The Playoff Showdown

Methinks we are moving towards an impasse.

It started last week when the SEC drew a hard line on what it would -- and more importantly -- would not accept as an option for determining playoff teams in the upcoming post-season reform. The SEC has been steadfast in its stance that the best way to work a college football playoff is to plan it to include the top four teams in the nation regardless of conference championship consideration. What's more, the SEC has come out and said that not only is this the SEC's preferred plan, but that the general public wants to see the top four teams, regardless of conference champions, in the playoff:.

"If we're going to go to a four-team playoff, which I anticipate we are, it needs to be, and the fans would expect us to provide, the best four teams in the country," SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. "And if people aren't happy with the current system of how we rank them, then let's go back and look at the system that creates one through four."

While this is pretty obviously naked self-interest on the part of the SEC -- the team that has supplied the last six national champions and has the type of reputation that almost guarantees two teams in the final four of any poll come the end of the year -- there is something to be said for the idea of a playoff featuring the best of the best. Isn't that what a playoff is about? Rewarding the best teams with a chance to play for it all? Isn't that why Matt Hinton wrote this?

However, in a sport with as wide and varied participation as major college football, there is something to be said for the other position. Closing a playoff to the top four conference champions (granted that those champions are in the top-six nationally, which at this point seems to be a pretty reasonable, agreed upon idea) opens the playoff field up to participation from a wider range of teams. If the SEC has the number one and number four team in the nation while the Pac-12 Champion sits at number five, doesn't it stand to reason that the west coast should be represented over a team that couldn't win its own conference title?

Furthermore, what about the inadvertent consequences of taking the top four regardless of conference champs. Consider the case of the Pac-12 last year:

"Our conference would not have been comfortable, had there been a playoff system last year, accepting that Stanford is in the playoff and not Oregon," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. "Stanford was ranked fourth and Oregon was ranked fifth. Oregon beat Stanford, had to play an extra game, was conference champion and subsequently Oregon went on to win the Rose Bowl. "That's crystal clear to us. If Oregon wins our championship, they deserve to be in a playoff ahead of one of our other teams."

This falls in line with the Big Ten's favored plan of a Three and One model. Namely, the top three conference champions make the playoff and one at large team:

There's support in the Big Ten for a playoff model that includes the top three rated conference champions -- as long as they're rated in the top 6 -- and a wild card spot for a worthy non-champion or independent like No. 2 Alabama last season. The league views this model as the closest to the playoff models used in professional sports.

The comparison to professional sports playoff models is an apt one, and even if you aren't enamored with the wild card in some sports, it seems to be a fair compromise that incorporates the SEC's stance on the best teams making the playoffs while still placing an importance on a team winnings its conference championship. Conference champion concerns, in turn, reduce the need to schedule cupcake games in the non-conference (to an extent) and, you know, generally make the football better.

No matter. "The group that has to get real is the Big Ten to realize the world is going in a different direction," says Bernie Machen, the University of Florida's president.

And that, gentlemen is what we call a showdown. Cue the music.

This kind of heavy handed rehetoric will have a far reaching effect on the rest of this summer's playoff talk, but just what effect that is remains to be seen.

Keep in mind that the Big Ten has been downright gracious in its desire to bend over backwards to help the SEC not have to argue against anything that might put the conference out of its comfort zone. Time to play, "who said it.:

Quote A:

"I'm a big advocate for playing as many games as possible on campus, but I'm also a realist to know when you get to the point where you got those kinds of national games, with teams coming to various regions of the country, playing outdoors in the Midwest in January probably is not going to be a salable option,"

Quote B:

"For some young kid from Mobile, Alabama, who has never seen snow, to have to go play a national championship game in Wisconsin - I don't know if that's the right thing."

Quote A is Dave Brandon, Michigan's AD caving on the issue of home-site playoff games. Quote B is Nick Saban right before he called the people (ahem, the Big Ten) who suggested home-site playoff games "self-absorbed." The Big Ten backs off a controversial decision, the SEC doubles down and then says as loud as it can that "it's what the people want."

The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have once again found their interests aligned on this issue (not to mention the Rose Bowl again, as Larry Scott said, I shit you not, "From the Rose Bowl game's standpoint, that flexibility is not a positive. They want to make sure the game is equally relevant 50 years from now and 100 years from now," without a hint of irony over the fact that the Rose Bowl hasn't been the Rose Bowl since the BCS took over and made a bonafide championship game. Hubris runs deep on both sides), while the SEC and Big XII refuse to budge on the Best Four model. The ACC, knowing what is best for it, is backing the conference champs model, while the Big East was so excited that someone thought to reach the conference for comment that it was hard to make out just what position the conference supported over all the giggling and screeching (but reports put the Big East in the Conference Champs camp).

And here we are, back to that line in the sand:

SEC: "I think everyone is going to have to come to us on that (stance)."

Will the Big Ten cave once more despite the support of a sizeable chunk of college football? Can the SEC withstand the damage that the repeal of its steadfast proclamation of support for the Best Four Teams model would generate if the conference has to back down? Is it better to argue from a bully pulpit (the SEC) or to speak softly and carry a big stick (the Big Ten)? Is that only more of less confusing because both of those bargaining positions are attributed to Theodore Roosevelt? Is someone going to write a comment trying to educate me on the true meaning of "bully" in bully pulpit? Was all this just another excuse to reference Kingpin?

Yes, at least to that last one.

And to think, we haven't even touched on Selection Committee vs. Existing Polls yet.

Never a dull moment when grown men with vested financial interest and years of ingrained biases try to build a future two decades too late.

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