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After Big Ten’s Twin Stances, What’s It All Mean For A Playoff And For The SEC?

Yesterday was a good day and a bad day for the Big Ten.  On the good side, commissioner Jim Delany backtracked from his previous stance that suggested he wanted a new playoff system to be heavily weighted toward conference champions.  Last month, you might remember, he even said he wouldn’t have much “regard” for a team that didn’t win its own division (that’s you, Alabama).  Nick Saban barked back at the SEC Meetings last week suggesting that some people were “self-absorbed” and more interested in their own league than the good of all college football (that’s you, Commissioner Delany).

Well, Delany yesterday said: “I totally agree we should have the top four teams.”  That’s been taken as meaning that Delany is now a 1-2-3-4 man.

Well, maybe… maybe not.

In Delany’s view, “the top four teams” could still mean the top four conference champions.  For in addition to his statement about grabbing those four best teams, he also said he wants a selection committee involved in the process and not a bunch of computers.  See the difference?  Computers and human polls have favored the SEC and Big 12 over the Big Ten and Pac-12 since the dawn of the BCS due to strength of schedule issues (perceived or otherwise).  A selection committee — with the right members — might put more value on winning one’s league championship.

But on the same day Delany was seemingly showing room for compromise, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said his league’s presidents — the guys who employ Delany — are in favor of the “status quo,” meaning the current BCS system.  After that, he said a Plus-One would be the next best solution.

That’s was the bad for the Big Ten.

Thankfully, Perlman added: “We’re also realistic.”  Most took that statement to mean that the Big Ten’s presidents would be willing to go with a playoff if that’s what everyone else wants.  Further, Perlman took a dig at Florida president Bernie Machen’s “no compromise” stance from last week by saying: “We have tried to not put a stake in the ground and say, ‘Over our dead bodies.’”

(It’s really quite amazing how many times the Big Ten and SEC can lob insults at one another without ever specifically mentioning the other party.  It’s a constant back and forth effort to make the guys in the other league look bad.  And to be honest, it’s kind of beneath both leagues.)

So with Delany’s comments and Perlman’s comments, where do we stand?  What does it all mean for the SEC and others?  Below is our take:


Playoff Status

A lot of the fears of a playoff being scuttled at the last minute due to egos and power-struggles went bye-bye yesterday.  The Big Ten either blinked or showed that they were the bigger men, depending on your point of view.

After taking several years to join the BCS, the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Rose Bowl now appear willing to compromise and give in to a four-team playoff that is tied to the bowl games.  (To protect the Rose Bowl, expect the highest-ranked teams in the semifinals to host games in their “anchor” bowls.)  Delany’s comment also seems to render the “4 from 6″ and “3 + 1″ debate moot.  If everyone’s willing to take “the best four teams,” then there’s no need to work out a formula for who’s in and who’s out.

All that looks like good news for the SEC.  Mike Slive said last week that while he was dead-set on the top four teams making the playoff, he did say he would be open to discussing how those teams would be chosen.  Ah, but that’s where things get a little fuzzy.


Selection Method

As we’ve noted on this site previously, the BCS system — a combination of human and computer polls — has been very kind to the SEC.  Only one team with two losses has ever gotten a shot at the title (LSU from the SEC).  Only one league has ever had both contestants in a BCS Championship Game (Alabama and LSU of the SEC last season).  Only won league has been represented in the title bout every year for the past six years (yep, the SEC).

A selection committee could skew that.  Delany knows that.  So do Larry Scott, John Swofford, the commissioners of the smaller conferences and even Big 12 newcomer Bob Bowlsby.  Depending on who’s doing the picking and what criteria they use, a fifth- or sixth-ranked conference champion could still get the nod over a third- or fourth-ranked runner-up from the SEC or Big 12.

That likely won’t sit well with those two leagues.  Slive said he’d be open to discuss the selection process, but I would not expect him to simply say, “Okay, a committee it is.”  There’s still room for debate on that front.


Anchor Bowls

While the anchor bowl situation could be positive for the Rose Bowl, no one knows what it means for the Sugar Bowl.  The SEC has had a deal to send its champion (or next best representative) to that game since 1976.  But with the birth of a new “Champions” Bowl with the Big 12 coming in 2014, the Sugar could miss out on serving as the SEC’s so-called anchor bowl.

We’ve written previously that we believe the best site for the new SEC/Big 12 affair is New Orleans.  Other cities could pay more money and that will likely wind up being the deciding factor, but no fan in his right mind would choose a trip to Arlington, Texas or St. Louis, Missouri or Atlanta, Georgia over a trip to the French Quarter and New Orleans.  And that’s no knock on those other cities.

Unfortunately, it’s likely — in our view — that New Orleans will be part of the “Champions” Bowl mix at best.

