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It appears that there are two primary options for the new plus-one format to crown a college football champion.
Those options are:
a. semi-final games hosted at on-campus venues
b. a neutral site plus one format hosted by traditional BCS bowls
Much of the wrangling over the new format has focused on the particular benefits or disadvantages of these two ideas. As the BCS leaders gather this week in south Florida to continue their discussions, most of the debate will focus on these two options. The Big Ten favors on campus semi-finals and the SEC does not, favoring neutral locations instead. This is an intractable conflict between the Big Ten and the SEC. As the two most profitable arms of the college football body, these two conferences control much of the narrative discourse that unspools going forward and any resolution will have to make be acceptable to both sides.
So far both sides have been angling for political capital. Indeed, lost amid this wrestling match for narrative supremacy has been this reality: the rise of a new post-season format for crowning college football’s champion is a political rather than business decision. Self-interested groups — the bowls, the conferences, the cities, and the teams — are all advocating for positions that either preserve or strengthen their own positions. In situations such as these it’s important to recognize that one side rarely wins; political compromise often governs.
As the namesake of a great compromiser — my grandfather was named Henry Clay Travis, after the Kentucky statesman — I humbly offer the Travis Compromise: consistent neutral site hosts for the semi-final games outside of the existing bowl structure.
Houston and Nashville should host the semi-final games every year in each city’s NFL stadiums.
Now I’m going to tell you why this decision makes so much sense and is just enough of a compromise to make all sides happy:
1. Fans can’t afford to travel to two BCS game locales in the wake of a conference title game.
That’s because the BCS bowl games are inconveniently located for the vast majority of American sports fans.
Consider: Los Angeles, Phoenix, New Orleans, and Miami are difficult individual trips for your average college football fan to make. Asking fans to make two trips to these cities isn’t going to work.
Especially if you consider the traveling triumvirate that will be required once a conference title game is added to the equation.
Let’s use presumptive SEC favorite LSU as an example. Under a plan that hosts these semi-final games in existing BCS bowls, Tiger fans could be asked to travel 524 miles to Atlanta for the SEC title game, then could be shipped 1,820 miles to Los Angeles for a semi-final game, and if the Tigers win? Here comes another 920 mile trip to Miami for the BCS title game.
In one month’s time that would require three substantial trips, totaling 3,264 miles.
How many fans can afford to make those trips around the holidays? Especially with face value tickets costing hundreds of dollars to each game?
How many fans could make these three trips for less than $7,000? Hell, BCS title game tickets alone for the past two years have been $1500 or more.
If college football cares about its fans, why make it virtually impossible for most of its fans to reach the biggest games?
And I don’t know why no one is talking about this, but how many people are going to travel to the conference title games if their team is already assured a trip to the semi-finals and finals? This will become a frequent reality in a four-team playoff, a team in first place in the BCS will be virtually assured of a trip to the four team playoff. So fans will save their money. I already saw this with LSU fans at the SEC title game this year. Many stayed home and saved their money.
Do you have any idea what short term air fares would be to major cities around the holidays?
How many people could afford three trips? How many could even schedule three weekend trips around the holidays? It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Why sacrifice college football’s true strength — a vibrant home environment — in exchange for a cost-prohibitive neutral site boondoggle in existing BCS stadiums?
My point is simple, a tiny minority of fans would be able to travel three times during and around Christmas and New Year’s to see their favorite teams play.
2. Nashville works perfectly as a host city.
Every team in the Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, and ACC is a reasonable drive from Nashville.
Only Pac 12 fans would be forced to travel. And Pac12 fans would be forced to fly to any game that takes place away from the West Coast.
What’s more Nashville in December offers what the Big Ten wants most — an outdoor game in the elements. To be fair, it’s unlikely to be blizzard conditions, but anyone who has spent an evening in late December watching Tennessee Titans football can attest that cold weather elements are truly in play.
While Nashville is in the SEC footprint, it’s even closer to many Big Ten schools.
Quiz, which is closer to Nashville, the University of Michigan or LSU?
Michigan is sixty miles closer — 524 miles away to LSU’s 587. The University of Wisconsin and the University of Florida are equidistant.
Ohio State is 100 miles closer to Nashville than the University of South Carolina is.
ACC schools are all easy drives and most Big 12 and Big East schools are as well.
Add in the fact that Nashville is consistently one of the top five college football markets in the country when it comes to television ratings, and you’re talking about a rabid fan base that would buy up the available tickets before teams were even announced.
