Report: conferences narrow postseason preferences to four

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With the clock ticking toward a resolution to major college football’s postseason future, it appears the men who will make recommendations to their collective bosses have whittled their original to-do list down from what was originally 50-60 possibilities to a manageable handful.

Included in that list?  A format that could include three semifinal games.  And, yes, you read that correctly.

According to Steve Weinberg of USA Today, and based on an outline obtained by the paper, BcS officials and conference commissioners have turned their focus to four options for college football’s postseason beginning in 2014, the season after the current BcS cycles ends.  The two-page summary obtained by the paper, prepared ahead of the next set of scheduled meetings on the issue later this month, states that while no options have been eliminated from consideration, there are four that are currently classified as the preference of the collective.

Below are the four preferences as outlined by the paper, with how each would’ve played out in 2011 as well as the individual format’s viability:

1. Status quo, using the system that’s been in place for a decade to determine a national champion.

Last year: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama, of course.

Viability: The fact it’s even one of the preferences is eyebrow raising to say the least, especially given the comments of late by many in positions of power that they sense a movement to shift away from the BcS and into some type of playoff.  While an unchanged postseason remains a far-fetched proposition, no one should ever put it past the “leaders” in the sport to conclude that all is well with the current system.  Especially when those very same leaders are considering…

2. A four-team playoff consisting of the four highest-ranked teams that would include two semifinal games… unless one or both of the champions from the Big Ten and Pac-12 are among the four highest-ranked teams, at which point the Rose Bowl would become a third semifinal game.  The next highest-ranked team(s) would replace the Big Ten/Pac-12 champs in one of the two true semifinal games, with the title game finalists being determined after those three “semifinals” have been played.  How it would be determined which two of the three winners would play in the title game is unclear.

Last year: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Stanford, No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State.  There would’ve been no third semifinal game as the Cardinal was not the Pac-12 champion; that honor went to Oregon, which won the inaugural conference championship game but was ranked No. 5 in the final regular season BcS rankings.  Whether the format would’ve impacted how the voters ranked Stanford/Oregon at the end of the regular/championship-game season is a matter that’s certainly up for debate.

Viability: ROTFLMAO!!!  LULZ!!!  Or whatever mocking ‘Net shorthand you want to attach to the mere idea that this was something proposed, let alone apparently being seriously considered.  Suffice to say, this proposal has Jim Delany‘s haughty ego written all over it, with a sprinkling of his Pac-12 counterpart, Larry Scott, thrown in for good measure.  In no way, shape or form is a format that includes three semifinal games an acceptable change.  Then again, the Big Ten has 12 members, so that conference has not been historically shy about flouting mathematics.  Based on this proposal, and the fact that the status quo is reportedly a serious consideration, it’s hard to believe the game’s leaders will do anything but — some how, some way — screw-up the future of college football’s postseason.  Short of reverting back to the old bowl system, I didn’t think that was even a remote possibility.

3. A true plus-one format, with the two participants in a title game squaring off after their bowl games have been completed.

Last year: It’s impossible — with any degree of accuracy, anyway — to determine how this format would’ve played out.  It’s fair to say that, if LSU and Alabama had both won their respective BcS bowls, they would’ve met for the crystal under this format.

Viability: This format has long enjoyed significant support among some of those with influence on the game’s future.  It’s far from optimal, but would have to be considered progress when compared to the status quo.  Or a three-semifinal format.

4. A seeded, four-team playoff.

Last year: Assuming the seeding is determined by the highest rankings, and not limited to conference champions-only as some want, the participants would look exactly the same as Option No. 2.

Viability: Common sense would suggest that, short of an eight-team playoff, this would be far and away the best option for getting beyond the current system.  Then again, with two of the options listed above reportedly in play, common sense may not have a seat at the table that will determine the future of the postseason.

As far as the latter proposal is concerned, there are still myriad details to refine if it’s in fact the format that is ultimately agreed upon.  USA Today details some of those too-be-determined issues:

• Fold entirely into existing bowls.

• Stage the semifinals and title game at neutral sites selected through a bidding process. A bowl or bowls could buy in, hosting the games atop their own annual events.

• Place semifinals in bowls, bidding out the championship site.

• Or play semifinals at campus sites, again bidding out the title game.

Also still to be worked out is the team-selection process. Will the BCS let its mathematical rankings — melding polls and computer ratings — determine who makes a four-team playoff cut? Will it change that formula? Could it go to a selection committee instead?

If I were the commissioner of college football, and an eight-team — or six- or 16-team or any other number plucked out of the air– playoff were not part of the equation?  A seeded four-team playoff involving the three highest-ranked conference winners plus the highest-ranked team that did not win its conference — unless the four highest-ranked teams are all conference winners, of course — with the latter team being the lowest seed regardless of its ranking to the other three teams.  Play the semifinal game in the home stadiums of the two top-seeded teams, with the title game bid out to cities on an annual basis.  Such a format would add some needed value to winning your conference and, with just four teams taking out of the selection pool, the bowls — Rose and otherwise — would survive just fine if such a limited playoff were implemented.

Getting back to the idea of an eight-team — or even larger — playoff format, and because I know it will be mentioned in the comments section below this post, anything above a four-team playoff, while it’s not necessarily been issued a death certificate, is on life support and family and friends have been called home to say their final goodbyes.

“The underlying theme of all this,” BcS executive director Bill Hancock (pictured) said, referring to little support for a format that would involve more than four teams, “is to protect the regular season. That keeps coming up and keeps coming up and keeps coming up. We have the best regular season in sports, and we don’t want to mess with it.”

Some would say that argument went out the window with this past season’s title game matchup, but that’s another story for another day.

