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IOWA CITY - A plus-one college football bowl system has gained traction to replace the current Bowl Championship Series but still remains behind a four-team playoff in rhetoric and public acceptance.
Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman said Monday a plus-one ranks as the second choice among Big Ten presidents and chancellors as a postseason structure, ahead of a four-team playoff. Big Ten leadership prefers the status quo but Perlman said the group is “realistic” that “some movement is necessary.”
“The basic idea of a plus-one would be to play the bowl games and have a selection of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams to play thereafter,” Perlman said. “It would provide maybe three, maybe four games, maybe more within the bowl system that would be exciting games that could implicate the national champion. It would provide access to any team regardless of conference or independence that played well during the regular season and played a nationally significant bowl game. And it would honor the conference champions, which we think is important.”
A plus-one also ensures conference tie-ins to their traditional bowls and restores the Rose Bowl to its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup. From 1947 through 2001, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions played every year in Pasadena, Calif. But only four times since 2001 - the year before the Rose Bowl hosted its first BCS title game - has the Rose Bowl featured both league champions.
“A plus-one gets us a traditional Rose Bowl game, and that's really important to us - our partnership - having both the Pac-12 and the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl game and their champions,” said Kevin Ash, chief administrative officer of the Rose Bowl.
The plus-one concept was dormant until three weeks ago when the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences announced their champions - outside of the proposed four-team playoff - will meet in an undetermined bowl beginning in 2015. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott called the development a “game-changer.”
“We're pretty far down the path on four-team playoff options, but given the very positive reaction to what the SEC and Big 12 have done, it's possible that (a plus-one) could get some traction,” Scott told the Wall Street Journal.
Since the announcement, SEC and Big 12 officials publicly have committed to a four-team playoff. Conference commissioners will meet next week to discuss postseason changes for the 2014 season.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said the benefits of a plus-one, which includes three or more bowl games with championship implications on the same day, outweigh the controversy.
“Let me put it this way,” Delany said. “If you had three or four really competitive games among teams ranked in the top three, four or five, you're going to eliminate half of everybody simply by virtue of the games,” Delany said. “You'll have the eye test, the injuries and you have driven the interest across not two games, but probably across three or four, which undoubtedly I think is good for college football.
“At the margin there's always going to be controversy between two and three. It's where the cluster is. It's very hard to entangle. Then at the cluster of four and five, between four, five and six. It's difficult to entangle.”
Had college football used a plus-one last year, the Rose Bowl match-up of No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 5 Oregon would have stayed the same. No. 1 LSU, which won the SEC, likely would have played No. 4 Stanford in the Sugar Bowl. No. 2 Alabama, likely would have played No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Fiesta and Sugar winners would have met for the title.
In 1981, as many as seven teams had a shot at the national title entering New Year's Day. Unbeaten and top-ranked Clemson faced No. 4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. No. 2 Georgia faced No. 10 Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl. No. 3 Alabama played No. 6 Texas in the Cotton Bowl. No. 5 SMU was banned from bowl competition.
In a wild day of action, Texas upset Alabama, while Pittsburgh beat Georgia. Clemson prevented chaos by beating Nebraska and earning title. A plus-one would have ignited a firestorm of criticism about Clemson's opponent.
“It's easy to say you want the top four teams but defining the top four teams is not something that can be done mathematically,” Perlman said. “Will there be controversy? Yes, that's the point. No matter what system we employ, there will be controversy about what teams are picked.”