the largest possible audience is to eliminate needless complexity from the playoff selection. College football’s bowl ratings have suffered over the accurate perception that match-ups matter less than politics. A confusing system that leaves top teams on the sideline makes no sense. And if a television network is going to pay $500 million or more for a playoff it wants the champion to be crowned cleanly. It doesn’t want the final game to end with uncertainty as to who the best team in the country is.
Can you imagine if we created a four-team playoff and a team outside the four-team playoff wound up winning the AP title?
So let’s rumble in Chicago.
It’s the SEC, the Big 12, Notre Dame and the television networks vs. the Pac 12, the Big 10, and the ACC.
The best outcome vs. naked self interest.
More money vs. less money.
Who ya got?