Well, the first of the Plus-1 four team playoff ideas has leaked. That the Big Ten is choosing it is not a surprise, seeing as they want to get ahead of anything that could pillory the Rose Bowl’s sanctity or whatever. Indeed – their plan is only mildly interesting. Two national semifinals, hosted at campus sites. This largely leaves the Rose Bowl in tact – but the other big Bowl Games would have to be discouraged. It is one thing to have your game’s prestige hijacked by the national title – but another to have four possible games hijacked. Of course, this plan is in an embryonic state – university presidents will have to make the final call – and probably would not be enacted anytime soon. However, it is another plan in the foundation of moving college football toward a four team playoff.
Now – a couple folks on Twitter noted other more democratic options – an 8 team field with only conference winners, or a 16 team field with the 11 BCS conference winners. This makes it feel like a March Madness setup allegedly – but that is silly. It is the large school at-larges that allow March Madness to work. I doubt that people want to see a really good team sit at home at the expense of a C-USA team getting a seed. Sure, they say – win your league , but the leagues are not populated with good teams equally. I am not making a pro huge mediocre program here – but certainly Alabama should not have been shut out of ANY national title conversation. Even a 16 team field is 5 at-larges, only 31% of the field – a far smaller proposition than college basketball for one. Freeing bowls to make their own choices, and having two teams from a conference in the Final Four never killed anybody. Sure, 4 is a small field, but as Stewart Mandel documents – honestly, how many times has the #4/#5 distinction been THAT big a deal. Somebody will always be excluded.
That said, the Big Ten idea of campus semifinals is flawed. First, it would reduce upsets – not that it is a big deal, but good for television. Second, it would seriously marginalize the bowls which are marginalized to begin with. The Bowl Structure is flat out not going to change, so no point pretending otherwise. So instead, take the BCS bowls, roll them into the national title, and give a couple of advantages to the Top 2 teams. Also, exclude conference runners up from the Top 2 and you are all set. Will this exclude teams from non BCS leagues? No. Boise State has less room for error, but if Boise State was good enough to get to the Top 4, no doubt that a bowl and a TV network would be tickled. The good news is the playoff is inevitable, just all these silly steps in the middle.