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Stadium and Main: Problems with a “Plus-One”

Monday, January 21, 2008

Problems with a “Plus-One”

Some are obvious, but worth noting...

The Pac-10 and SEC will benefit, the Big Ten and others will not

Let’s get this out there first, so maybe 17 years from now, the mainstream media will finally realize it: A “plus-one” would put the Big Ten at a competitive disadvantage. I’m not saying I’m against it. Actually, I’m all for it. I’m just saying it will probably hurt the Big Ten more than any other conference.

Under the current bowl/BCS system, Big Ten teams are playing virtual road games in bowls seemingly every year (OSU vs. LSU in New Orleans, Michigan vs. Florida in Orlando, Illinois vs. USC in Pasadena, Penn State vs. Texas A&M in San Antonio – and that’s just this season!). But imagine the 2014 college football postseason, where Michigan has to play USC in the Rose Bowl, and if they win, they get to play Miami in Miami for the national championship. Sweet!

There are other conferences that would feel the effects, too. The Big East (with the exception of South Florida), and to a lesser extent the Big 12 (unless the Cotton Bowl is included in any sort of plus-one plan – that would be great for Texas, OU, etc.). There would be an impact on the ACC, too, but Miami and Florida State would likely benefit.

If the plus-one thing happens, no matter how they set it up, then it will hurt fans who have to travel long distances for bowl games. Having 2 games in the first few weeks of January will really hurt the attendance for any Big Ten team ranked at or near the top of the polls. For instance, if the plus-one system means we go back to the old bowl setup, with an extra Championship Game afterwards, a #8 USC team might fill up the Rose Bowl with Trojan fans for a game vs. #1 Michigan. After all, that will be USC’s last game, it’s in LA, it’s against the top team in the country, etc. But Michigan fans would probably be reluctant to travel to a Rose Bowl game that they expect to win, when they are probably planning on going to the championship game the next week (or 2 weeks later, or however they set it up). Bump USC’s ranking up to #4 in the above scenario, and change the scenario to a "seeded" plus-one (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3, with the winners facing off) and the Trojans would still dominate the stands, this time because they’re playing in their backyard in a virtual playoff game. The Michigan fan's dilemma remains the same: go to the USC game, wait and hope for the National Championship game, or spend a ton of money and (possibly) go to both.

In general, Pac-10 fans would have ownership of the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl locations. The SEC would control the Orange Bowl (along with Miami and FSU) and the Sugar Bowl. All of these statements have some level of truth to them now, but would be even more obvious under a plus-one system. The “semi-finals” of any plus-one game (seeded or unseeded, old bowl system or new) would essentially be a home game for any local team. The same could be said for the National Championship Game, although maybe to a lesser extent (my personal preferences might be clouding my predictions here - I would rather go to the game for all the marbles than the semi-final). This sort of disadvantage can obviously be overcome (see Michigan vs. Florida this year), but over time, the team with the home-field advantage wins more games. Someone much smarter than me also concluded, “[i]n general, the home advantage is greater in college athletics than for professional sports.”

The Politics of 1 vs. 2

Stewart Mandel says:
"[I]f you do a "pure" plus-one and revert to traditional bowl pairings, the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs play in Pasadena every year just like they always did, and then you conduct a new poll after the bowl games to determine the title participants. That method would be far clunkier, and there would be probably be years where it muddles things more than it clears them up, but it may be the only way anything's going to change." (emphasis mine)
This may be the only way things will change because the Rose Bowl folks, along with the Big Ten and Pac-10, seem adamant that they get a traditional Big Ten – Pac-10 match up more often than not. Since the start of the BCS, the Rose Bowl has gotten a Big Ten vs. Pac-10 game only 6 of 10 years. The Big Ten champion has not set foot inside the stadium since January 1, 2005. The Rose Bowl has lost top-ranked teams like USC and Ohio State to the BCS Championship Game a few times, and they are not happy about it. So to “revert back to traditional bowl pairings” might be the only way a plus-one will work, because keeping things as they are now, seeding the top 4 teams, and just playing an extra game will not appease the Rose Bowl. As plenty of others have stated over the years, they are arguably the biggest roadblock on the plus-one path.

Back to Mandel’s quote. By “clunkier,” Mandel is likely talking about the possibility of having #1 USC vs. #2 Michigan play in the Rose Bowl, before the plus-one game. And maybe you would fall into other political shadiness, like this: The Fiesta (Big 12), Orange (ACC), and Sugar (SEC) all have conference tie-ins, but the Big East is a free agent of sorts, and their champion can be selected by any BCS bowl depending on how the other selections go. Under the “pure” (as Mandel calls it) or “unseeded” (as I call it) plus-one system, we could have a scenario where #1 West Virginia is available to the Orange Bowl, but the Orange Bowl folks are getting pressure from the Big East and the BCS to pass on WVU, since #2 Virginia Tech is already automatically slotted in the Orange. So what happens there? Which politicians prevail? In the scenario above, the Orange Bowl could theoretically be forced to pass up a 1 vs. 2 match up in favor of #2 Virginia Tech vs. #10 Hawaii (or some other stinker).

Since the only bowl with two automatic bids is the Rose Bowl, the other bowls would be crazy to sign on for any sort of system that allows the Rose Bowl a 1 vs. 2 game in the “semi-final” round while denying such a game to all other bowls, as in the WVU-VT scenario above. This is just one of many potential sticking points that I've yet to see discussed, even though we’ve been talking about a plus-one for about 5 years now!

It would be great if we could go to a “seeded” plus-one, which would help minimize or eliminate the political factors. But the Rose Bowl would almost certainly not sign off on that, since it would mean more non-traditional bowl pairings, as discussed above. And when you read stuff like this:
Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said last summer that a plus-one would be grounds for his conference pulling out of the BCS. Ohio State president Gordon Gee said in mid-December that a playoff would have to be "pried out of my cold, dead hands."
… well, that just makes you realize that things aren’t likely to change any time soon. And as a fan of college football, that just stinks. I'd rather have Michigan be forced to play three road games at on-campus locations to win the National Championship than continue under the ridiculous system that's currently in place.

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