Posted: Wednesday December 7, 2011 12:14PM ; Updated: Wednesday December 7, 2011 5:54PM
Stewart Mandel

All-SEC title game could pave way to plus-one system; more Mailbag

Story Highlights

Dissatisfaction with LSU-Alabama rematch could finally lead to BCS change

Sugar Bowl made poor choice, but bowls shouldn't be forced to take teams

Plus: Big East expansion, UCLA coaching search, Montee Ball's record, more

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The SEC's success has left five other conferences competing for one BCS title game spot on an annual basis; this season, that spot also went to the SEC.
The SEC's success has left five other conferences competing for one BCS title game spot on an annual basis; this season, that spot also went to the SEC.
Derick E. Hingle/US PRESSWIRE
The Mandel Initiative Podcast's Chris Huston explains how RG3 surged to the top of this year's Heisman race. Stewart and Mallory take their shots at the BCS.

More Mandel Initiative | Find on

Every time there's been some sort of controversy over the final BCS outcome (read: most seasons), people have inevitably asked me: "Is THIS the nightmare that finally cracks the BCS?" And of course I always reply: "No. The thing's been a train wreck for 13 years. Why do you think this year would be any different?"

Well folks, I don't want to get your hopes up, but ... that year may finally have arrived.

Being a 'Bama fan I am glad that the Tide are in it, but Mike Slive tried to push for a plus-one in 2008 and got shot down by every conference except the ACC. If the conferences had to vote today on it, do you think that the Big 12 and the Pac 12 would vote in favor of it? It would have been nice to see LSU vs. Stanford and 'Bama vs. Oklahoma State.
-- Shawn Stroud, Montgomery, Ala.

It's amusing that Slive, the commissioner whose conference least needs an expanded bracket, was the one who proposed the plus-one (with the backing of ACC counterpart John Swofford). There's definitely some (non)buyer's remorse right now. As Andy Staples reported, Big 12 athletic directors voted informally Monday to throw their support behind a plus-one, and it's no coincidence that the vote came just a day after one of their schools got nudged out for No. 2. Mind you, the Big 12's presidents have the final say. Former commissioner Dan Beebe was actually open to Slive's proposal, but the presidents shot down the possibility last time. They trotted out the same excuse as then Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese: Expanding to four would inevitably lead to eight, which would lead to 16, and we're just going to put a stop to it here and now, gosh darn it.

But in 2008, the commissioners, athletic directors and presidents couldn't have foreseen the way the SEC would take over the sport in the ensuing five years, culminating in this season's intraconference national championship game. While there are countless reasons 'Bama held off Oklahoma State for No. 2, it largely boils down to this fact: The SEC has won the thing so many times and against so many conferences that it's achieved nearly unconditional benefit of the doubt when compared to other leagues. SEC teams have beaten high-powered Big 12 and Pac-12 offenses and run roughshod over physical Big Ten defenses. No matter how drastically Oklahoma State's body of work trumped Alabama's, voters simply couldn't embrace the possibility that the Cowboys were a better football team than the Crimson Tide. There's too much history that suggests otherwise.

It's already become a given that the SEC champion will earn a spot in the Big Game every year until someone beats it ... but two SEC teams? If you're the commissioner of another conference who places any priority whatsoever on giving your member schools an opportunity to compete for championships, you have no choice at this point but to support expanding to four. This year's outcome may be an anomaly, but we've still reached a point where five other conferences are now competing for one available spot. Going to a plus-one creates opportunities for two or three other leagues to prove themselves against the SEC's best.

The commissioners have a lot of issues to address before negotiating the next BCS contract (including the possible elimination of automatic qualifiers and the likely addition of a fifth bowl) before they even get to the plus-one. But we may finally be reaching a point where plus-one supporters outnumber opponents. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany remains the chief opposition. I don't think he views the national championship as a particularly important priority. He's perfectly content with a season like this one, where his conference gets 10 bowl berths and two BCS bids, his league's championship game is exciting and Wisconsin plays in the Rose Bowl. But the Big Ten does everything in lock-step with the Pac-12, which is why Larry Scott could be the key swing vote. If he sees a way to improve his league's access to the title game while still maintaining its Rose Bowl relationship, he and his presidents just might go for it. And if they do, the Big Ten might have no choice but to follow. Keep your fingers crossed.

Stewart, Mark Blaudschun at The Boston Globe and Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times want a true plus-one in which everybody plays in their traditional bowl games (Big Ten, Pac-12 to the Rose; SEC to the Sugar, etc.). Then the top two teams that survive the bowls play for the national championship. This is what I want too. It's better than The Mandel Plan. It's simpler than The Mandel Plan. Plus, the bowls regain their luster and relevance.
-- Scott Saxton, LaSalle, Ontario

I respect the heck out of both those guys, but they're being wistful for a bygone era. Now that the sport has created the first vestige of a bracket by staging a 1 vs. 2 game, it's never going back. And believe me, by pitting 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3, The Mandel Plan is going to provide better games. Here's what it would look like this year: (Read last month's column for a primer or refresher on the selection process.)

• Dec. 31 Cotton: No. 7 Boise State vs. No. 8 Kansas State
• Dec. 31 Sugar: No. 6 Arkansas vs. No. 13 Michigan
• Jan. 2 Orange: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Stanford
• Jan. 2 Rose: No. 5 Oregon vs. No. 10 Wisconsin
• Jan. 2 Fiesta: No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State
• Jan. 9 title game (New Orleans): Fiesta Bowl winner vs. Orange Bowl winner

Note that this plus-one uses solely the BCS standings. In my ideal world, there would be a selection committee to choose the semifinal participants, and that committee could well decide that Oregon, as Pac-12 champ, deserves Stanford's spot against LSU. If so the Cardinal would move to the Rose Bowl.

Stewart, everyone is arguing the Oklahoma State or Alabama controversy at the moment, but isn't the bigger crime with the BCS system this year the Virginia Tech affair? If the system insists that the BCS rankings are used to determine the 1-2 matchup, shouldn't it also force the other BCS bowls to invite teams based on said rankings instead of allowing them to invite whomever they want, rankings be damned?
-- Mark L, Baltimore

I've made my displeasure with the Sugar Bowl's decision well known, but no, I don't think bowls should be forced to take certain teams. They're still independent businesses under pressure to sell tickets, raise sponsorship dollars and maximize television audiences, and they should take the teams they feel will best help them achieve that. In fact, they're already under too many restrictions as it is, which is why the Sugar Bowl came within a game of having Houston forced on it and the Orange Bowl got stuck with No. 23 West Virginia.

Still, considering how much criticism the bowl business has faced over the past 14 months -- from the publication of Death to the BCS, to last year's Sugar Bowl/Tattoo Five debacle, to the Fiesta Bowl corruption scandal -- it's mind-boggling that bowl execs keep making decisions that open them up to even greater backlash. The public does not want a Michigan-Virginia Tech matchup. I've seen and heard that quite loudly since Sunday night. It would, however, eat up a chance to watch Denard Robinson go against Kellen Moore. Boise-Michigan would have been arguably the most appealing matchup outside of the title game. But the Sugar Bowl committee probably still views Boise as a second-rate outfit. The Sugar brass are either completely out of touch with the public's interest, or they just don't care. And that is the BCS' biggest problem.
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