Posted: Tuesday July 3, 2012 12:46PM ; Updated: Tuesday July 3, 2012 1:03PM
Stewart Mandel

Contract bowls mean return to free-market system; more mail

Story Highlights

In a way, college football is moving back to the decentralized pre-BCS days

Commissioners didn't create a playoff simply to avoid postseason rematches

The Penn State cover-up is disgusting, but the NCAA shouldn't get involved

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Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Tigers would have been protected contract champions last season despite ranking No. 15.
Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Tigers would have been protected contract champions last season despite ranking No. 15.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When I wrote an extra-long Mailbag last week filled entirely with questions about the newly announced playoff, I didn't realize I'd get back a whole new round of playoff-related questions.


Obviously the hoopla over such a seismic change wasn't going to vanish overnight, but my hope is that this holiday week will provide a nice interlude, after which we can start discussing the 2012 season (as opposed to 2014) in earnest. I even snuck in a couple such questions this week. In the meantime...

If the Rose (Big Ten-Pac-12), Orange (ACC) or Champions Bowl (Big 12-SEC) releases a conference champ to play in the semifinals, will they automatically replace that champion with the No. 2 team from that conference, regardless of ranking, or will there be some minimum ranking necessary to qualify as a replacement?
-- Gerry Swider, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

This was the main question to emerge from my podcast interview with Bill Hancock and accompanying column last Thursday, and understandably so. We're coming off 14 (soon to be 16) years of BCS rule, where the bowls and conferences essentially signed over their access arrangements to the larger group. The respective BCS bowls had conference partners, but they still had to comply with BCS rules about selection order, minimum rankings, etc. Now, with the elimination of the AQ/non-AQ concept, we're in a way moving back to the more decentralized, free-market pre-BCS days, when conferences are free to make their own deals with individual bowls.

So when you hear the term "contract bowl" to describe the Rose, Champions and Orange bowls, it literally means those games have their own contracts with individual conferences. Hence, if they lose one of their contracted champions to the playoff, they can replace that team with any other team from that partner conference, minimum ranking be damned. The BCS is not dictating which conferences get these contracts. There's nothing stopping one of those bowls from signing the Big East or Mountain West, but realistically it's not going to happen. Not everybody's going to like it, but that's life in a free market.

Where it gets truly confusing, though -- and where one might argue things really aren't that deregulated -- is that these bowls will still have a connection to the three other "access" bowls and, obviously, to the playoff itself. If, say, the Rose Bowl is hosting a semifinal one year and the Big Ten champion doesn't make the playoff, that team still has a protected spot waiting for it in one of the other three bowls. "If you give up your contracted bowl to have a semifinal, then your champion would have a berth in one of the other games," Hancock said of those conferences. However, if in the same scenario that champion did make the playoff, no bowl would be obligated to take a second Big Ten team, and it might not even be possible, as those de facto at-large spots would be determined by the selection committee's rankings.

If we go by the BCS standings -- not a precise exercise, since the committee wouldn't necessarily replicate those rankings -- there would have been nine of these protected "contract" champs that ranked 13th or lower since 1998: five from the ACC (2002 and '05 Florida State, '09 and '10 Virginia Tech, '11 Clemson), two from the Big Ten (2000 Purdue and '04 Michigan), one from the Pac-12 (1999 Stanford) and -- brace yourself -- one from the SEC (2001 LSU). We can't say for sure how many sub-top 12 replacement teams would have made it without knowing the semifinal rotation, but using the BCS' top four each year as the playoff field, there could have been as many as 13 -- or almost one per year. At the time I wrote last week that, "it's possible, though not automatic, that the six games will pit the top 12 teams," I hadn't yet compiled that data. A more accurate description would be "it's possible, though highly unlikely..."

Stewart, the scenario you describe in your "Six-bowl premium package" article would have LSU playing two teams it already played and beat during the regular season (Oregon and likely Alabama). Isn't this the very thing this new world order is supposed to avoid?
-- Mikey V, Winter Park, Fla.

Contrary to popular belief, the commissioners did not hold 100-plus hours of meetings for the primary purpose of avoiding postseason rematches. I'm not sure there will be any such mechanism in place. There's no controlling who the best four teams are in a given year or whether, in the case of LSU and Oregon, those teams happened to schedule each other that season.

People wanted a playoff because "that's what they do in every other sport," right? Well, last year's 49ers-Giants NFC Championship Game was a rematch. All three Final Four games last April (Kansas-Ohio State, Kentucky-Louisville and Kentucky-Kansas) were rematches. And of course last year's Big Ten (Wisconsin-Michigan State) and ACC (Clemson-Virginia Tech) championship games were rematches. No one complained. To be fair, I do think people will more easily accept rematches when the teams aren't being voted straight into the championship game, and when they have to beat at least one other team from another conference. The LSU-Oregon/Alabama possibility from last season would be incredibly rare.

But if it happens, so be it. If you're going to do a playoff, do it right, and don't go manipulating brackets for the sake of avoiding rematches.

Stewart, tell me what you think of this scenario and which teams would make the four-team playoff. From the SEC West, LSU and Alabama finish 12-0 and 11-1, respectively. From the SEC East, Florida loses only to LSU during the season and Georgia loses only to Florida. That would match LSU-Florida in the SEC Championship Game, where Florida exacts revenge on the Tigers. Therefore, you have four SEC teams with one loss with Florida the SEC Champ. All-SEC playoff in 2014?
-- Johnny P., Spanish Fort, Ala.

Again, this scenario stems from a world where every season is just like 2011 (or a world where the SEC exists on its own island). I can't answer that question without knowing the rest of the field. What are the records of the other major conference champions? What kind of nonconference schedules did these four teams play? Which teams did they miss from the other division (which, in a 14-team conference, could be significant)?

The committee is supposed to use conference championships as an unofficial tiebreaker in close situations, so Florida would be the most likely choice of the four, and perhaps LSU would get a nod too (though it remains to be seen whether the committee will penalize teams that lose their last game). Unless every other major conference champ has two losses, I can't imagine the two non-division winners having a chance.

Do we know for sure that the NCAA will authorize this 14th game for the two finalists?
-- Tom Carrera, Portland, Ore.

It's a formality, since the same NCAA member schools that agreed to this playoff are the ones that would vote to pass such a rule.
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