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Ray Rice deserves every bit of his new five-year, $35-million contract but doesn’t need any more touches. There’s this myth that, because we saw Ricky Williams on the field a fair amount for a backup in 2011, that Rice suffered from a lack of involvement in the offensive game plan.

However, Ricky Williams’ 108 attempts (which still really isn’t a shockingly large amount) is a product of a run-first offense and a sensible need to avoid exhausting the best player and focal point.

I took Rice first overall in the B/R fantasy experts draft last year and believe he is the league’s best running back. Grantland’s Bill Barwell believes he can claim that mantle from Adrian Peterson.

I also believe Rice suffers from at-times predictable play-calling from Cam Cameron and that his average yards/reception are hurt by the positions in which Joe Flacco dumps it off to him — and on a related note how much attention defenses can pay to Rice compared to a receiver group that struggled famously to get open.

This is partly why I think Rice’s low Elusive Rating on Pro Football Focus is a misrepresentation of how elusive a player he truly can be.

(And this might just be nit-picky semantics, but is “elusive” truly the right term for this particular PFF equation? The top five in 2011 are listed as Michael Turner, LaGarrette Blount, Ben Tate, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson — only the latter two of which fulfill the actual meaning of the word “elusive.”

The definition should be accompanied by Darren Sproles’ picture, while Turner and Blount more resemble a bowling ball rolling forward. Elusive implies escaping with speed and making people miss. Catch me if you can. It isn’t hard to catch Turner or Blount.)

Many cite “Ricky Williams was a big part of that offense” when both criticizing Rice and also predicting more production from him. Both these notions are incorrect.

Myth-busting:

  • Williams didn’t do much to steal scores: He hit paydirt twice to Rice’s 12.
  • Rice wasn’t underused: In 2011 he ranked third in run attempts and second among backs in catches. That’s actually a pretty hefty workload as is.
  • While he might not have busted for as many long scores as some others, Rice is as good as anyone at getting more yards than he should: be it sliding past a linebacker for an extra couple yards or slipping past backfield penetration. His flat-out broken tackle numbers have been just OK, but those don’t reflect his ability to turn a tackle at the 25 into a tackle at the 22, or one at the 3-yard line into a score — which is why he’s an underrated goal-line back. As far as the goal-line sector goes, I felt they used Williams and Vonta Leach too much and Rice not enough.
  • Rice has the ability to be one of the league’s best tackle-breakers, having finished seventh in that category amongst RBs 2009. Again, offensive play predictability coupled with a lot of futile dump-offs aren’t putting Rice in the best position to raise those missed tackle or yards-after-contact numbers. I’m not saying he’s LeSean McCoy, but he’s shifty and can certainly make people miss.

More Emerick: Check out USA Today’s 2012 NFL Preview, which hit news stands a couple weeks ago including Barnes and Noble. Analysis from Thomas Emerick, Greg Cosell, David Elfin and others will certainly put some pep in your step. Or grab it here: http://onlinestore.usatoday.com/pro-football-preview-2012-p16389.aspx

Oh and hey: Follow me @ThomasEmerick if you want. I won’t tweet about what I had for lunch.

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There is no general answer when it comes to the question of 4-3 vs. 3-4 base defense. It’s case-by-case, and neither is going out of style any time soon.

But it’s interesting to see which formation is coming off the better year, and to what a degree. Here’s a statistical look at which base defense fared better in 2011, with plenty of subjective touches to round out the analysis. Let the battle begin!

