Not so long ago, the Pac-10 and Big 10 were the last places anyone would look for leadership in the area of how to handle the football post season, and really, anything. Times have changed, as the Big 10/11 is now 12, and has divisions, and a championship game, as well as a nationally significant network of its own. Out west, Larry Scott has arrived in Walnut Creek, where the Pac-12 offices are located. Two new members, divisional alignment, and an early December title game followed. Oh, and the biggest media contract in the history of college sports.
The changes implemented by the commissioners of two of the conferences of tradition of course are because the Presidents of the leagues recognized things had to change, and directed that it happened. Now, there's another indication of movement on the most contentious subject in college sports.
Pac-12 and Big 10 (+2) Athletic Directors, meeting in Newport Beach, CA, discussed various possible postseason football formats, including keeping things as they currently are, in a process to give input to the two conference commissioners, who will in turn meet with the commissioners from the other leagues to decide on possible changes to the BCS after 2014, when the current contract and TV deal ends.
The plan that received consensus support, outlined in yesterday's column by Bud Withers of the Seattle Times, calls for the addition of one bowl to the BCS circuit, most likely the Cotton Bowl, and qualifying two teams out of the current bowls for a plus one game that would determine the National Champion.
In return, the Pac-12 and Big 10 would preserve their match up in the Rose Bowl as an every year fixture, and the Rose Bowl facility would host the National Championship Game every fifth year.How the guarantee of preserving the historic rivalry between the two conferences would work in the event the team from one of the conferences was clearly in the top 4, and the other clearly was not, especially if for some reason the runner up might not even be BCS bowl eligible(*), as well as various other issues, like access for non-automatic qualifying conference members, who would have a better shot at an increased number of BCS bowl games, but possibly not improved access to the championship game, and scheduling issues, given the gradual creep of the games other than the Rose Bowl further and further into January, remains to be determined.
* The assumption is that if a member of the Pac-12 or Big 12 qualified for one of the semi-final games in one of the other BCS bowls, the runner up would take the Rose Bowl berth.
But the apparent issues that need resolution shouldn't distract from the fact that this is the first time any BCS conference group outside the SEC has ever proposed any kind of plus game(s) format, or a playoff format, when they weren't directly influenced by the immediate prospects of one on their own interests.
"My sense is that they (college presidents) are going to be open to anything that will make it better, short of an NFL-style playoff, as long as they stick with their principles of maintaining the bowl system, and remembering that these are college athletes," BCS executive director Bill Hancock told Withers.
The proponents of a playoff system and staunch supporters of the status quo have been so divided, and so unyielding in their thinking, that constructive conversations, and therefore substantial progress, has been extremely difficult, and slow, to happen. But attitudes are changing.
"I'm a big fan and proponent of the BCS system," Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward said. "But I always think there's room for improvement in everything we do."
The advent of a +1 will disappoint proponents of an 8 or even 16 team playoff, but it shouldn't, at least in the short term. After all, drastic overhaul isn't going to be a viable possibility until even minimal movement becomes a reality.
Other New Ideas Coming Forward As Well
This comes on the heels of the two day conference of a group of the University Presidents called by NCAA Mark Emmert, whose' prior job was as President of the University of Washington, which led to calls for a prompt increase in academic requirements despite the potential implications on lucrative post season (the SWAC would have had only one eligible team last spring) basketball tournament.
Serious conversation about the full cost of attendance for scholarship athletes and paring down the rule book, while putting both teeth and consistency in enforcement also occurred, as well as the recognition that the NCAA must become more nimble in addressing these issues.
"We have reached a point where incremental change is not sufficient to meet these challenges," Emmert said. "I want us to act more aggressively and in a more comprehensive way than we have in the past. A few new tweaks of the rules won’t get the job done."
Oregon St. president Ed Ray was one of the participants, and weighed in on the issue as well.
"The issue of integrity in the game is so important that we need to make certain the rules we operate with don’t inadvertently get in our way. This is an important area where we think we need to take a new and creative look at how we are managing rules and regulations, so that we don’t get distracted by small matters that keep us from the issues that need to be addressed."
Ray also pointed out an example of the kind of pointless detail in the rules that needs deleted.
"There is a "bagel rule," which says a school can give a recruit on a campus visit a bagel because it's a snack, but not a bagel with cream cheese because that is considered a meal," Ray explained. "That is not something we want to spend a lot of compliance time on."
While there remains much to do to translate all of these ideas into workable change on the ground, clearly, the culture of not thinking outside the box, and consequently finding ways to not get things done, is undergoing change, and the Pac-12's leadership has decided to lead the way.