“I don’t have a lot of regard for that team.”
That was Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany in May of 2012 when asked about a non-division winner, let alone a team that didn’t win its conference, qualifying for what at the time was a hypothetical college football playoff. That comment also came five months after Alabama, a non-division winner, won the second-to-last BCS title ever handed out.
Four years later, Delany’s tune has changed, in part because Ohio State is sitting in the orchestra pit as the No. 2 seed with a virtual lock on one of the four playoff berths — and are also sitting at home Championship Weekend while Penn State represents their division in the conference championship. To his credit, Delany says the team he didn’t “have a lot of regard for” four years should make the playoff even with a loss to Florida in the SEC title game this afternoon as well.
“I myself think Alabama has done enough whether they have a conference champion behind their resume or not. I think Ohio State has done enough. I think the committee has suggested that in their earlier years,” Delany said, by way of al.com, on ESPN‘s College GameDay show. “So what we have right now, I think, is two spots, and three, four, five teams fighting for those spots. Conference champion is relevant, but also, who you played, who you beat, who you played in the non-conference.”
Of course, Delany stumping for Ohio State is far from a surprise. The fact that he’s seemingly dismissing Penn State and Wisconsin, the two teams that will play for his conference’s championship on the field tonight in Indianapolis, likely won’t sit well with those particular fan bases regardless of his reasons.
That said, Delany likely sees the reality that, thanks in large part to Washington’s win Friday night, his league has only one shot at a playoff berth for the third straight year, and that shot is sitting on its collective couches in Columbus this weekend.
There’s a new reality when it comes to college football’s postseason, and Delany seemingly understands that he has no choice but to embrace it — even as he was so strident against his current stance just a few years ago.
I lost that election four years ago. I argued for the four best conference champions. That was not the decision. We lost that election. That election was four years ago. We have to understand that elections happen, certain ideas are adopted and we’re at a different place now. It’s four best teams. And conference championships are there to help sort that cluster out, as well as head-to-head as well as strength of schedule.
“I was the campaign manager four years ago, for the four best conference champions. We lost that election. What we decided on was the four best teams, which I’m fine with. Obviously, this year is unique in some respects. We have the two divisional champions here today playing for the [Big Ten] conference championship, and they should be respected for that. The committee has another role, and that’s to pick the four best teams in the country.
Ouch, Nittany Lions. That’ll leave a mark, Badgers.
In the end, though, he’s right. Ohio State and Alabama are two of the four best teams in the country, regardless of whether they have “conference champions” attached to their names. And that’s the job of the committee — find the four best teams in college football and put them in the playoffs.