A reader, Andrew, poses this question regarding the recent decision by the Pac-12 presidents not to go looking for any more Big 12 teams (at least temporarily): Will that hurt the league’s chances of advancing to the BCS national-title game?
“In my opinion,” he writes, “that while adding the 4 Southern Plains schools would have undoubtedly made it significantly more difficult for the original Pac-10 members to win the conference, it would have significantly enhanced the rewards for doing so.
“Consider four Pac-10 teams from the past decade who were denied a chance to play for the national title despite having resumes that rivaled at least one of the teams who did. Of those 4 teams, 3 of them would have had considerably more control over their own destiny by having an opportunity to play a really quality opponent in the Pac-12 title game. Here are the 4 scenarios (the italics supplied are mine):
“In 2000, Washington was denied an opportunity to play for the national title despite a resume similar to both Florida State & Miami, but in a Pac-16 format would have undoubtedly controlled their own destiny through a matchup with Oklahoma in the Pac-16 title game.”
The final regular-season BCS standings had Oklahoma (12-0) No. 1, Florida State (10-1) second and Miami (10-1) third. Washington was fourth at 10-1.
“In 2001, Oregon was denied the same opportunity despite a better resume than Nebraska, but in a Pac-16 format would have controlled more of its own destiny through a matchup with Colorado or Texas in the Pac-16 title game.”
This was the bizarre year in which Nebraska played in the title game despite not having played in the Big 12 title game, courtesy of a 62-36 blowout at the hands of Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving. In the last regular-season BCS standings, Miami (11-0) was No. 1, followed by Nebraska (11-1), Colorado (9-2) and Oregon (10-1).
“In 2003, USC was denied the same opportunity despite a resume that equaled that of LSU, but in a Pac-16 format would have undeniably controlled its own destiny through a matchup with Oklahoma in the Pac-16 title game.”
Oklahoma (12-1) was No. 1 in the last regular-season BCS reckoning – despite getting creamed 35-7 in the Big 12 title game by Kansas State – while LSU was second at 12-1 and USC third at 11-1. This was the strange year in which the Trojans topped both the AP and USA Today (coaches) polls, didn’t play in the BCS title game and yet claimed half a title by finishing atop the AP poll.
“In 2008, USC was denied the same opportunity despite a resume that equaled those of both Florida & Oklahoma, but in the Pac-16 format would have undeniably controlled its own destiny through a matchup with Oklahoma in the Pac-16 title game.”
USC (11-1) was fifth in the last BCS regular-season standings, with Oklahoma at the top and Florida No. 2, each with 12-1 records.
“It is a deep fear of mine,” Andrew concludes, “that one day my Washington Huskies might have another really good year (say 11-1) but that their conference title game will not be strong enough to vault them into the title game, whereas a conference title game in a Pac-16 would have been . . .”
Best response I can muster is that a Pac-16 title game would have kicked the ante up and increased the risk/reward factor. Sure, a victory in 2000 by the Huskies over Oklahoma would likely have propelled Washington into the national-title game.
But in the current format of home-field hosts, the Huskies would have had to play the game in Norman, greatly decreasing the odds of success against the future national champions. And if they had lost, it would have dropped them to 10-2 and lower in the polls than the Pac-10 tri-champion, Oregon State, so the Beavers likely would have made the Rose Bowl trip instead of Washington. So: Risk/reward.
You’d also have to factor in the potential extra damage that could be done by having to play an Oklahoma or Texas in the regular season before the league-title game. Again, win the game, and it’s great, but lose, and you might find yourself headed for the Alamo Bowl.
To be honest, I doubt the presidents even gave this a moment’s thought. They’re concerned about image, academic liaisons, and cash flow. And the presence of a team in the national-title game, as opposed to simply being in a BCS game, does little or nothing financially in the sense of BCS payouts (no doubt it would get donors fired up to open their billfolds, however).