BCS teleconference Q&A with Mike Slive

BCS Coordinator (and SEC Commissioner) Mike Slive answers questions about this year’s BCS selections.

CHARLES BLOOM:  Welcome to today’s Bowl Championship Series media conference call with BCS coordinator and Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.  The purpose of today’s call is to review and answer any questions about the selection process for the BCS Bowls.  We will start today’s media teleconference with opening remarks from Commissioner Slive before taking your questions.  Commissioner?

MIKE SLIVE:  Thanks, Charles.  Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate your joining us today for the call.  It is an understatement to say that it’s been an exciting, probably more appropriately, an intriguing football season, as you all have chronicled throughout the fall.

The coming weekend will be no different.  It’s interesting to note that in the seven weeks of the BCS standings there have been eight different teams ranked one and two and that that number consists of at least one team from six different conferences.

This weekend ten of the top 14 teams in the BCS standings will be playing Saturday and six of the top 14 will be playing against one another.  In addition, we’ve got several rivalry games involving teams in the top 14, such as West Virginia and Pittsburgh, USC-UCLA and Arizona-Arizona State.

One of the purposes of this call is to try and answer questions you might have about the selection process.  For those of you who are familiar with the selection process, there is only one change from last year, and I think that’s been publicized pretty well over the last few weeks, so if there are fewer than ten teams eligible for selection, we would expand the pool from 14 to the top 18 teams in the BCS standings.  So that’s the only change in the selection process.

So with these brief remarks, we can open it up to questions.

Q.  What’s your feeling on the fairness aspect of teams that have Conference Championship games and conferences that don’t have Conference Championship games in terms of getting into the BCS?

MIKE SLIVE:  That’s a good question.  I’ve been asked that question a lot this week, and when I think back to the beginning, when the BCS was created, one of the tenets of the BCS was that each conference would have the right to determine how it determined its own champions, and so therefore we’ve got different ways of doing it.

You know, I’m comfortable with that.  There obviously are—there’s different points of view, but I’m comfortable with it because I think it really reflects the uniqueness of each conference.  In every part of the country it’s different.  For example, in our part of the world, our championship game is a huge celebration of SEC football.  We sell the game out in the wintertime and it doesn’t matter who’s playing, and it’s been very successful for us.

So I guess in the Big Ten, in the Pac-10, they’ve got their tradition and they don’t want to have a championship game.  I think that’s okay.  The BCS was not designed to create a monolithic structure where everybody has to do exactly the same thing to determine its champion.

Q.  Are you comfortable with a non-division winner getting a championship game?

MIKE SLIVE:  Yeah, I think so.  I think you’ve got a situation where we’re trying to be consistent with the BCS standings as the polls and the computers put them forth, and to have an asterisk on whether or not somebody should be a division champion or a conference champion could potentially change that, particularly in leagues that don’t have championship games and who don’t play one another, and then you could end up with tiebreakers.  You could create a lot of scenarios where if you had the requirement for a champion to be in the championship where you really would not have the full body of work of a team and then you really wouldn’t have the two best teams playing for the National Championship.

Q.  I’ve got a quick question on the parity, and this season is a prime example of that, and college football is so great, and it seems that it’s only going to get greater as each passing year comes along.  Does there need to be an adjustment in the way we determine who plays for the National Championship?  Is a playoff system in the offing down the road somewhere?  Is the parity in college football almost begging for that now?

MIKE SLIVE:  You know, let me answer that in a couple of ways.  I don’t see what I would call an NFL-style playoff in the offing, and for lots of reasons, and if you want to go into all the details we can, but let me move to another thought.

Ever since I talked with the football writers in January of 2006, this is me talking, I have been open-minded about whether or not we could modify the format into something that’s become known to be the so-called +1, and I reiterated that to the football writers last year, and I will reiterate it again on January the 7th when I have the chance to talk with them.

You know, we are looking at that as a potential option for some modification, but I don’t see anything beyond that.  And I’m not saying that can’t happen, but I’m certainly open-minded and at least from my perspective looking very, very hard drilling down into that concept.

Q.  Do you think that it’s more likely to happen now than it may have ever been in the past, that +1 model?

MIKE SLIVE:  I can’t say that, you know, because there’s no perfect—I mean, a playoff or a +1 or what we have now, there’s nothing perfect.  I think the goal here is for me, the question I have for myself is whether or not—I’d like to phrase it this way.  Rather than talking about a playoff I’d like to phrase it is one and two enough, and I have three concepts that I always say that for me personally are important.

One is protect the regular season.  It is the greatest regular season in all of sport, and there’s just no doubt about it.  It might be trite to say there’s a playoff every weekend, but there is.