Rating defenses with as many teams listed above average (or elite) as below average (or terrible) for their 2011 — and only 2011 — performance. The end of the year and postseason were weighted far more heavily than early season. Though this is subjective, it’s a thoroughly researched jumping-off point. Feel free to debate my ratings in comments:

3-4
Elite defenses: Steelers, Texans, Niners, Ravens *  4
Above average defenses: Jets, Dolphins*                 2
Average defenses: Chiefs, Cowboys , Cardinals      3
Subpar defenses: Bills*, Redskins, Chargers            3
Terrible defenses: Packers                                    1

4-3
Elite defenses:  Giants                  1
Above average: Jaguars, Eagles**, Bears, Falcons, Seahawks, Bengals*  6
Average: Browns, Vikings, Broncos                       3
Subpar: Lions, Rams, Raiders, Titans, Patriots* 5
Terrible: Colts, Panthers, Bucs, Saints          4

*Near-hybrid

**(Eagles’ run Wide 9, far from traditional 4-3)

Totals: 19 teams ran 4-3 base, 13 ran 3-4 base.

Elite: 34 Ds up 4-1
Above average: 43 Ds up 6-2
Average: 43 Ds tie 3-3
Subpar: 43s up 5-3 (or really down)
Terrible: 43s up 4-1 (or really down)

Elite receives score boost of 2 times, Above average 1.5. Subpar gets a -1.5x. Terrible a -2.

3-4: 4×2 + 3×1.5 + 2\3×0 + 3x-1.5 + 1x-2 = 6
4-3: 1×2 + 6×1.5 + 3×0 + 5x-1.5 + 4x-2 = -4.5

3-4 wins 6 to -4.5

The 3-4 definitely served as victors over the 4-3 in 2011 when comparing the composite score from across the league. 3-4s dominated the elite category, 4-3s suffered from the terrible category. However, 4-3s got a boost from the above average category, and comprise about as many defenses that would be considered above average.

It’s important to note that the Patriots gave 4-3s a negative when they use a ton of 3-4 and have for most of the past decade, while the Ravens used a ton of 4-3 last year and gave 3-4s a huge positive. If you were to nullify their scores the tally would be 4 to -3.5, and if you were to swap their scores its 2.5 to -1.5. However you argue it — and factor in subpackages and all — the score should actually be a little closer, but we’ll declare 3-4 the victor, though once again you can’t apply this to every team.

Neither formation is going out of style any time soon, and choosing one base D over the other depends on the player personnel, coaches, front office, organizational vision and we can keep going. But it is interesting how, if it wasn’t for the Giants’ incredible turnaround, all four of the elite defenses would’ve been 3-4 base Ds with most of the terrible defenses being 4-3s.

Granted, the Super Bowl featured no traditional base 3-4 defenses, and the Giants ran a 4-3 that featured unproven linebackers. And the Giants only earn an elite ranking because of their final six games and certainly not the first 14 before they got healthy. It’s also important to note that there are more young 4-3 defenses in the above average category — like the Seahawks, Bengals and Jaguars — that figure only to develop and grow stronger in 2011.

‪It’s tough to locate a common thread amongst this, except:‬

Last year the best defenses were mostly 3-4, and the worst were mostly 4-3. But there were more above average 4-3s than above average 3-4s.

….Observing how these defenses lead to being playoff teams, it shows an inconclusive result. The 2011 playoffs featured seven 4-3 base defenses and five 3-4. Four of the past eight Super Bowl champions ran a 4-3, and four ran a 3-4. Though over past eight years you do have more 4-3s in the pool.

It’s tough to discern if the hybrid tendency — that word often used with the Patriots defense but could easily apply to teams like the Ravens (Hey Terrell Suggs, we see your hand on the ground!) — should or will be magnified in defenses across the league. Versatility’s typically considered a great thing in sports, if you have the personnel to pull it off.

—Hey gang, grab a copy of USA Today’s 2012 NFL Preview, on stands now including Barnes and Noble. Analysis from Thomas Emerick, Greg Cosell, David Elfin and others will certainly put some pep in your step. Or grab it here: http://onlinestore.usatoday.com/pro-football-preview-2012-p16389.aspx

Alex Smith and a slick football turned out to be a terrible combo in the NFC championship last year. Word from Vegas: This man, barring injury, has the best odds of taking the next two steps and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy this season.

This is confounding, and not because of the fallacy that quarterback wins are equivalent to quarterback quality.

In January’s NFC title loss to the Giants, Smith’s attempts to go deep in inclement conditions were embarrassing. This difficulty, which might be partially attributed to relatively small hands for an NFL starting quarterback — not the end-all-be-all but bigger, stronger throwing hand helps — led to just one wide receiver completion in a playoff contest that stretched the length of about five quarters. Another huge factor, albeit understandable because it worked during the regular season, was a super-conservative approach to targeting well-covered receivers.

Many factors certainly played a part, but the end result is what it is: 12 for 26, 196 yards and, most importantly, didn’t put the Giants away with the many chances he had. His two touchdowns and most of the yards weren’t due to impressive plays on his part either, both times just hitting Vernon Davis on a decent throw and the freak-athlete taking it the rest of the way.

The late heroics against New Orleans in the divisional round were admirable, but let’s not confuse it with Smith taking a leap as an NFL passer. The most epic play he made was a long touchdown RUN, the other that strong throw to Davis for the game-winner — latter which there’s no reason to pick apart. But also no reason to think that a team quarterbacked by Alex Smith is a sensible favorite for the Super Bowl in this day and age.

This Niners defense is great, and maybe in the previous millennium I wouldn’t have any qualms with these NFL-best 4/1 odds at the MGM.

But any evaluation of the league’s quarterbacks that places Rodgers, Brees, Manning, young Manning, Brady, Stafford, Cutler, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Romo, Newton, Ryan or Schaub in front of Smith is automatically invalidated… and there are even more I would rank ahead of Smith.

So when’s the last time a team won the Super Bowl without a Top 10 QB? You could argue Ben Roethlisberger in 2005-2006 (only in his second year, though he obviously had the physical tools of a Top 10er and flashed them quite often even by that point). Going further back, you get to arguably Brad Johnson in 2003-2004 and definitely Trent Dilfer in 2000-2001.

So that’s only one team who’s done it without one of the league’s top quarterbacks since the rule changes following the 2004 playoffs, which really greased the slopes toward a QB-driven league. Teams just don’t win the Super Bowl anymore with conservative quarterback play and Smith has yet to prove he can consistently open up that offense when he needs to — like he needed to on that rainy day in late January.

In 2001 it would be different, but in 2012 it’s just hard to buy the 49ers at 4/1.

Every summer I fight the compulsive tendency to buy a superfluous amount of fantasy football magazines when they catch my eye on CVS shelves or wherever, and typically lose. I’m on pace for 50 by August.

Today it was the Pro Football Weekly mag, which usually finds its way onto my desk right about now. And I’ll assume it’s good. But I took issue with the first page I flipped to.

Curious to see how they ranked receivers, as the proliferation of the Passing Wins Championships mantra transcends fantasy and real football at the pro level, I peeled open to pages 68-69 to find that Hakeem Nicks has climbed to No. 3.

I’ve never ever seen a Giants receiver ranked that high in July so it stood out to me, though Plax came close and Nicks was generally ranked high last year. This is also the first time I’ve seen the Giants passing offense considered prolific during the offseason and I’m sure that plays a huge factor.

Other important note: Nicks is incredibly good for a guy entering his fourth year.

So my qualm isn’t with him ranked No. 3, just behind Megatron and Fitz; just ahead of Welker, Roddy and Andre.

The mag’s format for player capsules is “Boom:”, “Bust:” and then “Bottom Line:” with a graf for each. The potential reason for bust (kind of worst-case scenario) part on Nicks reads:

“The emergence of Victor Cruz relegated Nicks to a secondary role for part of the season, and that could happen again if Cruz continues to improve. Eli Manning has been known to spread the ball around, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cruz overtake Nicks as the Giants’ go-to guy.”

The problem here being is that their production is not at all inversely correlated over the course of a season. It’s actually the opposite. The threat of each helps the other get open, with Cruz being an especially huge factor. If you narrow the scope to one play, then yes: If Cruz is targeted on that play then Nicks is not.

But beyond that, Cruz moving the chains between the 20s gives Nicks more opportunities, which is also great because along with being a deep threat Nicks is Eli Manning’s best red zone target. Fantasy gold.

Cruz scored nine touchdowns last season but that wasn’t by any means taking significant red zone targets from Nicks. About half of them were in the long, highlight-reel variety. Which might actually be reason for concern with Cruz’s fantasy projection.

The excerpt above also uses the word “secondary” which is more confusing than it is insightful, as it isn’t really helpful to compare the two like that even if Cruz does amass more catches next season. Nicks is the top outside threat, Cruz is the slot guy. Both have the requisites to exploit other areas of the field here and there, but their primary roles and vital contributions to this offense clicking on all cylinders are different things.

The knock on Nicks is his injury history first and foremost, and then perhaps his hands becoming a bit slippery more often than you’d like.

Cruz is not at all a downside to Nicks, so don’t let him — or a good second wide receiver option in any offense — deter you. Roddy White owners, Julio Jones is helping you. Nicks has come into his own alongside very good slot options in Steve Smith and Cruz, while White led the league in targets last year

Now, that’s all assuming your offense throws the ball enough to make it worthwhile, which nearly each one does in this post-Change Rules to Make It Pretty Much Impossible to Win the Super Bowl Without Passing a Lot age.

Disclaimer: Offenses that really, really spread the ball around like the Saints can throw a different kind of wrench into the fantasy equation, but that’s for a different blog post.

Oh and hey: Check out USA Today’s 2012 NFL Preview, which hit news stands a couple weeks ago including Barnes and Noble. Analysis from Thomas Emerick, Greg Cosell, David Elfin and others will certainly put some pep in your step. Or grab it here: http://onlinestore.usatoday.com/pro-football-preview-2012-p16389.aspx

Offensive URL, great article, offensive AND great comments section. ESPN’s idea of macabre theatre? Offensive AND not great.

http://deadspin.com/5925472/espn-trots-out-matt-millen-to-tard-his-way-through-the-freeh-report?utm_campaign=socialflow_deadspin_twitter&utm_source=deadspin_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Deadspin probably had “tard” in their initial headline, forming the URL, changed it to “ESPN Trots Out Matt Millen To Fumble His Way Through The Freeh Report,” but forgot to adjust the URL. Too bad when I post it to Facebook the headline related to the URL still shows up, and I look kind of boorish without pointing that out.

Nonetheless, spot-on take by Drew Magary at Deadspin. And a perhaps inappropriate comments section (read article first):

That screenshot is not the kind of thing that bothers me. Tastefully tangential, enough.

Not in the “Let’s make jokes about Paterno on Twitter today because the Freeh Report came out” kind of way, which just doesn’t seem funny to me. And it feels too classic Twitter: Oh, big news so I have to sift through 20 scornful JoePa jokes on my Twitter TL to find any real insight on here, even though, yep, this news is about the most disturbing disregard of child molestation in recent memory.

I’m not the political correctness police by any means and these tweets are all directed at the guilty party, and joke about whatever you want (funny) I don’t really care, and of course inappropriate intersects with hilarious so spectacularly, but is everyone really in the mood for 30 one-liners on this?

…….

I do feel sympathetic toward the Paterno family, even if their statement is downright offensive. Very few can really describe what they’re going through: Your dead dad/husband turned out to be kind of a monster in the last 13 years of his life. Like, how do you react to that? Not by putting out that statement, but they’re going through a lot and I assume knew nothing about the molestations.

I also feel bad for Millen. It seems like ESPN’s just trotting him out there like a zombie, on what’s probably a very rough day for him. He’s barely (to be generous) even making sense out there. Keep him on the sidelines today, don’t just drag him in because he’s Penn State, and ask him how he feels. As Magary pointed out, no way he’s read into that extensive report encompassing 430 interviews, 3.5 mil emails and documents.

A wince-inducing appearance for what purpose, dramatic television? I certainly hope not.

After Eli Manning carried the Giants on his back bearing a weight few players have in NFL history, while fighting through perhaps the worst season-long offensive line performance that still claimed a Lombardi Trophy, it seemed this would be the one offseason in which Manning could escape without any howitzers fired in his direction.

But then again, he’s a starting quarterback in the New York City market.

Former New York Giant Amani Toomer continued the tradition enjoyed every summer — in the past by teammate and fellow athlete-turner-media personality Tiki Barber, and also everyone who ripped Manning for admitting to thinking he was elite and in the company of Tom Brady last year.

(The popular, snarky response came off as “25 interceptions in 2010? What a joke. No way he’ll be elite this year. Not that I’ve closely monitored the circumstances of his 25 picks the previous year and how that figure is incredibly misleading.”)

Toomer’s hypothetical choice of Tony Romo over Eli Manning seemed good-natured and not exactly inflammatory, yet painfully devoid of valuable insight — making a sophisticated statistical argument after doing “homework” that ostensibly covered 10 all of seconds, or at least that’s how long the evidence he presented takes to find. Excerpt from SiriusXM NFL’s “Movin’ the Chains” via Pro Football Talk:

“Tony Romo is probably, if you look at it statistically, he’s probably the best quarterback in the NFC East,” Toomer said.  “You look at Eli Manning and what he does in the fourth quarter, but you talk about consistency, talking about 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, that guy can play.”

Co-host Tim Ryan tried to walk Toomer back to the consensus view on that issue, and it sort of worked.

“I’m talking about, for me, if I wanted a guy that is going to throw less interceptions and be more productive, higher completion percentage, I’m going to go with Tony Romo,” Toomer said.

I wanted to ignore this, but then I realized this is indicative of the fact that many just haven’t come around on how truly special a leap Eli’s made as a quarterback since 2010 and far more dramatically in late 2011. And that perhaps many are still misguidedly thinking the 2007 and 2011 iterations of the New York Giants are alike, given the similarities in playoff road and player personnel.

Key differences being:

• The 2011 team had no running game to lean on and struggled mightily on defense until Week 15, but remained in contention to that point because of Eli’s arm and an incredible knack for beating quick pressure.

• Instead of being arguably the league’s best as in 2007, the Giants’ O-Line performed miserably in 2011.

•  Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress provided an excellent veteran presence at receiver in 2007, whereas 2011 Eli slung the ball for over 4,900 yards with the U26 crew of Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz heading up the receiving options.

I wrote about it in Pro Football Focus in November: Even before he won his second Super Bowl, we all should’ve started giving Eli his dap for becoming a quarterback that can carry a team.

Then fast-forward to a slow week in July and a story I didn’t care that much about, until I thought about the bigger storyline that hasn’t quite died.

Toomer talks about all the stats he’s crunched and homework he did, but only referenced touchdowns and interceptions in 2011 for constituting “productive.” There are other facets, and other stats: Like the age of Eli’s receivers and how he’s helped them come into their own. Metrics conveying the way defensive lines dominated of Big Blue in the trenches the last couple years.

He also says Manning’s had a better supporting cast, when Romo’s offensive help has been superior for years, despite the 2011 struggles in pass protection.

If you want to make the Romo over Eli argument — or the “Romo gets way too much blame for his team not winning more” argument — that’s not how you do it. It’s time to admit Manning’s elite, and not in Tier II with Romo, Philip Rivers and IMO Jay Cutler (the latter I detailed in USA Today’s NFL Preview mag).

Now, I would say Romo is in position to potentially make a leap of his own in 2012, but the point of this post isn’t Eli vs. Romo.

It’s about no longer trotting out a narrative that was justified for qualifying Manning’s rise during his first Super Bowl run, but just doesn’t work anymore. Time to wake up and smell the 2012 roses, particularly the ones Jaws is selling — that Eli’s a Top 5 quarterback.

Toomer probably noticed the backlash to his comments but his latest rationale, via the NY Daily News, is also invalid:

“Of course he’s proved he can do it but he’s proved that he could do it within the function of a great team, a great organization, the same head coach and he’s been in the same system the entire time,” he said of his ex-teammate.

Umm, Jason Garrett joined the Cowboys as offensive coordinator in 2007. So, what’s that, going on six straight years as coach with the organization now?

“I talked with Zach Thomas who played with Tony Romo under Wade Phillips and he said it was a joke. They were listening to rap music before the practices. They weren’t focusing in at all. And what’s Tony Romo going to do in that type of situation?

Wade Phillips’ fault? Rap music?

“There are a lot of advantages that Eli has had and I realize that he’s taken advantage of them but you’ve got to look at the numbers and how productive Tony Romo has been over his entire career and you’ve got to match up the numbers.”

So, is that just referencing regular season touchdowns and interceptions again?

“I think you belittle the rest of the Giants by saying Eli’s won eight playoff games, Eli’s won this,” he said. “He has but he’s been on some really good teams that jelled well together on these playoff runs.”

That IS what everyone says about players when talking about their playoff record, in pretty much every team sport. We’re really getting into trivial semantics now.

Oh, and the offense jelled largely because of Manning’s rhythm with the receivers and ability to make up for awful, awful, awful line protection — Pro Football Focus gave them the worst pass block rating by a landslide. Cowboys finished middle of the pack in that category. Then there’s the running game, which produced the league’s worst yards-per-carry average.

That being said, Toomer’s barbs should not be compared to Tiki Barber’s from 2007.

Toomer’s always been well-spoken and is an all-time great Giant. A friend of mine who has worked with Toomer says he seems like a great person. I don’t find his comments to be malicious or attention-seeking like Barber’s were generally construed. Toomer’s just made a claim backed up by shoddy analysis on his relatively new radio show.

Perhaps Toomer will get better with reps. Eli certainly has, whether you come to grips with him getting on Brady’s level or not.

More Emerick: Check out USA Today’s 2012 NFL Preview, which hit news stands a couple weeks ago including Barnes and Noble. Analysis from Thomas Emerick, Greg Cosell, David Elfin and others will certainly put some pep in your step. Or grab it here: http://onlinestore.usatoday.com/pro-football-preview-2012-p16389.aspx

Oh and hey: Follow me @ThomasEmerick if you want. I won’t tweet about what I had for lunch.

Huzzah! We might live to see a D-I college football playoff, if that apocalypse doesn’t go down.

Though 2014 feels extremely far off, I’ll just have to patiently wait — but with much more ease than after my interview with current BCS Presidential Oversight Committee Chairman Charles Steger. Back in February 2009, I got a chance to chat with him about the potential for a D-I playoff and his hypothetical playoff’s make-up once the BCS television contract runs out in 2013.

He gave me ample time from his busy schedule and ostensibly genuine answers, but his tone when speaking about a playoff in ‘09 differed greatly from that of his quotes coming out of Tuesday’s big announcement, as does the known anatomy of this no-longer hypothetical.

Tuesday take on BCS playoff decision via CBS Sports:

“It’s a best of both worlds result that capture the excitement of the playoff while keeping the best regular season in sports and the tradition of the bowls,” Steger said in the press conference following the meeting.

An excerpt from my ‘09 interview with Steger when he was part of the BCS Oversight Committee but not yet the chairman:

Emerick:

I’m assuming you probably saw (Barack) Obama’s (negative take on the BCS and urge for a college football Division I-A postseason tournament) during the Nov. 3 Monday night football halftime show… Do you think he was onto something?

Charles Steger:

It all depends on your point of view. For the schools that are in the BCS, obviously, it’s a lucrative deal. … From the point of view of a fan watching football on television, I can see how they would like to have a playoff and whatever else, like they do in basketball. Except when you go to the basketball things, they’re on the weekend (and) there are 10, 12, I don’t know how many games going on.

Whereas, going to a football bowl is a very expensive proposition for the average family. They can’t go to the quarterfinals and then semifinals. They’re going to be able to go to only one. And then (there’s) the logistics of moving the football team around. It’s not like a basketball team. (When the) football team goes, we have truckloads of equipment and 140 people, not to mention all the other fans and everything else. And I think the logistics would have to be changed pretty dramatically so that the playoffs would occur at stadiums of the institutions, and not in the cities where the current bowls go.

And then you …. change the economic equations for the cities, you know, Tampa or Miami. Having us come for a bowl pumps millions of dollars into the local economy. So, if you’re from the point of view of a city that hosts the bowl, it’s not a good idea. … But the bottom line is, we’ve just signed a four-year contract, and nothing’s going to happen until that’s played out.

(Blog editor’s note June 2012: I wonder if he pushed for home playoff games in the playoff system, but met too much resistance to get that pushed. My guess on why home playoffs didn’t fly for the committee is bowl politics/relationships/dealings….And more than anything, more revenue(?). Conjecturing. I wouldn’t exactly contend any of Steger’s points above. It seems easier to stage a big tournament for college basketball logistically.)

Emerick:

(Oregon President) David Frohnmayer, the current chair of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, returned an e-mail to ESPN.com saying that he thinks Obama really enjoys the sport in part because of its compelling regular season. Do you think the Division I-A college football postseason is as compelling as college basketball’s?

Steger:

Well, I think a couple things. One is the precedent of the postseason playoff for basketball has been established for a long time. Secondly, it can be implemented much more easily and quickly … And then you’re off one day if you win and the next day you play and all that. So, for football, to me, I guess I don’t have the same desire as to, quote, see who is the national champion. I’m really much more interested in who wins the ACC.

And I don’t have a great interest in professional football except for when Virginia Tech players are on the team, then I’ll watch them but I’m really interested in the teams we play on a regular basis, and who comes out ahead on that, and after that the interest kind of drops off for me.

And the bowl games are kind of fun; they’re good for our players to get national visibility if they’re candidates for the NFL and all that. But I think it kind of drags out too long. And then you got the other issues of player welfare … How many games is it good for the players to have to play? Is one more postseason game and the risk of injury, which could jeopardize somebody’s pro career, is it really worth it? How much time are they away from the classroom? Only 1.5 percent of the college players go on to the NFL, so the other 98.5 percent need to walk away with a very good education … So you’ve got to balance all those things … It’s not just the welfare of the TV fans, it’s the welfare of the fans that travel to the games, it’s the welfare of the players and it’s also important for our students.

All the student fees that go into athletics — you guys are entitled to benefit from that. You’re not subsidizing the national TV networks.

(Further conjecture: Adding one more playoff game won’t drastically increase the pressure on student-athlete and fan schedules — there were certainly more audacious changes that could’ve been made — so I do wonder how much that factored into the four-team format and if this will limit it to just that. The student-athlete angle has been one general narrative that many people don’t totally buy, but many people in positions like Steger’s make it.)

Adam Himmelsbach’s New York Times story summed up the ostensible reason for the massive change of heart in 2012.

When asked how the revenue system might change, Ed Ray, the Oregon State president, had a succinct but apt prediction.

“Up,” he said.

It reminded me of a great piece of advice USA Today’s Michael Hiestand once gave me, something along the lines of “To understand sports leagues you must keep in mind that these leagues are a business more than they are anything else.”

I don’t think Steger was disingenuous when he spoke to me about the BCS. I’m also not cynical enough to think this new format was chosen more because the way it fills personal pockets than draws money to the NCAA, conferences and schools.

But I do keep in mind that it makes sense for Steger to be unified on message with his cohorts and that the committee practically all simultaneously started pushing for a playoff in January, but not before decades of fans begging for it. So obviously, they realized getting this postseason ball rolling in January is the best way to make way more money.

It isn’t “Oh, I now realize this is what’s best for the players and the fans’ schedules, and that a playoff system is superior end-of-season entertainment compared to this obsolete BCS system.” It’s more so “All right, it seems that if we can pull the trigger for 2014 playoffs in spring 2012 then $$$$$$$$.”