Thursday, May 31, 2012

There's a stalemate a-comin'...

Don't look now, college football playoff fans, but there are storm clouds on the horizon of getting a playoff actually implemented.  The Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences came out this week by saying that they favored the "plus one" concept--the plan to use existing BCS bowls as the two semi-final games to determine who gets to the national championship.  Conversely, the Big 12 came out and said that they want the four-team playoff to exist outside of the bowl structure as a true stand-alone playoff.  The SEC is expected to take the same stance as the Big 12.

This puts the current four power conferences at odds with one another.  And, are you surprised?  The easy part of all this was the conference commissioners saying "yes, let's have a playoff."  The hard work is now determining whether the bowl system remains in place or not, how the teams get ranked (e.g., is there a football equivalent of the college hoops Mens Basketball Selection Committe), if the games are played on neutral sites, and all of the other operational details which make up the enormity of this postseason system.

The June 20 meeting of conference commissioners is shaping up to be very, very interesting.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writer's block? No, the dog days of sports...

I have a confession to make--I'm not sure what to write about on this blog right now.  I know I have loyal readers out there who are asking "Hey, Mike--what gives?  Why isn't there anything new on Section 10?"

Well, in the best worldwide leader vernacular, let's "break it down," shall we?  One, college hoops is over.  Sure, recruiting is in full swing but let's face it--the finality of the season is just a bit traumatic for basketball junkies like me.  Two, my local Major League Baseball team features several young stars-in-the-making but also is owned by a guy who refuses (it seems) to invest in quality pitching.  I mean, how many blown leads can fans be subjected to in this town?  Three, NFL training camp has not yet started so it's premature for any football talk.  Four, there currently are no compelling story lines in the world of golf.  And, finally, the college realignment melodrama is but a whimper this summer compared with what we got to experience the past two years.

Yes, it's the dog days of the sports year.  Hang with me, friends, as this too shall pass.  I just felt like I owed an explanation to the thousands of you (okay--maybe a dozen of you) who have asked yourself, "I wonder what's up with that guy?"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The SEC and Big 12: Strange bedfellows or a match made in heaven?

Well, just when we thought it was safe in the land of conference realignment comes this bombshell from the SEC and Big 12 offices--the two conferences will begin a Rose Bowl-like New Years Day game, beginning in 2014, pitting the top two football schools from each conference in a match-up which likely will take place at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.  The exception will be if a school, or schools, from either conference is involved in the national championship game.

The news immediately elicited well-crafted statements from Big 12 athletics directors who lauded the agreement and pointed to it as validation of the conference's stability.  Down in SEC country, the P.R. releases were more about the benefit of seeing these top two football conferences compete head-to-head in a game of this magnitude.

This news, along with the soon-to-be-announced details on an improved television deal, does reinforce that the Big 12 came back from the land of the un-living and is one of the four strongest conferences in the U.S.  And that, my friends, means that the Big 12 is now in a position, along with the SEC, Pac 12 and Big Ten, to start the movement toward four "super" conferences of 16 teams each.

The questions on every sportswriter, blogger and talk radio host's mind now is "what does this mean for Notre Dame?" and "what will happen to the ACC?"  The noise of last week about Florida State to the Big 12 now makes much more sense and schools like Virginia Tech and Clemson must be wondering if its time to place their name into the "what if" kitty.  As for the Golden Domers, it has to make sense for the Irish to reconsider the Big Ten possibilities of two summers ago--if that invitation still exists--or to look west to the Big 12.  Culturally and geographically, the Big Ten still is the most logical place for Notre Dame to go.  But, now is the time for the Big 12 to place a major rush on the school with this unparalleled football brand.

There is one small issue though, that the Big 12 must reconcile--playing this game is good for the conference's brand as long as a Big 12 team wins from time to time.  If the SEC dominates this bowl game, then the gap between what is truly the best football conference in the land and the rest of college football only gets more and more embarrassing.

Stay tuned, realignment junkies--this is the first major salvo in the summer of conference realignment, 2012 edition.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Whither realignment?

Are you having withdrawals?  Face it, the last two summers provided plenty of sports talk show and blog material given the seemingly minute-by-minute discussions and machinations which were college sports conference realignment.  I have to admit that I'm a bit bummed at the lack of sports page material on this topic as it was a nice diversion from the fortunes of the local Major League Baseball franchise.

There is some noise coming from Tallahassee, FL that the Seminoles of Florida State may be hiking their skirt up to some appealing conference--notably, the Big 12.  FSU is said to be upset at how third-tier rights are handled in the ACC and that this piece of the media agreement favors schools like North Carolina and Duke.  And, where have you heard this before--an informal poll of Seminole fans indicates that they are all too willing to say "let's skeedaddle."  Thus, more fuel is added to this latest realignment brush fire.

The possibility of Florida State in the Big 12 is appealing.  FSU isn't the toniest academic institution in the   southeast but it outshines schools like Louisville and Cincinnati, who also have been rumored to be on the Big 12's radar.  Florida State would bring more football punch to a conference now boasting TCU and West Virginia as its newest members and also has a much-improved basketball program.

Big 12 coaches probably like the idea of a toehold in the fertile recruiting ground of Florida.  And, bringing on FSU would add in another Eastern time zone school.

Who knows if there is actually any "there" there with this latest realignment buzz.  And, perhaps it's the lessson of the past two summers which have caused us all to be suspicious about this latest "news."  For now, we'll keep our ear to the ground, check out the usual suspects who are blogging about this annual summertime topic, and continue to consider the possibilities.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My plan for the BCS Championship

The good news is that a college football national championship playoff is in the offing and should be in place by the 2014 season.  A true national championship game would then take place in early 2015 after two "semi-final" games pit the four top teams against each other.

The devil, though, is in the details.  And, indeed, there are details to be worked out.  Where should the two semi-final games be played?  Should they be played as part of the current BCS bowl system?  Should they be played on campus sites?  Or, should they stand alone on neutral sites in advance of the title game, also on a neutral site?  Those questions are but part of the puzzle as other issues include how to select the four final teams, who gets broadcast rights, and on and on and on.

Let's tackle the scheduling issue as I believe the process for how the teams get selected will actually be an easier one to solve--perhaps that's a combination of the current polls which are used as part of the BCS combined with the football equivalent of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee.

I believe that playing the two semi-final games on campus isn't realistic--college towns like Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Eugene, Lawrence, Columbia, Knoxville and elsewhere would be hard-pressed to handle the press and fan contingent invading for these games.  And, like in the NCAA Tournament, I believe these final four teams need to play each other in neutral sites where the playing field (no pun intended) is as even as possible.

A case can be made to use the current BCS bowl system as a way to handle the two games.  For example, the two semi-final games could rotate each year between the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls.  That approach could cause possible neutral sites which are less than neutral, e.g., USC playing in the Rose Bowl or LSU playing in the Sugar, but does utilize the bowls as part of the national championship solution.  The two featured bowls could be scheduled in a way that they take place a week, or two, prior to the national championship contest.

The national championship game site will be just like the Super Bowl as cities will vie for the chance to host this prestigious event.  And, just like the Super Bowl and other major events, the game will be but part of the pageantry--a fan festival will be a mandatory along with hospitality events in the host city in the days leading up to the national championship.

The whole prospect is exciting and long overdue.  Here's hoping that the conference commissioners who will decide these important questions can come up with a workable plan which keeps the two most important audiences top-of-mind--the athletes involved and the fans who have long clamored for a true national championship.