Sides must be willing to compromise for playoff format model

by | College Football Insider
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Big 12 acting commish Chuck Neinas wants to see a playoff format awarding the four strongest teams. (AP)  
Big 12 acting commish Chuck Neinas wants to see a playoff format awarding the four strongest teams. (AP)  

SANDESTIN, Fla. -- As I stepped off the elevator, the other occupant had one last word of advice for me before the doors shut.

"Remember," he said, "everyone is not going to get everything they want."

That person is a trusted source who has been right many more times than wrong. OK, the source has never been wrong. Our conversation occurred weeks ago and we had been discussing what college football's upcoming playoff format might look like.

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Where the national semifinals would be held? At campus sites or as part of the bowls. What teams would qualify? The top four ranked teams or would it be limited to conference champions only.

"Remember, 'everyone' is not going to get 'everything' they want."

The SEC and Big 12 want the semifinals at bowls or neutral sites and the top four ranked teams in the playoff. The Big Ten and Pac-12 initially wanted the semifinals played on campus sites and with conference champions only.

The alliances have been formed. The lines in the sand have been drawn. Toss in some more bad clichés if you must. Gentlemen, shake hands, go to your corners and when you hear the bell, come out fighting.

Ding!

Thursday at the SEC's spring meetings at the Sandestin Beach Hilton, Florida president Bernie Machen echoed what SEC commissioner Mike Slive had said for the past two days: the SEC is not willing to compromise on having the top-four ranked teams in the playoff.

Then Machen threw in this jab below the belt for good measure. "The group that has to get real is the Big Ten to realize the world is going in a different direction," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Slive has described a playoff system limiting the participants to conference champions as "gerrymandering" the system. Never mind, that most SEC college fans know more about Jerry Mathers than gerrymandering, they've got Slive's back. So do his league presidents and football coaches. And, oh yeah, the Big 12.

"It's self-absorbed people who are worried about how it affects their circumstance or their league rather than what's best for college football who would want to do that," Alabama's Nick Saban said. "It's not what's best for the fans because they've made it very clear what they want it to be."

LSU's Les Miles said not allowing the top four ranked teams in the playoff could eliminate the nation's best team. Miles believes last year's BCS title game between SEC champion LSU and SEC West runner-up Alabama featured the nation's top two teams.

"The only thing that concerns me about conference champions playing definably four teams from four different geographical areas, four conference champions playing in a two-game, winner-takes-all deal could leave maybe the best team in the country on the side," Miles said. "And I think that there's, and then what happens is everybody says, 'We did a great job. We got everybody involved, but we just happen to leave maybe the best team in the country on the side there. You think that was a mistake.'

"And then guess what, the system is wrong yet again and let's go fix it again."

While the SEC's spring meetings were going on at an ocean side resort, the Big 12's spring meetings were being held in Kansas City. They were located halfway across the country, but their message was the same.

"There is a desire to rank the teams 1, 2, 3, 4, taking the four strongest teams," Big 12 acting commissioner Chuck Neinas said. "There is a lot of skepticism of the current ranking system ... there is a need to take a good look at that.

"There is a need to take a look at some kind of selection committee and bring the human element into play ... strength of schedule must -- I repeat -- must be included. Why they got rid of strength of schedule is beyond me."

Neinas was asked about the SEC and Big 12 being outvoted by the other current BCS conferences (the Pac-12 and Big Ten along with the ACC and Big East), who are in favor of the conference champion-only model. "We'll see," Neinas said. "I'm just saying it's a work in progress."

A work in progress and also a never-ending public negotiation between college football's biggest power brokers.

Four weeks ago, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told me in Chicago that there was a playoff proposal being considered that would include the conference champions only if they ranked among the nation's top six teams. If four champions didn't rank among the top six, then the rest of the playoff field would be filled with non-conference champions and/or Notre Dame.

A day later, I spoke with another commissioner who said Delany's top six proposal had never even been discussed. Another commissioner suggested Delany was simply "putting something on the table" so when they met again, Delany could use it as a negotiating ploy to "take it off the table."

"Except," the source said, "that proposal never was on the table. He'll say he'll sacrifice that to get something he really wants. It's actually quite brilliant."

Mike Slive wants one model: bowls or neutral sites for the semifinals and the top four ranked teams in the playoff. Jim Delany and the Big Ten are now on board with bowls or neutral sites for the semifinals but still want a conference champions-only format in the playoff.

"Remember, 'everyone' is not going to get 'everything' they want," I was told.

And they won't get everything. Slive will get the bowls or neutral sites for the semifinals and Delany will get some version of conference champions only. But then they will have to reach some level of compromise with the most likely scenario being that perhaps the top three ranked conference champions would qualify along with the highest ranked non-conference champion.

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