A final decision from school presidents and conference commissioners on exactly how the postseason will look in 2014 and beyond is expected at some point before the end of summer this year.

Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis potentially out for spring

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was optimistic about wide receiver Kyle Davis returning to the team at some point this spring, but the tune has changed regarding his future. Malzahn is now saying Davis may be out for the remainder of Auburn’s spring practices due to personal reasons.

“Kyle Davis is still taking care of some personal business,” Malzahn said, according to SEC Country. “I’m not for sure if he’s going to be back before the end of the spring. He will be back for the fall, just taking a little bit longer than we initially thought.”

It was just a few weeks ago Malzahn said Davis was going to be out for the start of spring practices, which are now close to half over. For now, the plan is simply to have him return over the summer in preparation for the fall.

In the meantime, Malzahn confirmed John Franklin III is working primarily as a wide receiver, which had previously been suspected to be the case.

Penn State announces three captains for 2017 season

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With Penn State just about to get started with spring football practices, head coach James Franklin wasted no time in naming his captains for the 2017 season. Quarterback Trace McSorley, linebacker Jason Cabinda, and safety Nick Scott have been voted captains by their peers on the team.

“These three young men have been leaders in our program, on and off the field,” Franklin said in a released statement. “They live our four core values and act with the program’s best interest in mind. Our team is in good hands with these guys!”

McSorley took over the offense as Penn State’s starting quarterback in 2016. A bit of a mystery to most entering the season after being the backup to Christian Hackenberg, McSorley ended his 2016 season with a Big Ten-leading 3,614 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and played a key role in guiding Penn State to a late run to a Big Ten championship and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. He enters the 2017 season as one of the top quarterbacks returning to the Big Ten, along with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.

Cabinda, an All-Big Ten third team player in 2016, was Penn State’s third-leading tackler last season with 81 tackles. He accumulated that many tackles despite missing five games due to injury. He is slated to be the leader in the middle of the Penn State defense with a starting role already locked down and will look to help guide some younger linebackers stepping into key roles in the defense this upcoming season, such as Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer.

Scott has been a special teams leader for Penn State and is expected to continue to lead the special teams effort once again this season.

New Arkansas house bill will allow some concealed guns at football games

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill regarding a person’s ability to carry a concealed handgun into various buildings at a public university or college into state law. However, House Bill 1249 will not allow all legal gun owners to carry a gun to a football game in the state of Arkansas.

Football games will be considered a “sensitive area,” which require enhanced training in order to be allowed to carry a gun into a football stadium. The law supposedly trumps any provisions already in place to prevent guns from being allowed on the premises.

“The enhanced level of training is very important, and I am convinced the public will be more safe,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This bill, in my view, reflects the view of the general assembly.”

The bill has received praise from Arkansas Republican state representative Charlie Collins and the NRA.

While the bill has now become an act in the state, it will not go into effect until January 2018, so guns will still not be allowed in football games where Arkansas, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Central Arkansas during the 2017 season.

The news of the new Arkansas state law comes on the same day the SEC has just unveiled a new clear bag policy for football games in the 2017 season. How the SEC handles this latest state law within its footprint remains to be seen (as well as the Sun Belt Conference). The bigger question will be where the SEC stands on this law considered the law is designed to overrule any stadium policies. The way the law is written, the SEC may not be able to do much to stand in the way, but the conference has those clear bag policies hammered down, rest assured.

Kentucky hands Mark Stoops a two-year contract extension

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After guiding Kentucky through its best season in nearly a decade, Mark Stoops has been rewarded.

Kentucky announced Wednesday afternoon that Stoops’ contract has been extended by two years.  The head coach’s previous deal had been set to run through June 30, 2020; the extension pushes that date out to June 30, 2020.

Stoops will earn $3.5 million in 2017, with the new contract calling for annual $250,000 raises.  In the last year of the contract extension, and barring any additional tweaking, Stoops could earn $4.75 million.

Additionally, if the Wildcats win at least seven games but no more than nine in a season, the contract automatically extends by one year.  If the team wins 10-plus games, it extends by two years. “Stoops will continue to receive $250,000 for each win beginning with the seventh win of each season and $50,000 per semester in which the team grade-point average is 2.75 or higher,” the release stated.

Participation in an SEC-affiliated bowl will net Stoops a $100,000 bonus, provided the Wildcats win at least six games that season.  There’s also a $50,000 bonus for earning a spot in a non-SEC bowl game, with the same six-win threshold.  Last season, UK qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Stoops and the first time under anyone since 2010.

“The last four years have been a grind for Mark and his staff, but he has never wavered in his commitment to building Kentucky football into a consistent winner,” a statement from athletic director Mitch Barnhart began. “While the work isn’t close to finished, we believe Mark is the coach to take us there. We are thankful to Mark and Chantel for all they have done to this point and we look forward to our program’s bright future under his leadership.”

The Wildcats’ 7-6 record last season was the program’s best since hitting the same mark in the last season under Rich Brooks in 2009.  The first three seasons with Stoops in control, UK posted a 12-24 mark.

In SEC play, they are just 8-24 since 2013, although they were 4-4 in conference play this past season.  The Wildcats have finished seventh (2013), sixth (2014), tied-fourth (2015) and tied-second (2016) in league play with Stoops as head coach.

“I want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and the Board of Trustees for their continued support,” Stoops said. “When we came here, doing a rebuild in a challenging situation, I said that full support from everyone involved was imperative and we have always received that. We needed great commitment, we’ve had great commitment and we’re continuing to get great commitment.”

If Stoops is fired by UK, he’s entitled to receive 75 percent of the remaining guaranteed compensation on the contract.  If Stoops leaves of his own accord, he’d owe the university $1 million regardless of how many years are left on the deal.