Quietly over the past four months, the 11 football conference commissioners and the athletic director of Notre Dame have been meeting to figure out a better way to determine a national champion in college football.
So far they have agreed on one thing: the final “playoff” will consist of four teams.
The next question to be answered is, “which four?” SEC commissioner Mike Slive wants the top four teams in the final rankings in the playoff. Many other conference commissioners want the playoff to consist of only conference champions. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany supports a compromise.
Delany suggested the playoff should consist of the top-four ranked conference champions as long as they finish in the top six of the final rankings. If there are only three conference champions ranked in the top six, then the highest ranked non-conference champion takes the fourth spot in the playoff.
This compromise is noteworthy for many reasons.
Jim Delany is the most powerful man in college athletics.
Last year, Big Ten champion Wisconsin was the fourth-highest ranked conference champion in the final regular season poll at No. 10. Therefore Delany’s playoff would not have had a Big Ten team in it, because No. 2 Alabama would have taken the Badgers’ spot.
Making Delany’s proposal even more impressive is that in three of the last five years, his college football playoff would not have had a Big Ten team in it. Furthermore in 2006, 11-1 and third-ranked Michigan, would not have been in Delany’s playoff because there were four conference champs ranked in the top six at the end of the year.
Delany knows all this but is proposing it anyway, which gives the idea a lot of credibility.
Delany’s proposal places more importance on more of the regular season and makes conference championship games critical.
For example, last year sixth ranked Houston could have secured a spot in the playoff by winning the Conference USA championship game. After Houston lost in the afternoon, seventh-ranked Virginia Tech could have captured the final spot by beating Clemson for the ACC title at night. Only after those two losses and No. 1 LSU coming from behind to beat No. 13 Georgia in the SEC Championship would Alabama have gotten the fourth and final playoff spot.
Delany’s proposal gives the ACC, Big East, non-BCS conferences and Notre Dame (don’t be surprised if a final top 6 ranking gets them in automatically, or the only way they don’t qualify is if four conference champs are ranked ahead of them) a reasonable shot to qualify for the playoff. In the BCS era, there is a big difference between top-four and top-six.
My only bone of contention is what nearly happened last year. If Houston had finished 13-0, they, instead of Alabama, would have been in the playoff. What is better for college football? An undefeated program from a lesser conference playing an easy schedule and getting a shot or the one-loss program from a power conference playing the superior schedule getting the last spot?
If you are OK with Houston over Alabama, then Delany’s proposal is the way to go. If you feel in 2006 that 11-1 Michigan should have been in the playoff instead of sixth-ranked Big East champ Louisville, then maybe we need to tweak this some more. Do you only guarantee the top three spots and the fourth one is determined by a committee?
I can live with Delany’s compromise, but what about this: The top three conference champs are guaranteed spots in the playoff and the final spot is a play-in game between the fourth-best conference champ and the top non-conference champ on the second Saturday in December every year. The conference champ hosts the game.
In my proposal, last year Alabama would have had to travel to Madison, Wis., and play the Badgers on Dec. 10 for a spot in the playoff. I can’t see too many people being interested in that, right?
In the last few years, Delany has wanted his own TV network, expansion and a championship game. We now have, the Big Ten Network, Nebraska in the Big Ten and a Big Ten football championship game.
Now he says he’ll support a four-team playoff comprised of conference champions so long as they are all ranked in the Final 6.
What do you think we’ll end up with in 2014?