Next week in Destin, the SEC’s coaches, athletic directors and presidents will tackle the issue of football scheduling. Basketball scheduling, too. The word “expansion” — at least as it relates to the overall college landscape — will certainly be heard. There will also be the annual collection of checks from the league office.
But you can expect to the new playoff system to take up a good deal of discussion time as well. The who, the when, and the where will all likely be debated. According to SEC associate commissioner and chief PR guru Charles Bloom (speaking to The Chattanooga Times Free Press):
“What’s going to take the day is discussion on the conference’s position on the four-team playoff. The commissioners were charged with going back to their conferences, with each conference stating a position on their preference. There will be a lot of discussion on that…
“The devil is in the details. How do you fill it? Who’s hosting it? Is it inside the current BCS structure, or will it be separate bowls? Is it a neutral-site bid or campus sites? Is it conference champions only? All those items are up for discussion.”
Earlier this month the president at Nebraska suggested his fellow Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents might scuttle playoff talk altogether and instead vote in favor of a pure Plus-One game to be tacked on after the bowls.
Just last week, the SEC and Big 12 announced a partnership on a new bowl that — if nothing else — guarantees that the old BCS system will die by the 2014 season. So even if the presidents hijack playoff plane, there will be no move back to the system Roy Kramer created.
Now there’s speculation that the big four leagues — and that’s currently the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the recently revived Big 12 — might have just set up their own mini-playoff system. That option is one of dozens now available, though it’s hard to imagine schools like Notre Dame and conferences like the ACC going being cast aside without a fight from lawyers and politicians.
Currently, we could wind up with…
* A four-team playoff featuring any conference champions ranked in the top five or six slots in the final poll (or whatever ranking system is used).
* A four-team playoff featuring the three highest-rated conference champions and a wild card team (if the top four aren’t all conference champs).
* A true Plus-One game that would just match the top-ranked teams after the bowls.
* A return to the old way of settling a champion — the polls. If no one can reach a consensus and the BCS is dead, then it’s possible we could return to the days when conference champions and top-ranked teams just went to different bowls in different parts of the country.
We at MrSEC.com are in favor of a seeded Plus-One system that would use the existing bowls as semifinal games. This would be a “plus one” because only one game would be added to the season, but it would still have a 1 versus 4 and 2 versus 3 set-up. (If you read this site, you also know we’re in favor of just taking the four highest-rated teams in the nation… because eventually ratings will be used to determine the highest-ranked conference champions anyway. If rankings must be used, they should be used to assign the top four teams their seeds.)
We do not believe a true Plus-One — just adding a game after the bowl — solves anything. An unbeaten team might win its bowl and be rewarded by having to play a team with one loss. After the bowls, if you’r the only unbeaten team, you should win the crown. Also, what if three teams from three bowl all end their seasons undefeated. Welcome to the BCS Part II. Two spots, three teams, voters and computers give one team the shaft.
And we don’t believe — at least not yet — that the new Big 12-SEC alliance will help form a members-only playoff. According to that theory, the Big 12 would add two more teams in order to hold a conference championship game. The championship games of the Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC would serve as de facto quarterfinals. Then the Pac-12 and Big Ten champs would meet in the Rose Bowl (making it a national semifinal) while the winners of the SEC and Big 12 would do likewise in their own “Champions Bowl” (another semifinal). At that point, the winners of the Rose and Champions would meet in a title game.
Hey, that sounds good. But good luck getting that past the supporters of every non-SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 school in the country. The threat of lawsuits and Congressional hearings would most definitely become reality under such a plan.
As you can see, there’s no easy answer. So it’s probably wise for the SEC to block out plenty of time to debate this issue. It likely won’t be settled for months, regardless of the June and July timelines that are currently being kicked around the internet.