SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/03/2007 01:27:00 AM
Pac-10 Commish Not Dealing in Reality
Thomas C. Hansen fears that a plus-one format would interfere with the Rose Bowl's traditional Pac-10-Big Ten showdown.
Shelly Castellano/Icon SMI
When it comes to college football, I'm what you might call a "semi-traditionalist." I openly embrace many of the more modern elements of the sport -- overtime, conference championship games, spread offenses, etc. -- while at the same time grumbling about Tuesday night TV games, mocking the oversaturated bowl lineup and cherishing what remains of the Big Ten-Pac-10 Rose Bowl.
Pac-10 commissioner Thomas C. Hansen, on the other hand, is what you might call an "ultra-traditionalist." Hansen's affiliation with college football dates back to his years as an undergrad at Washington in the late 1950s. He first worked for the Pac-10 when the league was still called the Athletic Association of Western Universities and had only five members. He's been around long enough to remember when only the conference's champion went to a bowl game and nobody really cared about the "true" national champion.
From his comments over the past few years, one gets the impression he'd gladly return to those days in a heartbeat. At the very least, if he had to do it over, he never would have let his conference and the Rose Bowl get sucked in to the BCS, which disrupted his league's most treasured annual tradition and, on two occasions (2001 Oregon and 2003 USC), jobbed one of its members out of the title game. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Hansen is threatening to cut ties with the BCS if it were to adopt a "plus-one" game (a title game played after all teams' bowl games) when the current contract ends in 2010.
Last week, Hansen told the Sporting News, "Our presidents have no interest whatsoever in a plus-one model -- none. It's a little annoying that my colleagues continue to float this idea as though it has merit. If they continue to push it, and try to push us into a corner ..." What? The Pac-10 would leave the BCS? "Yes," he said. "No question."
Hansen elaborated further during an ESPN Radio appearance on Thursday. "My understanding of a plus-one model is it would include seeding of the teams," said Hansen. "... We oppose it primarily on the basis that we might be seeded out of the Rose Bowl."
Hansen’s comments come in response to a recent New York Post article, citing unnamed conference and network sources, that indicated "support is steadily growing for a plus-one." The article said that the current BCS bowls would rotate hosting two "Final Four" games before the championship, and that a sixth bowl would be added to the lineup.
Keep in mind, the powers-that-be have yet to hold any formal discussions about the future of the BCS, and the majority of the nation's commissioners and athletic directors -- including current BCS coordinator Mike Slive -- have already indicated for some time that they'd be open to the possibility. The fact that the title game has already become a stand-alone entity played a week after New Year's would make for a logical segue.
However, leaders across the sport have also known since long before Hansen's comments that the advent of a plus-one is far from a done deal -- and that the primary opposition will come from the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl.
Hansen said his league was "very reluctant" to sign off on the BCS originally but that "we felt it was in the best interest of college football." Clearly, he does not feel that way about a plus-one. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has made no such threats himself but did say last winter that the league's relationship with the Rose Bowl is "more important than the BCS." Complicating matters is the fact that while the BCS's contract with FOX expires in three seasons, the Rose Bowl has a separate deal with ABC that runs an additional four years.
So what's my opinion all this? Well, the traditionalist in me empathizes with Hansen's protectiveness toward the Rose Bowl and understands why it's so important to him. But the modern realist in me says -- "You've got to be kidding, Tom." Do you really think your members would sign off on a deal that precludes them from playing for the national championship? Their fans would be livid and you'd be run out of town. I love the Rose Bowl, too, but I'm afraid that ship has already sailed.
Ultimately, I see this playing out one of two ways. Either the Rose Bowl factor will prove to be such a significant obstacle that the other BCS conferences will put off reconfiguration until the ABC contract expires. Or, more realistically, the parties will reach some sort of compromise that exempts the Rose Bowl from further dilution. In other words, if the Big Ten or Pac-10 champion is ranked No. 1 or 2, it would still be moved to whatever bowl is hosting the semifinal (which is really no different than today); however, if those teams are No. 3 or 4 (or lower), they'd still play in the Rose Bowl, with the next-rated team moving up to take their spot.
