Nobody needs a Farmers’ Almanac to project Saturday afternoon weather in late December 2014 in any given Midwestern city.
I can hear Brent Musburger welcoming viewers to an NCAA college football semifinal game at Ohio State as his teeth chatter: “You are looking liiiiiive at workers scraping ice off the Horseshoe!”
You can understand why college football teams south of Champaign, Ill.., might be more than a little chilly to the idea of playing in 20-degree temperatures with a national title at stake. The Big Ten’s concept of holding two semifinal games on campuses, as the Tribune reported, carries potential for built-in advantages in the rare cases a league team holds the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Imagine how winter’s elements could help, say, Wisconsin neutralize Florida’s speed.
But slowing down Sun Belt offenses for Big Ten defensive coordinators had nothing to do with conference commissioner Jim Delany dramatically changing his stance on a four-team playoff commonly referred to as Plus-One. I suspect Delany welcomed an alternative blending creativity and common sense to distinguish the Big Ten’s position and to prevent him from becoming a college football Don Quixote as he continued hopelessly defending the Bowl Championship Series.
What compelled Delany to change course matters less than the fact he finally did, unofficially. Appreciate Delany’s political dexterity and pragmatism. As recently as December he remained one of the most rigid, remaining holdouts. Delany’s sudden reversal represents the philosophical equivalent of Lovie Smith abandoning the Cover-2 defense. His acknowledgment that Big Ten athletic directors discussed Plus-One proposals suggested the BCS, as we know it, will be DOA by July. Mourners will be few.
Recent data left Delany little choice but to bend. Television ratings from January’s BCS bowls dipped 10 percent. Bowl attendance overall dropped to a 33-year low. Thanks in part to constant carping from media and coaches, the perception that something was wrong with college football gradually became reality. Bowls require excited audiences on TV and in person, but who wants to commit time or money to a sport defined by whining? A redundant BCS vs. playoff debate grew tiresome and counterproductive.
Two college administrators estimated football’s Final Four could generate a windfall of about $400 million — more than twice what the BCS reportedly produces. The novelty wouldn’t wear off because every year promises a marquee intersectional matchup we seldom see anymore. Stanford at LSU, anyone?