If all goes to plan the 12 most powerful men in college football (11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s AD, Jack Swarbrick) will figure out FBS college football’s future this coming week. According to the Chicago Tribune, the likeliest outcome of this week’s BCS meetings in Hollywood, Florida is commissioners will agree to some sort of playoff starting in 2014. Fans, give ‘em a round of applause. We’re one step past the BCS mess.
However, Midwestern college football homers, hold your claps. The Trib qualifies its prediction by stating, “sorry, Big Ten fans, but [Big Ten commissioner Jim] Delany’s ‘home game’ model is on life support.” Yes, the proposal would allow higher-seeded playoff teams to host playoff games, thereby negating the built-in advantage southern teams gain from postseason games. Also the same proposal that prevents “neutral site” shams like the 2007 BCS National Championship, where Ohio State had the honor of playing LSU at the “neutral” New Orleans Superdome. It’s this location bias that all but dooms Big Ten and northern college football programs every year. It’s easy to boast that the SEC is the best conference, which there is no doubt. However, that’s still an incomplete argument.
Before going on, let’s not be delusional. Fans will always want to attend postseason football games south of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi. It’s not even a contest. Outside of Chicago, there’s no comparable Midwestern city that could offer what Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix or Los Angeles can. Agreeable climates provide the best marketing ventures.
Big Ten teams have their fair share of speedy, shiny southern imports, but it’s still a run-first, defense-wins league. Late-October and early-November climate shifts determine that spread schemes become futile once the first chill blows across the Great Plains into the Great Lakes. SEC and most Pac-12, ACC and Big-12 squads have the luxury of relatively mild temperatures, with the added incentive of an accommodating bowl location that fits their particular wide-open styles. It’s infuriating, but also financially pragmatic.
This isn’t to say that these teams shouldn’t host playoffs in a “home game” format. If they’re the higher seed, then the game’s all theirs. But let’s really turn the idea around and let LSU or ‘Bama play in The Big House or Camp Randall in December. It’s telling that we can’t even form a hypothetical scenario because it’s never actually been done–a southern team playing a northern team in late fall.* This is partially because of scheduling restraints but maybe also because of the potentiality of southern teams’ tepidness.
The commissioners and powers to be shouldn’t dismiss Delaney’s plan so quickly. It would better serve fan bases by having big-time games on campus** and would either refute or buoy the claim SEC fans make when touting their conference’s football pedigree. Then again, these are the most powerful men in NCAA football we’re talking about. Neither equity nor fan consideration have ever been their thing.
* – Hence why it took the Tampa Buccaneers 26 years to win their first game in temperatures played under 40 degrees when they defeated the Chicago Bears on December 29, 2002. Although it’s the NFL (where players from all over comprise rosters), it lends weight to the fact that southern teams just don’t play as well in the cold.
** – The Tribune article does state that the commissioners are concerned with stadium seating capacity. They cite TCU and Cincinnati, but if either program played in a playoff game, there are two nearby NFL stadiums that could fit the influx of potential attendees. Thus, this argument is BS.