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Football playoff coming, but form and formula debates surely lie ahead

Jim Delany likes an option that might not play well in SEC and other ports

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — A four-team major-college football playoff seems to be on its way, but a vigorous debate is likely to be in the details.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany sat at a restaurant table with sports writers from, Yahoo! Sports, The Sporting News, the Detroit Free Press and The Gazette last Wednesday, and talked for 90 minutes about college sports topics of the day.

It wasn’t really an interview. It was more a monologue than a dialogue. We had been invited to participate in a panel with discussion with Big Ten communications officers and league-member sports information directors at the conference office in nearby Park Ridge. The sit-down with Delany was presented as a bonus.

Representing his conference’s thinking, Delany was long-opposed to a football playoff. But being hardheaded never positioned anyone better for the future. Delany conceded that sometimes there are times when you have to go with the winds of change.

He noted there are those whom he speaks for still do not want a playoff, including Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman. Another is Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Perlman said Thursday that a “plus-one,” where the top two teams would be chosen for a national-championship game after the bowl games are played, is still a possibility.

“It is clear the presidents will still make the final decision,” Perlman told “We’ve had some informal meetings, the Big Ten presidents and the Pac-12 presidents, and I think we’re largely aligned in thinking a plus-one with a different ranking after the bowl games to select No. 1 and 2 would be acceptable. Our second choice would probably be a four-team playoff inside the bowls. Our highest priority is to preserve the status of the Rose Bowl and our connection to it.”

But the SEC and ACC and Big 12 and Big East don’t have the same priority when it comes to Pasadena.

And the four-team playoff sounds more likely to emerge as the format than a plus-one. On Wednesday, Delany said one option was a playoff in which conference champions are included rather than the top four teams in whatever system is used to rank the teams.

That’s assuming the league-champs are in the top six of the rankings. If the top six doesn’t contain four league-champs, the highest-remaining ranked teams would fill the other spots.

Last season, for instance, the playoff participants would have conference-champions LSU, Oklahoma State and Oregon from the top five with Alabama (No. 2) the highest-ranked non-champion.

That seems reasonable enough, until you realize Boise State would have replaced No. 2 Alabama had the Broncos not lost to TCU. So the second-ranked team in the nation — and the eventual national-champ — would have been iced out of a four-team tourney.

You think people have been screaming about the BCS? Alabama and the SEC would have gone insane had ‘Bama been left out of the two-team BCS format, let alone a four-team event.

It would have blown up in the Big Ten’s face in 2006 when Michigan was No. 3 in the BCS standings. The four playoff teams under Delany’s scenario would have all been conference-titlists, including No. 6 Louisville.

The way the rankings will be determined is to be determined. It won’t necessarily be the present BCS formula. Delany said he favors a selection committee, which sounds to me like another concept that has the odds against it being approved.

The people who would be on such a committee would probably have to live on the other side of the moon for their own safety.

Oh, the new format is highly unlikely to be called the BCS, Delany said. The “BCS” connotation is overwhelmingly negative with the public.

But if the new four-team championship system had a formula that excluded a team that was No. 2 in the final rankings, the BCS would actually start to look good again.


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