It’s expected that the new playoff system will bid out the national championship game to a different city each year.  It makes sense then — with the Big Ten and Pac-12 tied Pasadena — for the SEC and Big 12 to then bid out their game to whoever loses out on the championship game.  “Can’t buy the final?  Buy a semifinal.”

Money trumps all, so expect the SEC and Big 12 to just offer themselves up as very expensive fallback option for big cities with big budgets.  Sugar Bowl/New Orleans, we’re pullin’ for ya.


The Money Split

Here’s where the little guys can still cause some problems.  With a “top four teams” plan and a selection committee, schools from the Big East and the Mountain West and the Sun Belt would have some means of making the playoff field.  Ditto Notre Dame.

But how will the revenue from the new system be split?  Most expect the major conferences — and there are five at the moment — to keep the lion’s share of the cash, as they do under the current BCS system.  Will the little guys put up a fight by threatening to vote one way or another on the selection process?  Or will they simply be happy to take a small slice of a much larger pie?  A small slice of a larger pie should be worth more money than those leagues and teams are bringing in now, after all.


The ACC and Expansion

If — and it’s still an if — the playoff rolls forward as a “top four teams” model and every conference has playoff access and a selection committee is used, it might just convince Florida State and Clemson that they’d have an easier path to the playoffs via an ACC schedule than a Big 12 schedule.

Additionally, the Big 12 might decide — as Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard stated last week — that adding two more teams and creating a championship game could actually hurt that league’s chances of putting one or two teams in the playoff field.  And if the Big 12 decides to sit tight at 10 teams, then there would be nowhere for FSU, Clemson or any other ACC team to go.

We know, we know… a Big 12 championship game would be worth millions.  But depending on the payout for playoff participants, the payout for the new “Champions” Bowl, and the fact that the Big 12 only has 10 mouths to feed, it’s very possible that the schools in Bowlsby league will decide that the benefits of the status quo outweigh the potential benefits of change.


Final Verdict

We at feel a lot better about the playoff situation today than we did yesterday.  But we’re not yet ready to go along with most in the media and scream “the war’s over” while ringing church bells.  As noted above, Delany’s “best four teams” might not really mean the four highest-ranked teams as everyone seems to assume.

So the selection process could still stir major debate and create still more friction.  The little conferences — with the aid of lawyers and legislators — could still slow things down with threats and under-the-table deals.  And school presidents will still have to sign off on everything if/when the playoff details are worked out by the conference commissioners.  On that front, we would be surprised if all that really comes to pass by the end of June, which is the current target date.

Also, as long as fans in Clemson and Tallahassee continue to stew over numbers and “facts” that aren’t 100% accurate (thank ya, FSU trustee Andy Haggard), there’s still a chance that even an open-to-all playoff won’t slow the expansion train.

Bottom line: The landscape isn’t quaking as much today as it has been for the past month, but don’t think there aren’t a quite few nasty aftershocks still to come.



This Baylor fan votes for New Orleans for the Champions Bowl.  I'd go in a heartbeat to see the BIG 12 champ vs, the SEC champ in N.O.  You have to be crazy to pass up Bourbon Street.  I know money rules but. . . .


I remain in favor of a hybrid sytem, though not the 4 in 6 model.  The 3+1 is better but not perfect.  I dispute the notion that the BCS top 4 are the best 4.  Only 6 times in 45 years has the AP post-bowl final four featured the same teams as the AP pre-bowl final 4.  This tells me that 87% of the time, the AP hasn't beilieved that the pre-bowl top 4 were the top 4.  Human polls are flawed.  Yes, I know you could also go back and show where many conference champions have fallen from the top 4 in the final poll.  The BCS top 4 does not indisputably represent the best 4 teams.   As I have listed before there are plenty of games like #8 Tennessee 35, #2 Miami 7 to show otherwise. 

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



Just wondering, how many times did a team ranked 1-4 before the bowl meet another team ranked 1-4 in the bowls.  Obviously, that would have quite a bit of impact on the rankings after the bowls.  If #3 lost to #2 and fell to #6 in the final poll, that doesn't mean the pre-bowl poll was wrong.  One of those teams was going to lose and fall.


Just askng.


Thanks for reading,



top four not final four


 @John at MrSEC

That does indeed happen often and is one factor in the percentage being as it is.  To me, #3 falling to #6 after losing to #2 would be just another reason to question the quality of the poll.  #3 would be expected to lose to #2 more than 50% of the time so why would they drop so far in the poll (unless it was a non-competitive game)?


With few exceptions (usually for teams from lesser conferences), the polls tend to line teams up by record, regardless of level of competition.


  1. [...] 3.  This writer takes Jim Delany’s “top four teams” comment to mean one thing.  (We believe it could mean something else.) [...]

  2. [...] playoff.  He’s willing to discuss the idea of a selection committee, but he knows — as we’ve written — that a selection committee might not necessarily mean “the best four teams” get [...]

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