John Klein: College playoff system gives Tulsa, C-USA schools a shot
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, July 08, 2012
7/08/12 at 4:59 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Playoff system should help C-USA and Tulsa
Conference USA, league home of the University of Tulsa, has new life and rejuvenated hope for fairness in the BCS after the decision to go to a four-team playoff.
"This is a very big step for us," said Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky. "We now have the very real possibility of an undefeated team from our conference being considered.
"We now have the possibility of a team from our league being in the national championship conversation."
C-USA, considered one of the have-nots in the current BCS structure, will become a virtual equal member when the four-team playoff is implemented in 2014.
In the old BCS system, which has two more seasons before the change, there were six leagues with automatic spots in the BCS bowl system. Those six conferences - Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC and Big East - had a virtual monopoly on the BCS system and in the BCS championship game.
That now changes as the automatic qualifying system under the old BCS format will be gone in two years.
It is what leagues like C-USA have been dreaming of for years. The perceived wall between the power conferences and all others has apparently been knocked down.
This is hope that finally there is access for all. Anyway, that's our hope.
Now, in theory at least, every league and every school will have an equal chance at the four-team playoff.
Realistically, the power conferences will still have the advantages. Schools from the big leagues, like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the Big 12, will have the natural advantage of playing in better football conferences.
As a result, the Sooners and Cowboys, along with all of the Big 12 schools, have the natural advantage of strength of schedule.
So, an 11-1 team from the Big 12 is always going to get more consideration than an 11-1 team from C-USA.
However, in the new system, the old perceptions of AQ vs. non-AQ teams are gone.
"The old system, with the AQ and non-AQ, was very difficult for us," said Banowsky. "To be honest, it was just a negative branding for our universities.
"There was no reason for it. It was a branding that labeled some schools worthy and other schools unworthy. That label as unworthy was very damaging."
Just the expansion of the BCS championship system from two to four teams is good for Conference USA.
"Getting a team into the No. 1 or No. 2 position in the old system was pretty impossible," said Banowsky. "It was just hard to imagine us getting a team into one of those two spots.
"The strength of schedule by itself pretty much guaranteed that we had little chance of getting into that game."
However, getting into a top four is not out of the question.
Of course, it won't be easy.
It will take a school in the perceived smaller football conferences playing a difficult nonconference schedule and then sweeping through its schedule without a loss.
"The schools in our league understand that," said Banowsky. "Schools in our league have done that.
"I think you can look at Tulsa. They played Oklahoma last year."
In fact, the Golden Hurricane played top-10 teams last fall in the first month of the season - Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. Then, TU played another top-10 team to end the regular season - Houston.
"I don't think there will be a big adjustment for our teams," said Banowsky. "Our teams have been playing challenging games in the nonconference season."
That's true. Winning those games and then sweeping through as an unbeaten is a big challenge.
A Big 12 or SEC team will almost assuredly be allowed a loss and still reach the final four. In fact, in last year's final regular season BCS rankings, three of the top four had a loss - Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford.
However, if recent BCS rankings are any indication, there will be opportunities for Conference USA, Mountain West and other teams from non-power leagues.
If there had been a four-team playoff in 2009 and 2010, and the current BCS formula was used, then TCU out of the Mountain West Conference would have been in a four-team playoff.
"There's no doubt in my mind that this new four-team playoff is a great thing for college football," said Banowsky. "The playoff structure is so much better than the old BCS structure.
"It has been a tremendous process for all of us in college football. We have reached a level of consensus of what is best for college football. That is good for all of us."
Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky says the upcoming four-team playoff in college football will help the league. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World file