Wednesday, May 16, 2012

This Week In Generic Playoff Concerns: On the Road Again

As you probably know by now, Jim Delany and the Big Ten have given up on the continued negotiation for semifinal games on campus sites. For those hoping to see teams like LSU, Alabama, and Georgia come up to Ann Arbor, Madison, or Columbus for one of these hypothetical semifinal matchups, you're going to have to wait a while. Unfortunately, your waiting might not be too different from the sort of waiting in Waiting for Godot. Indefinite, pointless, and tragicomic.

First of all, just to clarify my own position (not that it is all that different from most people's):
  • With all due respect to the Rose Bowl, it should not be a driving factor in any playoff negotiations. What was once a nexus of pride and tradition has deteriorated and is an outright albatross on the neck of the conference. There, I said it. You were thinking it too. 
  • I'm in favor of a 4-team playoff, conference champions only, with the only other deciding clause being that a team must be in the top X (anywhere from 6-10 is fine to me, however arbitrary that may seem). Otherwise, a non-champion can take a spot left vacant due to a conference champion not fulfilling the aforementioned parameters. 
  • No pre-season polls. It's kind of absurd that they exist in the first place, but I guess college football needs a way to drum up interest for non-conference games with shiny rankings.  
  • Strength of schedule needs to be emphasized in whatever the new rankings formula becomes. Force teams to eliminate as many minnows from their schedules as possible. Is that fair to the minnows? No, but, then again, I don't think teams like UT-San Antonio, Georgia State, and even current FBS schools like Eastern Michigan, should be in the FBS. In fact, I don't even think many of these types of schools should be fielding football teams, period, but I'm not exactly about to tell the a bunch of Texans that they shouldn't have a football team. That would go over well, I'm sure. 
  • While a certain groups of fans will always point to players' preferences for things*--alternate jerseys, music, etc.--as reasons why we shouldn't listen to them (that is, the players), in this case I think the players are in the right, not the coaches and ADs. I guarantee you that if given the choice, every single player on Michigan's roster would rather play for a national championship than the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl, not unlike Notre Dame football, hasn't been truly relevant on a national scale in some time. The fact that Mark Hollis says otherwise regarding the players' wants increases my confidence in the notion that the players want to play for national titles and not Rose Bowls: 
"From kids' perspective, the bowl experience is the one thing they want to keep," he said. "Semifinals at bowl sites provide that, it's where fans can gather. With campus sites, it becomes (more) like a regular-season game." 
Yes, because everybody wants more, not less, bowl-type experiences in a given season. This seems counter-intuitive given that the B1G is also thinking about upping the bowl qualifying record to 7-5. The Big Ten wants to expand and downsize the bowl culture simultaneously; this leads me to believe, among a long list of other reasons, that the conference has no idea what it is doing.

*For the record, I don't care too much about the crazy jerseys and stadium music too much. I mean, they might be bad and sometimes a little excessive, but they don't leave an indelibly negative mark on my personal experience as a fan. Also, for the most part, if anybody is going to have a say about these things, I think it should be the players and not Michigan fans on the Internet. That isn't a slight against the fans, but...I think the players have more than earned the right to some creative control with these things. If that means hearing a non-zero amount of Pop Evil and wearing a bumblebee jersey every once in a while, so be it.


Of course, none of us are in the room for these negotiations. As Rittenberg notes, maybe this is a way to concede one point while gaining ground on the "conference champions only" front re: the playoff structure. Then again, what happens if the SEC (and other conferences in its axis of influence, which, at this point, might honestly be everyone that isn't the B1G) manages to use its influence to eliminate the aforementioned clause from ongoing discussions? The Big Ten doesn't seem to have very many friends right now, and the SEC has all the leverage. Winning has a way of doing that, and by winning I mean, of course, national championships. No matter what anybody says, national titles are the ultimate prize in this era of college football. 

By definition, a negotiation means that multiple sides will supposedly be conceding various things in order to achieve a general common goal (in this case, a playoff). However, from where I stand, these discussions look more like this duel scene from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

If it needs explication, the Big Ten is Angel Eyes. That is not a good thing. 

So much of this either doesn't make sense or is plainly wrong. Again, in bullet form: 
  • Hollis's point that the players value the bowls more than playing for a national championship. This is the height of tragicomedy, as the players can first and foremost look to the parasitic bowls as a primary source to which college football revenue is nonsensically funneled, revenue that is based solely on their back-breaking efforts. Pair this with the fact that those that "run" the bowls seem to do very little in the way of actual work, and you would be justified, as a player, to be fairly antagonistic to the bowl system. The players "love" the bowls because it is the only thing there is, they get to travel somewhere (even if it's somewhere as bland as, say, Orlando), and they get a few neat things in their bowl gift package. 
  • Gene Smith: "Let's say Ohio State is hosting and it's January or December, and it's five degrees. Is that right for the game? We're not pro. We need to figure out what's best for the game, and I think a fast surface, good weather is important for the game. It's important for the game." 
    • He supported semifinal games on home sites before; what changed? This goes for everyone else in the conference, not just Smith. 
    • Anytime an AD or anyone involved in this process talks about what's good for the kids, I tune out. "The kids" are the furthest thing from anyone's mind who has a say. 
    • I'm not sure why football played in cold weather conditions is okay for the highest level of football but not the collegiate game. That makes sense. Apparently, football players only become men upon entering the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. 
Jon Gruden, former HC in the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE. endures the brutal cold of Tampa Bay like only a true professional can
  • The fact that Delany just does not understand what is going on at all. He thinks that NYC is a relevant college football foothold. Then again, given that Rutgers was at one point at least vaguely a target of Big Ten expansion, this isn't exactly unexpected. In light of the dilution of the bowl system that many in the B1G are fearing, yes...signing on with the Pinstripe Bowl is definitely what we should do. 
  • The fact that Tom Osborne and Harvey Perlman--with Nebraska having only having one Big Ten season to its name--feel the need to be beholden to the Rose Bowl (and the bowl system at large) proves that this is all: a) mindless groupthink and b) symptomatic of the dedication to preserving monetary lifelines via the bowl system as opposed to doing what is right for the game, the conference, individual schools, and yes, the players. So, yes, when various B1G personalities talk about the Rose Bowl, they are irrationally deifying it, assuaging their fears and their pangs of guilt at even thinking of abandoning it by mindlessly paying tribute; at this point, is the Rose Bowl even worthy of demigod status? 
  • Just so it doesn't look like I'm solely bashing other ADs, even our very own Dave Brandon has been notoriously anti-playoff, and although I can't find a direct quote, the above article on the Pinstripe Bowl notes that Brandon thinks that "playing at northern sites within the Big Ten would be unfair to the competition." The administrative idiocy regarding a playoff--and its prominent details--is spread fairly uniformly across the conference. 
This week has not increased my confidence in the Big Ten brass's ability to not completely ruin our chances of having nice things. Abandoning the semifinal home site cause before any trenches have even been dug is akin to Russia executing its "scorched earth" policy before Napoleon had even begun his campaign eastward (yes, I just compared the SEC to early 19th century France...if that's not trollin' then I don't know what is). 

I'm getting the feeling that once the dust settles, the Big Ten is going to be a major loser in all of this, and it will largely be a product of two factors: 1) the incompetence of the conference's administration and 2) a complete lack of leverage vis-a-vis the SEC (and even the Pac 12).  I hope this resolves itself positively, but early returns have not been encouraging. 

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