Secondly, we value the Bowl system.  It gives a lot of student athletes an opportunity to compete for additional championships.

And thirdly, there’s an academic component.  I know there are cynics about that, but there’s an academic component, and we are going to keep football as a one-semester sport.  So having said that, if we can do those things and the current way we play our championship game, one week later, certainly is a super structure that could be modified into a +1.

I hope that addresses your question.

Q.  I’ve got a couple of questions.  First of all, you’ve already mentioned that you may have to extend the number of eligible teams out to 17 and 18, and yet you’ve got a situation where a Florida that will wind up in the top ten is ineligible.  Do you think this might lead to the conferences allowing a second at-large team from the conference?

MIKE SLIVE:  Yeah, that’s a good question, and it came up two years ago in our spring meetings, and it came up again in April.  We’ve really talked about it and thought about it, and I just don’t see a change, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that the BCS is part of a much larger Bowl structure, and as you know, all of us have Bowl relationships that are important and significant to us.  So I really don’t see that happening.

Secondly, the way it is done now with the limitation, it does give opportunities to spread out the difference conferences with opportunities to play in the BCS.

Q.  Second question is there’s a lot of interest in a city’s ability to be a double hosting city, especially New Orleans this time.  What is your impression right now of New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl preparation level?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, our impressions up to this point are very positive.  I know that some of the football writers and Charles and Bill Hancock and others went to New Orleans not long ago and came away very favorably impressed.  So right now we are very comfortable that Paul and his folks are doing a good job and that they will successfully host the games.

There’s another element to it that I’ve said, and you’ve heard me say this and I’ll say it once more.  I see this as an opportunity not only for us to have a great Sugar Bowl and a great National Championship game, but it’s an opportunity for those of us who are involved in the media to come to New Orleans and make a significant contribution to the recovery of the city by being there, by publicizing what’s happening there and the efforts that people are making to recover.

As you and I talk here, I’m very comfortable with where we are.

Q.  Do you get a sense from either any feedback or what you’ve read, it seems like the BCS ranking system is not as much of a controversy as it used to be.  The discussions seem to be, from what I can tell, more talking about who’s going to win and lose rather than the computers or the polls or whatever.  Do you get a sense that maybe at least right now there’s not much complaining about the actual BCS rankings?

MIKE SLIVE:  Yeah, I do get that impression.  I get that impression, and I get the impression, as well, that the interest in college football has been so positive and so—attendance is up, ratings are up, interest is up, and I think—you know, I said to you and some others that it’s interesting because even if you don’t like the BCS you’re going to have to admit that it’s made a contribution to the interest in college football.  And one of the things I always cite is take a game as important now as Hawaii and Boise State; 15 years ago that would have been an important game in the region and to the fans, but now that game is a national game, and I think there is some appreciation for that.  I’m about where you are.

Q.  I was just wondering how you feel about the BCS, that it doesn’t favor some SEC teams sometimes.  I was just wondering how you felt about that.

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, I think that—let me put it to you this way.  Several years ago when Auburn was undefeated and didn’t make the National Championship game, I began to think about options and formats, and the whole thing about remember the Alamo, but we remember Auburn.  I think my comments about the +1 probably reflect my feelings going back to that time.

Q.  And also, another question was you mentioned earlier about another at-large team getting in there because of an un-Bowl eligible team being highly ranked or whatever, but I was wondering more so like you have the Rose Bowl which is traditionally—tends to be a Big Ten team and a Pac-10 team, if in this case Ohio State would get moved up to the National Championship game, how that works?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, one of the things I can’t do on a call like this is speculate about who’s going to do what and how it’s going to happen.  We’re just going to have to see what happens and who wins and who loses on Saturday and then what happens on the standings on Sunday and see what each Bowl decides to do.  There’s no way that I can pre-determine what a Bowl is going to do under a given set of circumstances.

Q.  You mentioned all these—that you’ve got your Bowl ties obviously with the other Bowls you have great relationships with.  How hard do you think it is in your case and in the Big Ten’s case, the CapitalOne, they’re sitting there waiting to see how that falls, and what do you say to them to maybe ease their anxiousness during this stretch?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, we’ve obviously been there with them, and if they had their druthers they’d like to know yesterday so they can do what they want to do and what they do so well.  But they also understand the process that we’re under, and that’s been in place now for ten years, and I think they’ve got used to it.  In a perfect world they would prefer to get started earlier, but they know that’s not going to happen.

