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The Empire Strikes First: Delany’s playoff proposal

The Big Ten and the Pac-12—forever the fly in the college-football-playoff ointment—might be ready to lift anchor and ignite liftoff.

Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that the Big Ten is entertaining a proposal that would give college football a four-team playoff. While the 50 or 60 plans that were floated around during BCS meetings last month frustrated fans and commissioners alike, this preliminary Big Ten plan sends one clear message—a playoff is coming.

With this new reality in mind, Delany and his conference don’t want to be behind the 8-ball when negotiations are made. No, in fact, they want to be in the driver’s seat and make sure that the Big Ten gets every potential advantage out of an impending playoff.

I see at least three Big Ten-centric components to this plan.

First move: “Keep the Rose Bowl out of your dang playoff!” This is always priority one for the Big Ten/Pac-12 alliance. The Big Ten’s proposal protects a strong matchup in the Granddaddy of Them All, even if it’s not a No. 1 Big Ten vs. No. 1 Pac-12 matchup every year.

Second move: “Bowls and playoffs…oil and water.” The Big Ten plan completely divorces any current bowls from the 4-team playoff. The first two games—the semi-finals—are played on home sites for the top two teams; the championship game is bid on like the Super Bowl. The fear of the BCS commissioners and the BCS bowls is that the bowls would lose their appeal with a playoff. By creating a tiny playoff outside of the bowls, both entities can continue and thrive.

Third move: “Destroy the ruse of ‘neutral sites’ from the current championship structure.” The Big Ten has forever played its biggest games in someone else’s backyard. The Rose Bowl is a home game for USC and UCLA. The Sugar and all of the Florida bowls favor the SEC teams. Even the Cotton and Fiesta help out the closer Big 12 teams. If the Big Ten can get a top 2 seed, they’ll get the post-season advantage for once with a first-round home game. Not only that, but if the BCS championship game goes to a different site yearly, there is a strong, strong chance that the game will visit some northern cities (Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and East Rutherford immediately come to mind).


The Big Ten plan benefits the Big Ten first and foremost. Who’d expect any less? College football reaping any side effects is just gravy.

There are still some questions to be answered though. The championship game might move up closer to January 1st, which would mean that the first round (the home site game for teams No. 1 and No. 2) would need to be played at least two weeks in advance.

Heisman Trophy weekend would be an option. However, this would mean back-to-back post-season games for Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, and SEC schools, who would need to win a conference championship game and then travel again for a national “final 4” game.

The best (and most lucrative) scenario would be to spread things out. First weekend in December: conference championships. Second weekend: Heisman Trophy, Army-Navy game, and other awards. Third weekend: the football “final 4.” This would allow hype to grow and the teams could travel and prepare adequately.

The only downside to this? The losers of this semi-final games would be left out of the January football picture completely. Two very strong teams would be marginalized from any bowl exhibitions.

The Big Ten’s about face shouldn’t surprise anyone. If there is ever a plausible change afoot, the Big Ten is not going to be chasing the caboose. It’s going to be in the engineer’s seat. And while no one should expect the Big Ten to get exactly what it wants, college football’s new post-season structure in 2014 will probably look a lot like this because this is the path Delany is starting us down.


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