As Big Ten's playoff model takes shape, conversation shifts from 'what' to 'how'
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten's major power brokers have come to an understanding on the basic infrastructure for their preferred postseason.
Now, the conversation shifts from "what" to "how." And to the league's coaches, that's the more important question anyway.
"I had a conference call with our football coaches about a week ago," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Tuesday at the league's spring meetings in Chicago. "What they said to me was the 'how' is even more important than the 'what.' They were in favor of the Rose Bowl, the bowl system. They felt it was the least slippery slope.
"They understood on-campus events could be competitively favorable to them, but they were very clear that the events ought to occur in the context of the bowl system."
Delany, one of the most powerful men in college football, outlined his ideal model for reporters after Tuesday's deliberations at Hotel Sofitel Chicago Water Tower. It mirrored the system presented earlier in the day by a handful of league athletic directors.
They appear to be unified, with a plan looking like this:
- A four-team playoff. Eight- and 16-team fields are off the table.
- A model in which two or as many as three teams earn automatic bids into the playoff via winning their league championships. That leaves one or two slots for non-champions and independent teams.
- A selection committee to help determine any non-championship bids into the field.
- Inclusion of the existing bowl infrastructure, most notably the Rose Bowl. On-campus semifinals, which had gained some momentum nationally, are no longer being considered by Big Ten officials.
So, the league is reaching a consensus on what it hopes this system will eventually look like. Even Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, who has publicly opposed a playoff as recently as earlier this year, is on board.
But hammering out the details -- the "how" -- will require some finesse. Big Ten presidents and chancellors will determine the conference's official position early next month.
Conference commissioners will meet in late June and attempt to agree on a final version to present to university presidents for approval by July 4.
BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said last month that if no agreement was reached, an overhauled version of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 championship game would be used.
One major sticking point will be whether to include the bowls in the playoff. The Big Ten favors inclusion, but others do not. Texas athletic director Deloss Dodds, perhaps the most influential AD in the country, is firmly in that camp.
He told the Austin Statesman "it needs to be their own bowls, their own TV, their own sponsors. Those four selected would not play in the bowls, and I’d have ‘em bid it out to cities and stadiums for the three games."
Delany, conversely, said the Big Ten's interest in including the bowl system is second only to its interest in preserving the regular season.
"Regardless of how we go, it's going to be difficult for coaches and fans and programs and conferences to absorb," he said. "The conversation about the how and the who needs to be really open.
"Let's get coaches in the room and talk it out. Let's get commissioners in the room and talk it out. Let's do it in front of the media. Let's (allow) everyone see the difficulty of these decisions, and then let's make decisions and live with it."
Delany also clarified recent comments he made to The Associated Press, in which he said he did not "have a lot of regard" for a team that doesn't win its conference championship. It was widely reported as a shot at Alabama, which won the national title last year without winning the SEC.
"I wasn't concluding that those teams ought not to be included," Delany said. "I was simply stating a case for some sort of hybrid combination (of league champs, non-champs and independents).
"I know it might not have been taken that way, and I could have been clearer. But I have heard from my in-laws in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Birmingham that they don't like (ex-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer's plan, which calls for a playoff featuring only league champions) and they wanted to clearly understand what I was trying to say."