NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 06: Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide talks to the media at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 6, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. LSU and Alabama will play in the BCS National Championship on January 9th. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Seriously, what's there not to like? The bowl system lives. The regular season isn't compromised. Tradition survives. The automatic qualifier is going to swim with the fishes (no more forced Pitt-Utah or Oklahoma-UConn gag-a-thon bowl matchups). More money will be generated. The majority of fans will get what they crave: a playoff, with those four semifinalists selected by 15 or so committee members who will do much more than just look at the final scores. There will be controversy -- and that's OK. But at times, the BCS suffered from credibility deficit disguised as controversy. The BCS had its heart in the right place, but its brain in the wrong place. (A few painful examples: Nebraska, a 62-36 loser in its final regular-season game, still played in the 2002 BCS Championship Game -- and got crushed by Miami; undefeated Auburn was squeezed out of the 2005 BCS Championship Game.)
AccuScore ran 10,000 four-team playoff simulations of the top four BCS teams entering the bowl games for the 2007-2011 seasons. The No. 2 seed actually won the title the highest percentage of the time, which is not surprising given that in three of the five seasons, the No. 2 seed ending up becoming the actual national champion. The Nos. 3 and 4 seeds won nearly 32 percent of the time. However, based on AccuScore projections with the new playoff format, the past five college football national champions would have remained the same.
4. How will the money be divided? The revenue-sharing plan remains under discussion, according to the commissioners and presidents. ESPN reportedly pays about $165 million for five BCS games. Industry experts have predicted that a four-team playoff and four other major bowls could command as much as $400 million to $500 million annually. Commissioners did reveal Tuesday some of the criteria for how the money will be divided: on-field success, teams' expenses, marketplace factors and academic performance of student-athletes. "It will be significant revenue, but we have not run the numbers," Texas president Bill Powers said. "It will depend on what the market will bear."
"It's important we have a system that chooses teams with agreed upon principles, that people know what they're getting into, and the committee is well represented [geographically]," said Delany. This noticeably rational and measured mindset marks a stark contrast to how the BCS was initially established in the late '90s. Then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer -- no mathematician, mind you -- devised the first BCS formula by having his minions test out various computer ratings on past seasons to see if they spit out a desirable title matchup. Real scientific stuff. Over the next few years, every time a new controversy arose, the commissioners made some new tweak to address it: removing some computer polls while adding others; eliminating margin of victory; adding, then removing, a "quality win" bonus. "The more we tweaked it," said Delany, "the less confidence we inspired."
If other bowls don't like the new arrangement, tough. The Big 12 and SEC fired a shot across the bow of the bowl system last month when they announced the formation of the Champions Bowl. If the leagues get their wish, they'll keep every penny of revenue from the game in years in which it doesn't host a semifinal. Essentially, they have eliminated the need for a middleman in postseason football, and bowls that don't like the new world could find themselves replaced by Champions Bowl clones. "We have a different business model, that's for sure," outgoing Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas said. "I'm sure that would be attractive to others."
Here's a series of one-sentence explanations for why every poll option stinks:
• Coaches' Poll: Coaches have a financial stake in the results, can't watch that many games, and they'll always, always, always vote along conference lines.
• Harris Interactive poll: Judging by their final ballots, some of the voters might not even watch college football.
• Computer rankings: Five of the six formulas used by the BCS are kept secret.
• Associated Press poll: Do you really want me involved in selecting the teams for the playoff?
Committee members should evaluate as much as possible throughout the season, but they shouldn't convene to discuss the top four until after all the games have been played. The opinions of writers or coaches in August shouldn't impact who plays for the national title. You'll never get rid of preseason polls. People want to read them, so companies such as mine will always produce them. But you can keep them from infecting the final decision by making the committee wait until December to discuss the best four.
Think an undefeated season guarantees you a spot in this playoff? Think again. Sure, the 2004 Auburn team would have had a chance, but No. 6 and undefeated Utah? Not likely. And even if the Utes got in, undefeated ninth-ranked Boise St had no chance. The Broncos would have been left out again in 2009, despite an unblemished year. In both 2004 and 2009, there were more than four undefeated teams. But it wouldn't take just that circumstance to leave out the flawless. Both No. 6 Utah and No. 9 Boise St would have likely been left out in 2008, even though they were the only two undefeated teams that year. The Broncos were also one of two unbeatens in 2006, but were again ranked too low to be considered even for a four-team playoff. The only undefeated team in 2007 was No. 10 Hawaii. The Warriors wouldn't have had a prayer. Seven teams ranked ahead of them had two losses, including eventual champion LSU.
Not so fast, my friend. John Infante points out that a couple of housekeeping issues have to be run by the NCAA before an expanded playoff is greenlighted: "Two small rule changes need to be made. First, the playoff will need to be added to the list of games that teams can play past the end of the regular season. Second, the playoff will need to be added as an exemption to the maximum number of games a team can play in a season." In ordinary times, I’d expect that to be rubber stamped. It probably will be, but would anyone be surprised if the NCAA tried to extract some quid for its pro quo?
Deep down, part of the appeal, or at least part of the deal, of being a college football fan is the corruption. You have to employ a situational moral sliding scale to fully embrace a sport where everyone gets paid but the players, and even a lot of those who eventually make NFL riches wind up broke because they didn't get much of an education. You have to ignore the concussions and depressions. You have to pretend that the star tailback's aunt really could afford that tricked-out car he drives, the one conveniently registered in her name. You have to believe that your school, and probably your school alone, and certainly not your archrival, does it the "right way" even if the right way was probably the University of Chicago, which gave up on the entire charade 70 years ago.
44 DE LaMichael Fanning (rFr.)
2011 season: Scout team member while redshirting as a true freshman.
2012 spring practice: Worked behind Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial at right end. Posted a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry in the A-Day game.
What he brings to the table: At 6-foot-7, 298 pounds, Fanning's physical gifts are obvious to the most novice of observers. Big and athletic, it would be difficult to draw up a better looking 3-4 defensive end prospect. It's the aspects of the game that aren't as apparent that Fanning will need to master before he'll take on a more prominent role in the rotation.
"Now that it is over, I want to say how proud I am of our guys. It was grueling. You go through three days of stroke play and then go straight into the match play. Imagine in baseball, if you won a super regional and had to go straight to the College World Series without a blink, with no rest. Our guys showed great composure, great resiliency and fantastic competitiveness." They also gave Alabama men's golf a high national profile, a fact illustrated vividly a few weeks later as UA golf alum Michael Thompson came within a single shot of forcing a playoff in the U.S. Open. "It was so exciting to watch Michael, but one thing that stood out to me is that when they were telling his story about his transfer from Tulane and when they would talk about his coming to Alabama, they called it a 'golf powerhouse.' I had never heard that before, and it really put a positive light on our program."
Most important piece back: QB Denard Robinson - One of the most dynamic players in college football is back for his senior season with the Wolverines. From a statistical standpoint as a passer, Robinson regressed a bit from 2010 to 2011 -- 182-291/2,570 yards/18 TDs/11 INTs in 2010; 142-258/2,173 yards/20 TDs/15 INTs in 2011 -- but he always remains a threat to break off an explosive play at any moment. Over the past two seasons, he's rushed for 2,878 yards and 30 touchdowns. The players around him are much better than when he jumped onto the scene in 2010, so that eases the already-mammoth amount of pressure on his shoulders. He also has another year of seasoning under offensive coordinator Al Borges, who never lost to Alabama during his four years as Tommy Tuberville's offensive coordinator at Auburn.