It certainly wouldn't be a perfect solution, but then again, when has the BCS ever been perfect?
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has wasted no time in becoming one of the Pac-10's best interviews.
You’ve got to give Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh a little credit. Just by opening his mouth, he’s managed to create more buzz for Stanford football than anyone since ... jeez, I don’t know. Maybe that trombone player.
Harbaugh raised quite a few eyebrows last Thursday at Pac-10 Media Day when he said of a certain conference member: “There’s no question in my mind that USC is the best team in the country, and they may be the best team in the history of college football.”
Harbaugh, you may recall, also raised a Trojans-related ruckus last spring when he told CBS Sportsline, “Pete Carroll’s only got one more year, though. He’ll be there one more year. That’s what I’ve heard. I heard it [from] inside the [USC] staff.”
As Carroll said when he took his turn at the podium Thursday, “You gotta love Jim, don’t ya?”
While Harbaugh has yet to coach a game, for the most part, I’m already a big fan of his schtick. The guy’s fired up about turning around Stanford, he’s fired up about coaching in the Pac-10 and in his state of perpetual excitement it’s clear the guy will say just about anything to anyone.
But please, Jim, and anyone else who might share his sentiments -- can we cut it with the USC/greatest-of-all-time nonsense already?
You would think everyone would have learned their lesson in 2005, when ESPN spent the better part of Christmas season comparing that Trojans squad to some of the most acclaimed teams of all time only to find out that they weren’t even the best team that season, as Texas defeated USC in the Rose Bowl. I do think that USC team -- in which Matt Leinart was a senior, Reggie Bush and LenDale White were juniors and Dwayne Jarrett was a sophomore -- may have had the greatest set of offensive skill players in history, but it was lacking a pretty key element: A defense.
Fast forward two years, and that’s no longer a problem for the Trojans. With 10 starters returning from the nation’s 11th-ranked scoring defense -- including potential All-Americans Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga -- USC could well field a unit comparable to those great Shaun Cody/Mike Patterson/Lofa Tatupu squads in 2003 and ’04. Throw in a proven QB in John David Booty and an All-American left tackle in Sam Baker, and it’s easy to see why the Trojans are a sure bet for preseason No. 1.
But let’s no go deluding ourselves into thinking the 2007 Trojans are unimpeachable. How quickly we forget USC was held to nine points (by UCLA) just two games ago. Or that the Trojans, despite their endless stable of running backs, struggled to average four yards a carry last season. Or that their most experienced receiver (Patrick Turner) notched a grand total of 272 yards last year.
Don’t get me wrong -- just about every coach in the country would gladly trade his roster for Carroll’s in a heartbeat. Not to mention Turner is a certifiable stud who’s been waiting his turn for two years, and incoming freshman Joe McKnight could upgrade that rushing game in a hurry.
Still, I’d not only dispute Harbaugh’s laughable “greatest ever” assertion, but I don’t even agree with him about there being “no question” the Trojans will be the nation’s best team. Will they start out the favorite? Absolutely. But USC was hardly invincible last year (ask Oregon State and UCLA) and there’s no reason to think they won’t be vulnerable this season, particularly early. They could be perfectly capable of stumbling at Nebraska in mid-September? Or losing to a Pac-10 opponent no one ever would have expected.
Meanwhile, there are any number of other squads -- LSU? West Virginia? Wisconsin? -- that could well play the role of 2005 Texas. Like USC, all appear to be loaded, and like USC, they’re not without their own nagging questions.
But Harbaugh seems pretty confident in predicting the Trojans’ future -- both on the field and off it. Perhaps he’s a psychic. Or perhaps he’s psychotic.