Posted: Wednesday May 23, 2012 10:11AM ; Updated: Wednesday May 23, 2012 3:58PM
Stewart Mandel

Realignment, playoff talk dominate Mailbag; plus, some actual football

Story Highlights

There are many reasons for FSU to eye move, but Big 12/SEC bowl isn't one

A playoff featuring only conference champions would hurt the regular season

Plus: breakout/flop teams; Miami's top 10 odds; remembering Bill Stewart

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Florida State would have an easier time advancing to a playoff from the ACC than from the Big 12, where it would have to get by Oklahoma and Texas every year.
Florida State would have an easier time advancing to a playoff from the ACC than from the Big 12, where it would have to get by Oklahoma and Texas every year.
Jimmy DeFlippo/SI
The Mandel Initiative Podcast
Chris Brown, author of "The Essential Smart Football," shares his thoughts on several X's and O's wizards. Stewart and Mallory discuss the latest playoff and realignment rumors.

More Mandel Initiative | Find on

The obvious downside of going with an every-other-week schedule for the first few Mailbags is that there's always the possibility of big news breaking in between editions. Fortunately, all that's happened since May 9 is one of the nation's most prestigious programs openly flirting with a new conference, numerous developments regarding the forthcoming playoff format and two major conferences deciding to start their own bowl game.

Phew. Business as usual.

Do you think FSU will move to the Big 12? Better yet, do you think it should move? With the Big 12 champ now playing the SEC champ, the ACC has essentially become an afterthought in the national title (even more so than it already was).
-- Bret, Tallahassee, Fla.

There are plenty of good reasons for Florida State to join the Big 12 if that conference decides to expand again, but I seem to be in the vast minority of people who fail to see why the new Big 12/SEC bowl is one of them. The announcement was symbolically significant for the reasons I wrote about last week (mainly because it gives those leagues an ally for the current playoff posturing with the Big Ten/Pac-12/Rose Bowl contingent), but as best as I can tell, it did not tangibly affect the ACC in any way.

The ACC hasn't played the Big 12 champion in a bowl since 2000, the SEC champion since 2004. It's not like it lost something there. There's nothing preventing the league from continuing its relationship with the Orange Bowl, if that bowl so chooses. And most importantly: The bowl deal doesn't make it any harder or easier for Florida State (or Virginia Tech, or Miami) to claim a spot among the Football Four in a given year. If the 'Noles go 13-0 or even 12-1 against their typical schedule (which always includes Florida and the past two years included Oklahoma), they're going to be in the mix just as much as the Big 12 champ. Remember: Florida State finished in the top four (post-bowls) 14 straight seasons from 1987-2000, the last nine of those while playing in a nine-team ACC.

For many people, the Big 12/SEC news cemented the notion that there's now a dividing line between the four strongest conferences and everyone else. Since the ACC has been the fifth- and sometimes sixth-strongest conference for most of the decade, this is not a new development. But in the realignment circus, if enough people begin to believe something's true, then it might as well be. Florida State President Eric Barron last week had the audacity to employ facts and reason to dampen the Big 12 buzz, but the effect lasted just a few days before the Big 12/SEC news riled everyone up again.

Ultimately, FSU should make its decision based on whether the financial gain and increasingly stable leadership of the once-dysfunctional Big 12 outweighs the clunkiness and added expense of sending its basketball team to Stillwater, Okla., on a Monday night. Perhaps the school will decide it's no longer possible in today's climate to be a true national football power in a basketball-centric league. Whatever the case, it should not base the move on access to the national title game. If anything, the 'Noles have a better chance of getting to the playoff from the ACC than they would competing against Texas and Oklahoma every year.

Over the years, you have been a huge defender of the college football regular season, so I am surprised that you don't favor a playoff featuring conference champions only. No other proposed playoff plan puts as much emphasis on the regular season. LSU-'Bama last year was exciting primarily because we knew the loser was probably out of the picture. The rematch felt so dirty because it betrayed that memory of believing that everything was on the line in the first game. So ... why the change of heart regarding the importance of the regular season?
-- Mike Nicholas, Kenosha, Wis.

Like the commissioners, you're making a knee-jerk reaction to an incredibly fluky, once-in-14-years scenario. If Oklahoma State or Boise State makes a field goal, or if the first LSU-Alabama game is a 27-24 heart stopper rather than a 9-6 snoozer, my guess is we're not even having this debate. In the rush to endorse any idea that might curb the SEC's recent dominance, we've endorsed several misconceptions, including the notion that a playoff restricted to conference champions better protects the regular season. In reality, it could make parts of the regular season more important, but others less so.

In 2009, for example, Florida clinched the SEC East on Oct. 31. Under the conference champs method, the Gators' entire month of November would have been rendered meaningless, since beating undefeated Alabama in the SEC title game would have ensured its playoff spot. And what about early nonconference games? We get excited for a game like this year's Alabama-Michigan opener in part because it could have ramifications that last the entire season. In Mike's preferred model, if both winner and loser go on to win their conferences, the game might as well have never happened.

The other argument is that limiting the pool to conference champions reduces the impact of subjective polls and rankings, but the sport is still going to need some mechanism to rank the respective champions. And if we select Jim Delany's idea of protecting conference champs in the top six, then we go from a regular season that builds toward a showdown of No. 1 vs. 2 to one where the biggest storyline the last weekend could be whether the Big East champ finishes sixth or seventh. Thanks, but I'll pass.

If protecting the regular season is truly the goal, then college football should follow the English Premier League's model and not have a playoff at all. But if having a playoff is the goal, the single most important priority should be the integrity of the bracket. The more conditions are put on the participants, and the more needlessly complicated the process gets, the more room there will be for inevitable backlash. The polls aren't going away. There's always going to be a general consensus as to the national hierarchy, and the first time No. 6 gets in but No. 3 doesn't ... back to the drawing board we go.

This isn't a new position of mine, as you'll see in this week's Mailbag 10 Year Anniversary Flashback.TM

I found this in the Dec. 9, 2003 Mailbag:

After watching the Big 12 championship game in person, you have to admit that OU really doesn't belong in the national championship picture. If that is the case, why are you not arguing for a major revision of the BCS format, such as requiring all BCS conferences to have a league championship game and mandating that no team that does not win its conference can go on to the national championship?
-- Chris Lovett, Topeka, Kan.

How apropos! The wheel just keeps on spinning!
-- Julie Glover, Shreveport, La.

The Sooners didn't exactly help my argument that year, did they?
Hot Topics: Boston Marathon NBA Playoffs NHL Playoffs LaMarcus Aldridge Dwyane Wade Carlos Gomez
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines, your California privacy rights, and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint