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Senior College Football Columnist

Delany knows playoff would be a win for the Big Ten, and everyone else

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In Delany's plan, the Rose Bowl would be in the national title game rotation. (US Presswire)  
In Delany's plan, the Rose Bowl would be in the national title game rotation. (US Presswire)  

Jim Delany does not open his mouth publicly without a reason. Some would call it a periodic airing of agendas.

When the Big Ten's astute commissioner commented this week on his league "kicking around" the idea of a four-team playoff, it almost seemed like a rubber stamp. Done deal, right? If the powerful Big Ten says so, it had to be.

In a way.

First, there is the matter of why the historically conservative Delany/Big Ten would be so bold on the controversial subject of a college football playoff. The answer could be as a simple as it is a done deal. Except that it's not. Michigan AD Dave Brandon is adamantly against a playoff. The whole thing has to be vetted through the presidents. Those who have commented publicly aren't exactly supportive.

If it never happens, then Delany is on record as at least being progressive. Remember, this is a commissioner and conference that have been labeled "obstructionist" when it comes to a playoff. There is a legacy to be left here.

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But for the sake of discussion over a round of cyber beers, let's assume a plus one is inevitable. With Monday's revelation, Delany/Big Ten is trying to shape the "how" of a four-team playoff. How would it work?

In the Big Ten's favor.

Actually, in favor of the majority of college football if you're tired of six consecutive SEC national titles. With playoff games on college campuses, the SEC would at some point actually have to play outdoors in the cold of December with wind and weather.

If you're a fan of the sport at all, it's something you would love to see if for no other reason than watching Nick Saban in a hoodie. You are familiar with the current monopoly: The last time the national championship wasn't located in Alabama was the 2008 season. LSU's 2007 season title was sandwiched around two by Florida. The Tigers have played for three BCS championships 70 miles from campus in the New Orleans Superdome, winning two.

Since 2004, Alabama has played exactly two games after Oct. 1 outside the Southeast. And those were bowl games in Texas and California. When Georgia traveled to Arizona State in 2008, it was the farthest west the Bulldogs had been in the regular season since 1960.

Noticing a geographical trend here? Home-field advantage is one thing. Sun-tan advantage is another.

If there's an agenda for Delany, it is filled with sleet, rain and freezing temperatures. The average December high temperature in Gainesville is 69 degrees. At Michigan's Big House it's a cozy 35 degrees, with an average of 13.5 inches of snow.

The SEC has won among the Spanish moss and humidity, but isn't it about time the Weather Channel gets involved in game coverage? It is an agenda Delany doesn't have to admit to. In theory, it would be supported by the majority of the commissioners at this point. Since 2008, administrators from four of the six power conferences have supported a basic plus one -- game sites TBD -- including the SEC.

The key is getting the Strength Everywhere Conference to climb over the Mason-Dixon chain link and travel.

College football is the nation's No. 2 sport, largely played in regional pods. There is a pride in, a definition to the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 styles of football. Intersectional games have become less frequent with BCS bowl berths hanging in the balance. Why subject a potential unbeaten season to undue risk?

The Big Ten plan changes that dynamic. In a four-teamer, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams would have the semifinal home-field advantage over the No. 4 and No. 3 seeds. You may have noticed, Southern Man, that a Big Ten team hasn't finished in the BCS top four since 2007. You may have also noticed that the Big Ten has had a team finish in the top two only three times in the 14-year history of the BCS. (Ohio State in 2002, 2006 and 2007)

Doesn't matter. This week's news is about leveling the playing field -- with slush, snow and single-digit temperatures. This is about competition, doubling the number of teams playing for the national championship. A simple four-team playoff makes it less likely for the SEC dynasty to continue. More games equals more competition equals more of a chance that the SEC would lose.

Well, maybe. The league has occupied seven of the 12 final top two spots in the past six years. That's seven potential semifinal home games for the SEC. The remaining five semifinal home games would have gone to the Big Ten (two), Big 12 (two) and Pac-10 (one). Had Delany's plus one been in effect since the BCS started in 1998, SEC teams would have played road playoff games only five times.

There are a lot of roadblocks to any kind of plus one. Pac-12 champion Oregon would have been left out of a 2011 playoff. Stanford would have been in. How does a four-team playoff affect the other BCS bowls not in the championship rotation? The non-championship BCS bowls already have become marginalized at times, even the Rose Bowl. And Delany and the Big Ten want one thing above all else -- to protect the sanctity of the Granddaddy.

With games on campus, the Rose would not be a national semifinal. But the Rose would be in a national title game rotation. Big Ten championship teams have long known the exhilaration of leaving the cold Midwest for Pasadena in January.

In a four-team playoff, Delany and the Big Ten essentially want the SEC to know the December challenges of using four-wheel drive.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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