By the time the 2012 season kicks off — give or take a month either way — a decision should be made on what shape major college football’s postseason will take beginning in 2014. What that shape will be, though, remains to be seen.
The Big Ten reportedly favors a four-team playoff in which the semifinal games are played on campus. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott publicly acknowledged earlier this month that he too favors a four-team playoff, with the berths consisting of only conference champions.
It’s that latter stipulation being tossed around as a possibility that could cause consternation among some conference commissioners and school presidents as the game’s leaders attempt to reshape the postseason. Simply put, the “conference champions-only” idea is viewed as an anti-SEC tack, a knee-jerk reaction to the all-SEC Alabama-LSU title game following the 2011 season.
Suffice to say, the SEC — and possibly even a conference like the Big Ten — would not be in favor of any format that could potentially limit the number of teams the conference could put into a playoff. And, in an interview with Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News, SEC commissioner Mike Slive did not shy away from the fact that, while he’s open to talks on any concept, limiting a playoff to league title winners is not something he — and presumably the presidents he serves — is prepared to get behind.
“I’m willing to have a conversation about (only conference champions), but if you were going to ask me today, that would not be the way I want to go,” Slive told. “It really is early in the discussions, notwithstanding what some commissioners say publicly. There’s still a lot of information that needs to be generated.”
Taking such a stance would certainly make sense as limiting a playoff to conference champs would’ve impacted the SEC on a couple of occasions the past few years. In addition to last year’s title game, the SEC has finished a regular season with two teams inside the top four in the BcS rankings — 2008 (Florida No. 2, Alabama No. 4) and 2006 (Florida No. 2), LSU No. 4).
Of course, it remains unclear whether BcS-type rankings will be a part of any type of playoff that may be instituted, but the point remains the same: the SEC, the strongest football conference in the country, especially in the top half of the league, will not go easily into any system that could potentially limit its opportunities.
As for the Big Ten floating the possibility of on-campus playoff games, Slive seems to be more open to that than the idea of only conference champions making up a playoff field. He is, though, concerned about the competitive advantage — one translation: SEC teams being forced to travel north and play games in open-air stadiums in, say, Ann Arbor or Columbus in December — having a home playoff game would entail.
“There are plusses and minuses to that concept,” Slive said. “One is that you’re playing a couple games to determine the national champion and to make it a home game for somebody has always been perceived as a competitive advantage. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is not played at the homes of the higher seeds. So you have to look at that.
“The other side is there would be the question of fan travel and the ability to travel to one or more games. You guarantee good attendance (at a campus stadium) — for one team. It needs to be looked at carefully. It’s on the table and it should be on the table.”
Personally, I like the idea of on-campus games for a college football playoff, although I would prefer an eight-team seeded playoff with all non-title game contests played at the home stadium of the higher seed. I also have warmed up to the idea of the top four conference champions making the field — rankings to be determined, although the coaches’ poll should in no way, shape or form be part of any playoff system — but only if it’s an eight-team playoff; the other four spots, if I were CFB commissioner, would be the four highest-ranked teams that didn’t win its league.
Here’s how such a scenario would’ve played out last year, with the conference champions earning the first four seeds because I’m the commish in this fantasy, dammit:
Boise St. (No. 7 in final regular-season BcS rankings) at LSU (No. 1, SEC champs)
Arkansas (No. 6) at Oklahoma State (No. 3, Big 12 champs)
Stanford (No. 4) at Oregon (No. 5, Pac-12 champs)
Alabama (No. 2) at Wisconsin (No. 10, Big Ten champs)
I don’t know about you, but that’s a whole helluva lot more appealing than what the current system offers, which is two teams arbitrarily vying in a one-game “playoff” for a pseudo crown. There’s also the added bonus that it keeps “the best regular season in sports” intact and places significant value on winning your respective conference, which in turn serves to protect the regular season as well.
Is it fair? Of course not; no system would or will be. It is, though, a helluva lot more equitable than what we currently have, and that should be at least part of the reason behind the whole exercise currently being undertaken. (Writer’s note: it’s not; money is, but this would be a nice repercussion of the greed.)
All that said, the above is nothing more than a pipe dream. When all of the dust settles — probably by the end of summer — Div. 1-A football will choose to dip its collective toes into the proverbial playoff pool with four teams as anything beyond that has little support for the moment.
That’s not optimal, but, hey, at least it’s a start.
Which gets this back to the whole point of the post before I veered off on my personal playoff tangent: should the field for a four-team playoff system include only schools that have won its conference? Slive has made the SEC’s opinion perfectly clear; now it’s your turn.
Vote below, and sound off in the comments section below that.