SEC Backlash: College Football Playoff Coming In 2014?

In 2008, SEC commissioner Mike Slive proposed a “plus-one” plan to the college football powers-that-be which was essentially a four team playoff.  Not only did every conference other than the ACC firmly reject the idea, they didn’t even want to discuss it. Slive is quoted saying, “I remember it being a lonely meeting.”

As we’ve discussed here at SDS, a plus-one system or a four-team playoff is very advantageous to the SEC. You don’t think Slive would propose a system that would hurt his own conference do you? The reality is that the SEC can almost always get a team into the top four slots of the rankings-obviously, it’s easier than getting into the top two. In the proposed system, the #1 vs #4 team would play, and the #2 vs #3 team would play. It’s hard to imagine that the SEC team won’t be favored in these games more often than not. Again, this system makes it easier for the SEC to get into the National Championship Game and possibly bring home the trophy.

While we believe the SEC will thrive under either format, Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel explained back in December that the smaller conferences’ vote against Slive’s 2008 proposal essentially ruined them:

The decision to dismiss Slive’s plan in 2008 even had ramifications far beyond a single-season title chase; it changed the landscape of the sport.

Many conferences failed to see the increased access to the championship (four teams rather than two) and the additional revenue from the system as a lifeline for survival. They wound up nearly wiped out.

The vote all but assured the gutting of the Big East, where teams have jumped ship in fear of losing automatic qualifying status. Non-AQ leagues such as the Mountain West, Western Athletic and Conference USA have been butchered.

BCS-generated instability even played a part (along with distrust of Texas) in the Big 12 losing four schools and nearly blowing up for good courtesy of Pac-12 raids.

“I don’t think any of us are happy that the BCS is one of the contributing factors to conference realignment,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock told The Associated Press.

Well, it is. And it was easy to foresee.

While the smaller conferences suffered, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and Notre Dame (the leaders of the opposition) have enjoyed the current system for years. The Big Ten and Pac-12 wanted to protect the Rose Bowl tradition, and Notre Dame wanted to protect its cushy deal with the BCS  (automatic BCS birth if they are in top 8 of final BCS standings). They have frankly had the ability to back into the BCS and even the BCS Championship Game by having no conference championship games and mediocre regular season schedules. This didn’t stop the SEC from starting a string of six BCS Championships starting with the Florida Gators’ annihilation of the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes.

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With the recent expansion, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 added conference championship games. This was an important step and an acknowledgment that the SEC has been doing it the right way all along. Nevertheless, in the first year of conference championship games for these two major conferences, the SEC not only still got into the BCS Championship Game, but they took both spots in the game.

As expected, the All-SEC BCS Championship Game has kicked off another round of discussions about how to change the system which has its current contract up with the 2013 season. Interestingly, it seems that the plus-one system that Slive proposed back in 2008 is gaining traction.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been a primary leader against the postseason playoff format. However, this week, the Chicago Tribune has been reporting that the Big Ten has been kicking around the idea of a four team playoff (plus-one). The unique features of the Big Ten plan are as follows:

  • National semi-final games would be played on the home campus of the higher seeded team. If we took the 2011 top 4, this would have created the following matchups: Stanford at LSU and Oklahoma State at Alabama. The criticism for such a plan is that this could pose weather challenges for games played at northern schools, but this would also be dictated by when the games were played which hasn’t been made known. One major reason for using home campuses of the higher seed team is to limit excess travel costs for the schools.
  • The Championship Game would be on a neutral site and bid out similar to how the NFL chooses the Super Bowl location. A prime reason for this is again a backlash against the SEC where the Sugar Bowl has been criticized as an SEC home game.

The other items up for discussion are:

  • Requiring seven wins for bowl eligibility. This is an effort to cut down on the money-losing bowls. This is a no brainer. Do it.
  • Moving up the Championship Game date. The game has been pushed back each year with this past BCSCG on Jan 9th. This is ridiculous. People are back to work/school, NFL playoffs are going on, etc. This game needs to be closer to New Year’s Day. This is also a no brainer.

Overall, these plans make sense. I’m completely against anything more than a four-team playoff in order to protect the regular season. The four-team setup or the plus-one setup does not compromise the season and appeases the playoff crowd while still ensuring that the best teams get into the semi-finals and likely the championship.

As we continue to see in professional sports where the regular season is increasingly meaningless and the hottest team often wins over the best teams (The Super Bowl winning New York Giants were 7-7 a little over a month ago), college football is extremely unique. The teams that play in the Championship are almost always the consensus top two teams with few exceptions. The system, while flawed, almost always works as it should. Yes, I am not forgetting you, 2004 Auburn Tigers.

While the backlash against the SEC is obvious, this remains a positive development for the SEC. As Slive proposed in 2008, do you think it is easier to land two teams from the SEC into the top two slots or the top four slots? Of course, it is much easier to get two teams in the top four slots. Thus, an All-SEC Championship Game is easier under this format than the current system which puts the #1 vs #2 via the BCS into the Championship.

As such, it will be interesting to watch how this develops. The powers-that-be might put in clauses to prevent such a thing from happening. For example, the top 4 teams play in a four-team playoff unless two are from the same conference? This of course defeats the purpose in my opinion, but again, the anti-SEC agenda isn’t going away.

Regardless, some sort of a playoff does seem to be picking up momentum for the new cycle which starts in 2014.

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