Q.  And you’ve got obviously the dual role, you’re commissioner of a conference, and then also you’re in charge of the BCS.  Do those roles sometimes maybe in this case conflict a little bit?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, we talked on this call last year about that, about wearing two hats.  They don’t really conflict because the role of the coordinator, the term "coordinator" is an apt name for this role.  My role is to make sure that the games get played and to make sure things go smoothly and all the relationships are in place and coordinate the BCS, and I don’t have a vote.

I will find out sometime early Sunday afternoon exactly who’s playing in the championship game.  I don’t vote, I have nothing to say about it, I don’t communicate with the pollsters or the computer guys.

At this point in time obviously I wear two hats, but they’re really very separate.

Q.  One last question, I just want to clarify.  The Big East is not tied to the host of any Bowl game; is that correct?

MIKE SLIVE:  That’s correct.

Q.  They’re the one open of the six?

MIKE SLIVE:  That’s correct.

Q.  I figured ACC is the Orange Bowl lock, correct?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, the way it works is that the ACC is the host conference for the Orange Bowl like we are for the Sugar Bowl, like the Big 12 is the Fiesta, and the Pac-10 and Big Ten are the Rose Bowl, so the Big East does not have a Bowl host relationship.

Q.  You mentioned Boise and Hawaii a little bit earlier.  Does the fact that you had Boise last year and that Hawaii is in position to be in this year, does that pretty much justify the adjustment to the access points that were made two or three years ago?  Is it working well and as it should?

MIKE SLIVE:  Yeah, I think it is.  I think Boise last year, a very fine football teamed and proved it.  Hawaii has had a great season, and I think by moving from 6 to 12 we have even created more interest in the BCS and spread it around.  So I think it’s worked out the way it was anticipated.

Q.  At the same time it’s anticipated that if Hawaii is eligible, two or I guess three if you count the Rose Bowl is going to pass over them and they’ll be left with the Sugar Bowl.  Are there still detriments to those schools that they have to face as far as their ability to sell tickets, attract TV viewers and so forth?

MIKE SLIVE:  I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean.

Q.  What I’m saying is that Hawaii, the Sugar Bowl has the final team left.

MIKE SLIVE:  They have the last selection this year.

Q.  And that’s pretty well assumed that’s going to be Hawaii if they win.  Does that show that these schools are still regarded by the Bowls who will pass over them as the least desirable to be in a game?

MIKE SLIVE:  I don’t think you can say that because you don’t really know what rationale that people have in selecting teams.  One of the things I don’t try to do is categorize teams.  The Bowls have a selection right and they’ll exercise it, and when you’re talking to the Bowls they have a whole lot of different reasons for selecting teams.  As you know, they’ve got reasons that relate to their own situation.

Last year or a couple years ago when Utah was in, it worked very well, and last year with Boise it worked very well, regardless of the selections rights, so I don’t focus on the so much.

Q.  Apologies for speculation-type question—

MIKE SLIVE:  Accepted.

Q.  You know, it could work out to where if the top two teams lose Saturday you could have one-loss Ohio State that people would say backed into it and maybe for the first time ever a two-loss team playing for the National Championship.  You’ve been around long enough with this system, what would your guess be as far as the level of criticism of the BCS be if something like that worked out?

MIKE SLIVE:  I don’t think it would be—I mean, I think if that happens, then the polls are going to have a lot to say about that and there will be some consensus there.  Again, every one of these configurations is going to be a very fine football game no matter who’s playing.  Those that want to criticize the BCS will have no trouble finding a reason to do it, but I don’t think that’s going to create any particular kind of firestorm.

Q.  The Big Ten is in a situation where they finish before Thanksgiving, don’t have a bye week and then they sit while other teams play, and that’s allowed Illinois to creep into position where they might get in the top 14 and get Ohio State back into position to be in the National Championship game.  I was wondering do you see any flaw in that scenario or is it just one of the quirks in the process?

MIKE SLIVE:  Yeah, I think that’s a good question.  Really if you accept some other premises like being true to the standings, which is a fundamental premise, then that’s just a by-product of how the teams are selected.  One could say is that a disadvantage to other conferences, and if it is then the reality is that each conference has made a decision to crown its champion in a certain way, to play through a certain period of time and understand the pros and cons of doing that.

Q.  One question on the +1.  Is 2011 the year you will get it going?

MIKE SLIVE:  I think so.  Again, that’s a big if.  This is the second year of a four-year agreement with Fox, and so it goes through ‘08, ‘09, ‘10, so clearly there would be no change in the current format.  Then of course the ABC contract with the Rose Bowl is eight years out, so there’s that in the mix, as well.  But you’re right in assuming that if there was a change it would not occur prior to ‘11.

