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Chris Dufresne: Four-team playoff better than nothing

This news story was published on April 27, 2012.
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By Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — I already miss the Bowl Championship Series like an old pair of shoes that might have stepped in something.

Is it really going away in two years? What will be left to lampoon?

College football’s smart people, however, insist it’s time to move forward to some sort of post-2014, post-modern, postseason involving four teams.

Although ordinary folks would call this a playoff, conference commissioners as late as Wednesday preferred the euphemism “four-team event.”

After two days of meetings in South Florida, commissioners on Thursday only officially announced there would not be an eight or 16-team playoff.

This was like breaking news of a sunrise over Boca Raton.

More important, our fearless leaders are fervently homing in on some variation of a four-team solution.

“We will present to our conferences a very small number of four-team options,” the BCS released in a statement.

My preferred “event,” the original Plus One, apparently fell off the table during a lunch break even though it best protected the regular season and bowls.

The “original” Plus One simply picks No. 1 and No. 2 after the bowl games. It keeps every BCS bowl in the national title hunt until New Year’s Day, and doesn’t extend the season beyond Jan. 8 or 9.

It didn’t fly because commissioners were too far down the road with the four-team concept, which is fine.

The presidents should approve some offshoot of this model sometime this summer.

Make no mistake: A four-team playoff won’t end the postseason controversy.

Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy, after accepting his coach-of-the-year award from the Football Writers Association of America in New Orleans in January, said a four-team playoff would have settled last season’s argument.

Using the final BCS standings, No.1 Louisiana State would have played No. 4 Stanford, with No. 2 Alabama pairing off against No. 3 Oklahoma State.

I kindly pointed out that No. 5 Oregon thrashed Stanford in Palo Alto and also won, outright, something called the Pac-12 championship.

“Oh, yeah,” Gundy said.

No postseason plan is perfect, not even the NFL’s, where sub-.500 teams can win division championships.

The important thing for college football is to move forward while protecting the past.

Some pundits would just as soon see bowls disappear.

Not me, although ESPN could easily retire five or 10 to the Cadillac Ranch.

The tricky part of any new deal is not diminishing the traditions that made college football great, namely the regular season and the Rose Bowl.

Granddaddy is going to have to make adjustments, again, 14 years after joining the BCS.

“We’re all going to have to give up something,” Rose Bowl executive Kevin Ash said Thursday.

The new format probably will involve using BCS bowls to host two semifinal games each year, with the title game sold to the highest bidder.

The Fiesta Bowl, crawling out of the depths of a scandal, said it would happily surrender its Big 12 anchor tie to be involved.

It’s not as simple for the Rose, with its Big Ten-Pacific Coast ties dating to 1947.

How best to keep the Rose Bowl flowering and relevant?

If the Rose Bowl does not wish to become a “semifinal” event, it should just stage its traditional game and let the semifinal games rotate among the other BCS bowls.

In return, the Rose should forever remain part of the national title rotation, the same way Indianapolis should always be tied to the Final Four.

The give here is the Rose having to surrender any Big Ten or Pac-12 team that finishes in the top four. The take is always getting to replace those teams with Big Ten or Pac-12 schools. The Rose, except in years it hosts the title game, never has to take an outsider.

Imagine New Year’s Day with two national semifinals wrapped around the Rose Bowl.

Ash said the idea was plausible and had merit, short of vetting out a million details and obstacles.

In the BCS era, the Rose Bowl three times would have lost no teams to a four-team playoff: 1999, 2008 and 2009.

It would have lost one team six times and multiple teams five times.

Almost every one of those years, though, the Rose would have still been able to stage a top-notch game featuring their conference partners.

Last year, despite having to hand off Stanford to a playoff, the Rose Bowl still would have hosted champions Oregon and Wisconsin.

If, in hindsight, voters decided Oregon deserved No. 4, Stanford would have played in the Rose.

In 2005, the Rose would have lost three top-four teams — USC, Penn State and Ohio State — but still could have staged No. 5 Oregon versus No. 18 Wisconsin.

The 2010 season, in which Oregon and Stanford finished in the top four, would not have worked out well. That would have left the Rose to pair No. 5 Wisconsin with, yuck, 7-6 Washington.

No one said change would be easy, or fair.

At this point, though, it’s change …. or be changed.

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