opinion: Big Ten's insistence on including bowl venues in future playoff is baffling
CHICAGO -- When it comes to intercollegiate athletics, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is smarter than the rest of us.
That's an assumption he's afforded after two decades of keeping the league at the fore, through seismic shifts such as conference expansion and TV deals.
But with all due respect, sir: Have you lost your mind?
The Big Ten originally advocated for a college football playoff structure that featured on-campus semifinal sites and a title game that would be bid out nationally. It was a brilliant concept that was popular with fans, and seemed to be in the league's best competitive interests.
AnnArbor.com file photo
A semifinal in Ann Arbor? Or at the 'Shoe? Camp Randall or Happy Valley?
It seemed to be the great equalizer, after Big Ten teams played virtual road games for decades by heading south and west to face the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 in bowl games.
Players such as Michigan's Kevin Koger, who cried in the tunnel before facing Ohio State on Senior Day, would get to run onto their home field one more time. The fan experience would be thrilling.
It'd protect the regular season, as teams vied for seeding.
Now, the idea is dead. Why?
The Big Ten's movers and shakers met this week in Chicago, and have decided they prefer to play their semifinal games in Pasadena, Calif., rather than East Lansing.
They do so knowing they are ceding what could be a tremendous competitive advantage.
"While we understand that the games on campus could benefit us competitively — it's not like I don't like the competitive advantage (aided) by home field — but in a larger sense, we think the slope is far less slippery within the bowl system than it is outside the bowl system," Delany said Tuesday.
"We think that the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Fiesta and other bowls are aided and helped by a process where 1-4 is inside the bowl system rather than outside."
That's nice for the bowls. Good to know the Big Ten is looking out for them.
But why isn't the Big Ten thinking about what's best for the Big Ten?
The SEC's Mike Slive and the Pac-12's Larry Scott should send Delany flowers -- roses seem appropriate -- considering what the Big Ten is conceding before it even reaches the bargaining table next month.
In fact, multiple Big Ten athletic directors noted they didn't support on-campus semifinals because it wouldn't be "fair" to ask Southern teams to play in the cold.
"Let’s say Ohio State is hosting, and it’s whatever the date may be -- January or December -- let’s say it’s 5 degrees. Is that right for the game? We’re not pro," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said.
"I think we need to figure out what’s better for the game. I think a fast surface, good weather is important for the game. It’s important for the kids."
Remind me, Big Ten, are you representing the SEC or the Big Ten?
You don't hear the SEC complaining that it has had a distinct competitive advantage over the Big Ten for years. Know how many SEC teams traveled more than 500 miles last year for a bowl game? None.
Big Ten: Nine (of 10).
Given a chance to balance the weights ... the Big Ten is concerned about having an advantage? Shouldn't it be lobbying for an advantage?
Why is it protecting the bowls, and the warm-weather teams, and not itself?
Even Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, a longtime dissident of a playoff, finally has come around to the idea of a postseason. Yet, he would prefer to play bowl games in Miami Gardens rather than the Big House.
"I’m a big advocate for playing as many games as possible on campus, but I’m also a realist to know when you get to the point where you got those kinds of national games, with teams coming to various regions of the country, playing outdoors in the Midwest in January probably is not going to be a salable option," he said.
Right. Because Lambeau Field and Soldier Field and Gillette Stadium and MetLife Stadium have such a hard time drawing fans for December and January games.
Of course, Delany revealed minutes later the Big Ten is interested in adding the Pinstripe Bowl to its postseason slate -- a game that's played in late December in New York City. So, apparently the Big Ten doesn't mind playing postseason games in the cold, as long as they're not playoff games.
And what about all the fans, who likely will be asked to travel to a Big Ten championship game, national semifinal and national title game within the span of a month?
"It would be a competitive advantage to have semifinal games at home fields," Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said, "but the bowls have been good to us"
The Big Ten is 34-52 in bowl games since 2000, and 3-8 in the Rose Bowl since the start of the BCS era.
Yep, they've been great to you -- and, hey, who's ready for some more?
The Big Ten sure is, and you can bet the SEC and Pac-12 won't stand in its way.