A rabid, partisan crowd from five of the six major conference fan bases then could easily reach the city with short term travel planning.
3. Houston works as a host city.
Houston is a great football market and is a easy plane destination for the entire country replete with a world class NFL stadium.
It’s closer to the Pac 12 schools than Nashville, but still easily drivable by many Big 12, Big Ten, and SEC fan bases.
The Pac 12 would probably prefer a host city on the west coast, but how well are non-Pac 12 schools going to travel to a semi-final game in Phoenix or Los Angeles?
Imagine if Miami and TCU played a semi-final game in Los Angeles, a city that is far from a college football hotbed.
Would anyone go to that game?
Put simply, placing a game on the west coast when 80% of the potential teams in the big six conferences are much farther East makes no sense.
Houston is a major city almost squarely in the middle of the country. Putting it in to a geographical college football context, Houston is equidistant from Penn State and USC, some 1500 miles from each.
What’s more, the roof is retractable. If outdoor games are really important — one wonders why the Big Ten chose to play its title game in a dome if that’s really true — then the stadium could be opened to the elements.
4. You can eliminate two bowl games from the overstocked roster of bowls.
This is where the compromise plays political dividends to the college football postseason as a whole.
Presently Houston and Nashville host the Meineke Car Bowl and the Franklin American Music City Bowl, respectively.
Both of these games are played in NFL stadiums near New Year’s Day.
Right now there are 35 bowl games and recent talk has centered on eliminating several bowl games from the roster and increasing the number of wins from six to seven that’s required to make these bowl games.
Most in the college football universe agree that we have too many bowls, but how do you eliminate bowl games without angering existing bowl partnerships?
It’s a tough political problem, right?
The bowl games in Houston and Nashville are successful major conference partners, pairing the Big 12 and Big Ten in Houston and the ACC and SEC in Nashville.
So couldn’t you replace these bowls by hosting the semi-final games in these respective cities instead?
The timing of the games would be virtually identical and the NFL stadiums are already available for college games.
5. Current bowls retain their primacy under this plan.
One of the major political concerns is the existing bowls remaining relevant.
If you pick winners among the existing bowls you serve to diminish the bowl hierarchy, upsetting the political apple cart.
Right now there are four “BCS” bowl cities — Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami and New Orleans.
But there will only be three games in the plus-one system.
So either one of these bowls becomes valueless each year or you do something simpler, you rotate the title game among these four bowls and otherwise allow them to reestablish their historical roots, drafting teams that are not competing for the title from their conference tie-ins.
The Rose Bowl always gets its Pac 12 – Big Ten game except for when it hosts the title game, the Sugar Bowl always gets the SEC team, and so on.
Under this plan the bowls would actually have greater flexibility to select match-ups that sell the most tickets.
So the Orange Bowl doesn’t get stuck with no shows from the ACC and the Big East every year.
Under this plan, the top bowls are actually more valuable than they presently are.
6. Respective conferences maintain their regional hegemony.
Major football cities with college connections such as Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, Charlotte, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Indianapolis, Chicago, Phoenix, and Los Angeles already have relationships established with individual conference teams.
Whether it’s hosting a conference title game or a major bowl game, all of these cities are “claimed” by a major conference team.
The Northeast corridor — Boston to Washington, D.C. — is worthless as a major college football location.
So Nashville and Houston are the perfect locations that don’t upset the political calculus of college football.
Right now Houston and Nashville are major football markets, but they aren’t connected to a particular conference and they aren’t hosting “major” bowl games.
Both of these cities would sell out these neutral site games and each of them, particularly Nashville, would be reachable on short notice to the vast majority of football fans.
They would be neutral site games, but they would be neutral site games with rabid audiences made up of a cross-section of fans who could more easily afford to follow their favorite teams.
If other teams are worried about teams from Tennessee or Texas advancing to play in their home states, you could even put in a protection so that those teams were guaranteed to be shipped to the opposite neutral location. But even this issue would be comparatively rare based on the first 14 years of BCS standings.
The Travis Compromise isn’t perfect — no compromise ever is — but it weds the two desires of the greatest powers in college football, neutrality and more equitable game locations.
All while guaranteeing sell outs at games, limiting the number of existing bowl games, and ensuring that more fans can afford to travel and see their favorite teams play.
Considering that neither the Big Ten nor the SEC is likely to get exactly what it wants, this is an eminently fair compromise worthy of serious discussion.