So we’re finally going to settle it on the field.
Are you ready for some off-the-field issues? As we mentioned yesterday, the NCAA is going to have to change some bylaws to let this playoff happen. That’s not a problem, but there may be other major unintended ramifications of such a rules change.
Right now, the 2011-12 NCAA Postseason Football Handbook states [emphasis added]:
A bowl game must serve the purpose of providing a national contest between eligible teams. The competing institutions shall be active members of the Association, and a member institution shall not participate in more than one such game during any academic year.
So: obviously, under a four-team playoff, two teams will be playing two postseason bowls (the semifinal and the championship game). This means that the NCAA Football Issues Committee* will need to change that bylaw in order for the playoff to exist. There’s two ways to change it: they can either be very specific or not. Both could have major consequences.
If they’re non-specific, meaning the rules are changed to allow teams to play two postseason games (or, alternatively, to play in a four-team playoff), then you can bet there will be a scramble for competing two-game tournaments. Every second-tier bowl that isn’t a part of the major post-BCS playoff will be scrambling to either host a college football version of the NIT, or at least lobbying for the possibility to inviting select teams after the first round of bowl games has concluded.
Imagine a year like 2009, when the following teams were left at the end of the regular season: Alabama (13-0), Texas (13-0), Cincinnati (12-0), TCU (12-0), Boise State (13-0), and Florida (12-1). That’s six deserving teams. You can bet that the two teams who are left out would love a chance to prove themselves against three other top-tier teams.
Or what about a four-team playoff between the champions of the Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA, and Mountain West, provided those teams don’t make the “major” playoff? Or, if there isn’t a second playoff, what if the Capital One Bowl decides that it wants to invite the winners of the Peach and Gator Bowls, after those games are decided?
Clearly, if the NCAA postseason rules aren’t changed very precisely and specifically, there will be a lot of questions about competing postseason formats.
If the new rule is extra-specific, meaning the bylaws are changed to allow only two teams to play an extra postseason game (or alternatively, to only sanction one “additional” bowl game), then you can bet that any bowls that are left out of the “chosen” postseason tournament will be getting their antitrust suits ready. Does the NCAA really have the authority to limit teams’ and bowls’ postseason opportunities? Well, yes and no.
They would probably be allowed to limit them when there is an officially sanctioned NCAA postseason tournament to determine a national champion (although the basketball’s precedent is to have two additional tournaments, the NIT and the CBI). But the new college football playoff, just like the BCS before it, will not be an officially recognized NCAA championship. So if the “chosen” postseason tournament isn’t to determine an official NCAA championship, then can the NCAA legally restrict other tournaments from happening? The NCAA may have no choice but to create (or take over) college football’s postseason tournament.
So we’re looking at two potentially dramatic results from this simple postseason rule change: either competing four-team events are allowed to exist outside of the major tournament, or the NCAA is forced to officially sanction an FBS national championship.*The 2011-12 NCAA Football Issues Committee is: Barry Alvarez, University of Wisconsin; Nick Carparelli Jr., Big East Conference, chair; Joe Castiglione, University of Oklahoma; David Cutcliffe, Duke University; Robert DeCarolis, Oregon State University; Richard Gianinni, University of Southern Mississippi; Brett Gilliland, Mountain West Conference; Dave Heeke, Central Michigan University; Chris Massaro, Middle Tennessee State University; Bruce Van De Velde, Louisiana Tech University; Mark Womack, Southeastern Conference.
Update II: Infante (of the Bylaw Blog) states “The NCAA running the playoff does not solve all antitrust issues. Didn’t stop the NIT from suing and more or less winning.” So we may be looking at a competing/second-tier playoff either way.