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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

May 31, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Pac-12 stance on playoff: Whole hog, or plus-one?

Friday in San Diego begins a round of Pac-12 Conference meetings, chief topic at which will be discussions on the widely assumed notion that a college-football playoff is going to be implemented starting after the 2014 regular season.

Athletic directors meet first, followed Saturday by the Pac-12 Council (which also includes faculty reps and senior women’s administrators), and eventually the presidents and CEOs a day later.

Since BCS officials and conference executives met late in April in Florida, it’s been seen as a fait accompli that college football is headed for a four-team playoff. And lately, the discussion has centered around the mechanics of that playoff.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the other day the best way to determine a national champion is with a four-team playoff, not a plus-one system.

The Big 12 Conference, increasingly aligning with the aims of the Southeastern, says it favors a selection committee that would take the four highest-ranked teams. (Think something like the current BCS formula, selecting the four best.) That, of course, dovetails with the wishes of the SEC, which just planted Alabama and LSU in the BCS national-title game, and can argue – with some reason – that merely plugging four conference champions into such a tournament doesn’t guarantee the four best teams.

(The Big 12 and SEC remind me of that couple that you’ve seen in the hot new romance that you didn’t expect. The two leagues hooked up recently to form the Champions Bowl, ostensibly pitting the winners of their leagues, a takeoff on the Rose Bowl format.)


Not so fast, writes Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, and I think he could be onto something. While there’s steamrolling momentum toward a playoff system, the true four-team playoff concept isn’t written in stone yet. The Pac-12 and Big Ten could be angling toward support of a plus-one format.
Put the following scenes together: First, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s recent discussion of the notion of putting non-winners of conferences in such a playoff:
“I don’t have a lot of regard for that team,” Delany said, speaking generally but clearly referencing last year’s Alabama. “I certainly wouldn’t have as much regard for that team as I would for someone who played nine conference games in a tough conference and played a couple of out-of-conference games on the road against really good opponents.”
Delany has always taken the conservative approach. He’s aligned with the Pac-12, and the two are aligned with preservation of the Rose Bowl. The plus-one is the mildest form of playoff.
Then think back to last fall, when there was a renewed push for the Pac-12 to annex Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and go to 14 teams – even as Texas, the prom date everybody wants – had opted out. The Pac-12 presidents decided they were already about to be greatly enriched by commissioner Larry Scott’s new TV deals, and put the brakes on further expansion (at least temporarily). In other words, they opted to move cautiously.
Now go back about six weeks further. Last August, I wrote of a joint meeting of Big Ten and Pac-12 athletic directors in which sources said they reached consensus on a “plus one” proposal, in which there would be an added (fifth) BCS bowl, and on a rotating basis, there would be semifinals in two of the bowls, followed by the “plus one” title game. The Rose Bowl wouldn’t host semifinal games in exchange for the right to preserve an annual Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup, but would host the title game every fifth year.
There was considerable blowback from Scott and Delany on the story, perhaps because it didn’t address the status quo as an equally viable alternative for the ADs. Fair enough.
But I’m convinced most of their pique resulted from the appearance they were “out there” (a) seemingly off-course with the sacrosanct Rose Bowl tradition, and (b) with regard to the button-down wishes of their conference presidents.
But a couple of weeks ago, there was this AP dispatch out of Chicago from the Big Ten’s AD meetings: “Big Ten officials came out in favor of keeping bowl games as sites for college football’s planned playoff . . . preferring to keep the Rose Bowl as the conference’s postseason tradition.”
It seems possible, in other words, that what might have seemed radical last August now looks conservative, viewed against the headlong national rush toward a playoff that we’ve witnessed. And that the Pac-12 might now formally advance the plus-one proposal.
This could be a case of: The more things change, the more they stay the same — with the Pac-12, and very possibly the Big Ten, while the playoff discussion crackles elsewhere. The details of those meetings last August may not mirror exactly what materializes from the Pac-12 (and possibly the Big Ten as well), but they don’t sound vastly different from what’s in the wind today.
I’m hearing conflicting speculation on whether Scott will actually announce a conference position this weekend. He might not, but with the expectation that the playoff question will be cleared up sometime this summer, the league will have to take a position soon.
If it does advance a plus-one, that doesn’t mean a playoff would develop that way. It just might mean there’s still some grinding left to be done before we know the nature of that elusive playoff system.

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