The battle between the SEC and Big Ten: it not’s just for on-field breakfast anymore.
Earlier this month, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, a powerful proponent of a four-team playoff model that would consist of at least three conference winners instead of the four top-ranked teams, appeared to take a shot at Alabama when asked about the future makeup of a college football playoff.
“I don’t have a lot of regard for that team,” Delany said when asked about a non-divisional winner qualifying for what will become a revamped postseason in the sport. While Delany didn’t specifically mention the Tide, and later claimed that he wasn’t anyway, there’s little way around the fact that he was, at least in part, getting a shot in at the Tide; following a 2011 season that saw them fail to win the SEC West let alone the conference, UA beat fellow SEC member LSU in January to claim its second BcS title in three years and the sixth straight overall for the conference.
The combination of that rematch, the overall dominance of the SEC the past several years and the desire to protect the Rose Bowl at all costs has led to a push by Delany and others to limit any four-team playoff to, essentially, only teams that have won their respective conferences — or even a bastardized “playoff” in the form of a plus-one in order to insulate the Granddaddy of Them All.
Such talk has apparently gotten to the head coach of last season’s non-division-winning, BcS-title-winning team. In his most pointed comments to date, and while not mentioning Delany or the Big Ten/Pac-12 specifically, Nick Saban fired a shot directly across the bow of that rosy entity, ripping unnamed people for what he sees as an effort to do what’s best for themselves and not what’s best for the sport.
“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,” Saban said at the SEC’s annual Destin, Fla., meetings, responding to a question about a conference champs-only playoff. “It’s not what’s best for the fans because they’ve made it very clear what they want it to be.”
To the credit of the Big Ten/Pac-12, though, it seems as if they are willing to “compromise” on a playoff model, with conference champs qualifying for a four-team field only if they’re ranked in the top six, with the other spot or spots being filled by the highest-ranked non-conference-winning team or teams.
Saban specifically and the SEC in general, however, want to see a field that consists of the four highest-ranked teams, period.
“People want to see the best four teams play in a playoff,” he said. “The problem in college football is there’s not equal parity in the leagues. Some leagues are stronger than others in different years. It’s not always going to be where the SEC is stronger than another league. There’s going to be years when other leagues are stronger than the SEC. It’s not an SEC thing. History in recent years would say that, but that’s how it’s been all the way through.
“I think you’re going to get a lot of real complaining if we have a four-team playoff and we go through all this that we’re going through to try to implement this and execute it and, all of a sudden, next year we have the No. 1 team, the No. 3 team, the No. 7 team and the No. 11 team being the four teams in the playoffs. There’s going to be a mutiny on the ship, there’s no question about that.”
Last season, Big Ten champ Wisconsin was the No. 10 team in the final regular season BcS standings and would’ve qualified for a playoff berth — ahead of Alabama and others — if the conference champs-only model had been in place.
By the end of the SEC’s meetings this week, the conference is expected to have an official stance on its vision of what a college football postseason should look like. Based on precedence, there’s little doubt that vision will consist of taking the four highest-ranked teams regardless of placement in their conference standings.