The Big Ten remains mystifying to the outsider. Our college football Amish, they disdain electricity and the immorality of playing under lights, and yet start the most innovative league-run sports network in the nation. They make buckets of dollars off said network, and then roll nickels around like so many hubcaps when it comes to coaching salaries. They bring the spread offense to life, and yet are appalled by Urban Meyer's recruiting tactics at Ohio State.
The contrasts continue right up to the present moment. Jim Delany just put the Big Ten, long the largest impediment to a plus-one playoff system in college football, in the thick of the playoff discussion. He also reminded everyone of awkward family divorces at the same time. This nausea-inducing combo should just be branded as "Delany," and sold in bottles in local megamarts near you. ("The fragrance is appalling, alluring, and condescending all at the same time. Do not use near eyes. It will blind you.")
This is Jim Phillips of Northwestern, but the tone? Oh, that's pure fart-huffing Big Ten administrator right there.
"We have to listen to the fans; we cannot be tone-deaf," said athletics director Jim Phillips, who chairs the Big Ten's Administrators Council. "The Big Ten is open and curious...There has been a lot of bantering and rhetoric," Phillips said, "but no one has come up with a formal plan."
Except for the plan proposed by the SEC and others in 2008, but we'll skip over facts since they have no place here. What matters is that now you're imagining an open and curious Big Ten investigative committee showing up to Larry Scott's House Of The Future on a Pac-12 beach (probably Malibu). They're all dressed in bondage gear, and kind of pale and hairy, but all still wearing black socks, because white tube socks are for the gym and that's only if you're not wearing sweatpants. The door opens, and Larry Scott and two flawless women on his arms are looking and going, "Man, they totally misread that party invite."
Then they mumble about the Rose Bowl, and Larry suggests they put on some bathrobes from the guest villas.
Where were we? Yes, bondage gear Delany. Or the Big Ten's savvy move to preserve the Rose Bowl while bringing a playoff into view in the form of a four-team mini-bracket. The proposal to free up the semifinal games brings home field advantage into play. We could get a Big Ten team playing at home in friendly, frigid weather, and thus prove the Big Ten fan's pet "SEC defensive linemen will congeal like coconut oil grrrr cold mansomeness" in freezing temps theory right or wrong. It also moves up a potential national title game from its current spot on the ninth, if you care about that.
*We really don't. It's a bit long, but it's not the most criminal element of the college football postseason.
You will also make the selection process itself a controversy, but the selection process is always going to be a controversy at any number. It is a slightly less irrational and slightly more inclusive system, and that is not a bad thing. The next move is eight teams, and if that happens--which it eventually will--then you'll have to deal with the different controversy of being too inclusive. Maybe you're starting to figure out that all endings are difficult, and this is why fiction writers drink and drink heavily. If Stephen King and Neal Stephenson could never figure them out, there is literally zero hope college football can.
The real filthy potential for corruption--our sport's axle grease and totemic salve--sits with the bidding process for the national title game and that selection. The selection process, most likely relying on BCS numbers, will be the usual bad math mixed with faulty human voting and politicking. This can happen largely in the open thanks to the internet and the army of poll nerds examining and often embarrassing voters. (You already know we mean Harris Poll voters, and that is why we love you.)
The bidding process for the title game, however, will happen in the dark between a transmogrified version of the current BCS and the major bowls. If you think the Fiesta Bowl had not whored hard already, oh, you have no idea how hard bowls will whore for this game, doing so largely out of the public eye and under the guise of non-profit status. The powers of the BCS will find themselves in a very familiar situation: short on trust, and long on handjobs. Considering this is the year when Jim Delany finally let the playoffs touch him in that special spot back there*, this would be all too fitting.
*Between his shoulder blades. He's sensitive. What were you thinking, deviant?