Q.  About the potential for a +1 format, it would seem that at least two of the major conferences are not very open-minded to that idea.  How do you go about convincing them that that’s the way to go?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, first we have to decide—some other people would have to decide that they like it, and then we would just have to—we’d sit down and we’d talk about it.  And until and unless someone—if we were interested in doing that and other conferences were interested in doing that, we would have to sit down and see whether anybody else might be under certain circumstances, depending on how it was configured and if we all agreed that would be terrific if that’s what we wanted, and if we don’t all agree, we will just see what happens.

Q.  We were wondering what your feelings are about a team that might not win its Conference Championship game and be able to play for the National Championship.  You spoke about this a little bit earlier, but do you feel it’s right?

MIKE SLIVE:  Well, we’ve gone through this a lot over the last couple years.  As I said a little earlier, whether or not we would require a team to play for the National Championship that that team be a champion of the conferences, and for lots of reasons that I think I’ve outlined a little earlier, we’ve decided not to do that and everybody be judged on their full body of work.

You could have a team, for example, that wins a Conference Championship with three losses over a 12-game schedule, and then you could have somebody in that conference that has one loss.  There are just so many infinite probabilities when you drill down that every time we look at it we come out the same way, and that is to not make that a requirement.

Q.  Broad-based question here, just something you said at the very, very top about the premise of when the BCS was created, that one of the tenets was that you don’t want to make it a two-semester sport.  Why is that such a line in the sand?

A.  Well, I didn’t say that that was a tenet, but I said looking at it from an academic perspective, the intensity of college football, the visibility, the interest, the demands it makes on student athletes.  They start early, you’re starting in August and you’re going through August, September, October, November, December and then a weekend in January.  And I think the academic component, when you think about when exams are and you think about a second semester, it seems to me—at least I had said that it should be a one-semester sport.  I have not heard that necessarily expressed to me by others.  But I think our presidents would not want to continue the intensity that accompanies college football into another semester and into another month.

Q.  Just because of the physicality of the sport?

MIKE SLIVE:  There is that, but there is also the question of academics.  In other sports we have some two-semester sports when you look at APRs and see what they mean.  I just think that we have—it’s clear that college football, and you may think this is going to be cynical, but it is part of higher education.  A long football season with all the demands that are made on players, it seems to us that one semester is enough and they can move on back into the academic world on a full-time basis.

Q.  Just a little bit of a speculation, but as you envision the +1 possibility, do you see that as like a true—the week before a championship game as having a true semifinal situation where teams are seeded in Bowls based on the standings, or do you just see the Bowls being played out under their current format and then like another week of standings coming out with whoever is one and two playing?

MIKE SLIVE:  I think you probably outlined the two options if one was to move in that direction.  I think you’re right, you outlined the two options.  We are now in the process of really looking at both of those to see the pluses and minuses.

First of all, we’ve made no decision about a +1, so I want to be clear on that.  But as we look at it and analyze it, and I haven’t really made a final decision as to whether this is a good thing or not, but if you don’t seed, you just sort of defer the same questions you had earlier.

Q.  I’m just wondering if you can walk us through the discussions of why you have the contingency of stretching the cutoff from 14 to 18 instead of maybe just taking the next available highest ranked team?

MIKE SLIVE:  I think the thought was that it made sense to—first of all, instead of bouncing along from one to another that it would make sense to create a pod and then have there be selection rights within that pod.  I think it was as simple as that.

Q.  And will all the eligible teams be needed to be selected before that pod comes open, or what would the Orange or Fiesta say?  They may have an at-large pick before that last pick; would they be able to pick the 17th or 18th ranked team over say the eighth ranked team or something like that?

MIKE SLIVE:  As long as all the teams in the top 14, other than those in conferences which have already had two teams selected, because you could have three teams in the top 14, they must be included in the selections.  I think that was your question.

Q.  You touched on how the Rose Bowl and the ACC and all of those are traditionally tied to one conference.  I was just wondering going back to the speculation about Michigan and Ohio State—I mean, Ohio State and the Pac-10 team possibly playing in the Rose Bowl.  In the event a team like Ohio State or one of those teams playing in the Rose Bowl, if they would move up to the National Championship, would that Bowl spot that would traditionally come from that conference go to an at-large team?

MIKE SLIVE:  The way the selection process works is if a team loses a host, a team from its host conference to the one-two game, then that Bowl gets what we call a compensatory pick, and they get to pick over the normal selection right.

So for example, if you had just say Ohio State was in the top two, say they were No. 2 now, and then the Rose Bowl would have an opportunity to take a compensatory pick before the selection process began, which is the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar.