SEC, Big Ten at odds as battle to mold 4-team football playoff becomes increasingly contentious
Two weeks after the Big Ten's athletic directors met in Chicago to hash out their preferred model for a college football playoff, the Southeastern Conference took its turn the past few days in Destin, Fla.
During that time, it dug a trench and aimed its cross hairs directly at the Big Ten on at least one key point: Who, exactly, makes the playoff in the first place?
The Big Ten has said it supports a so-called "three-and-one" model, wherein three spots are guaranteed for the top-ranked league champions. That leaves one spot for a non-champion or independent.
There also was talk of a two-two split, although the three-one seemed to gain more traction.
The SEC, conversely, said this week it will vehemently oppose any playoff model that doesn't advance the top four overall teams into the national semifinals, regardless of league finish.
“Our league has been consistent that if you’re going to have a four-team playoff that the best four teams ought to be selected to play for the national championship,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive told reporters this week. “If the issue is how teams are selected, then let’s go and talk about the selection process and make the selection process more palatable to everybody rather than try to gerrymander who the top four teams are.
“I’m very open to looking at any and all ways to make changes in the actually selection process itself.“
The playoff system could debut as early as 2014, replacing the current BCS system that pits No. 1 vs. No. 2 -- as determined by its computer formula -- in a matchup that rotates between the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowl venues.
Now, it appears that model is set to expire as major conferences show consensus support for a four-team playoff. The sticking point, though, is the "how" and "who."
It is logical the SEC, the nation's preeminent college football conference, favors a model in which any number of teams from a particular league could qualify for the playoff.
Likewise, it makes sense the Big Ten, which hasn't won a national title since Ohio State in 2002, would want to secure at least one seat at the playoff table.
Football also-rans such as the ACC and Big East, as well as the Pac-12, have sided with the Big Ten. The Big 12 is with the SEC.
But the SEC and Big Ten -- and their commissioners, Slive and Delany -- are the nation's foremost voices on college football, and their positions will carry the most weight in national deliberations.
And their rivalry has become increasingly contentious.
The battle heated up when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told the Associated Press he didn't have "a lot of regard for" teams that don't win their conference -- a statement many took as veiled criticism of Alabama, which won the national title last year while finishing behind LSU in the SEC.
Delany later said his comments were misinterpreted.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban fired back this week anyhow, telling reporters "I think somebody's a little bit self-absorbed in worrying about how it affects them and how they can best get somebody in the game all the time."
Of course, the irony in that statement is everyone -- including Saban -- is operating in self-interest, particularly at this early stage.
It seems the process of dismembering the BCS is too far along to be scrapped, but it's clear this thing is far from over.
The next step arrives Sunday, when the Big Ten's presidents and chancellors meet in Chicago. The league will present its model to the other conferences June 13 and June 20 in Chicago.
A third national meeting -- June 26 in Washington D.C. -- was added to the docket Friday. That suggests a four-team playoff model could be announced by the end of the month, a revolutionary turn in the sport.
But first, the country's two most powerful football conferences will have to holster their guns and reach some kind of armistice, which at this point, seems a long way off.