The 800 Pound Gorilla
By Jacob Shoor
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Once Notre Dame is settled into a new conference, we can expect a quick move to an eight- team playoff.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, the most powerful individual in college sports, is back in the news. This time, he is modifying his plan to have only conference champions in the playoff to allow conference division winners.
His power notwithstanding, Delaney will never be able to budge Mike Slive away from demanding the possibility of two SEC teams playing for the national championship. As John Swofford often agrees with Slive and has a running war with fellow UNC alum Delaney, it is unlikely that Slive will feel any need to back down. Delaney has made a public suggestion that seems like a compromise, but that, if adopted, will get him what he wants almost all the time. And that may be the reason that Slive will oppose this plan too.
For example, 2011 national champ Alabama was not a division champ, much less the SEC champ, and so never could have been in playoffs envisioned by Delaney. Think of the number of years in which the two best teams in the SEC were Florida and Tennessee, or Alabama and Auburn. This year, again the three best SEC teams should be Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU. In most years this century, the two best teams in the Big XII have been Texas and Oklahoma. The right coach at UCLA could make the Pac a league dominated by its Los Angeles teams.
If four teams are in the playoff, Delaney wants four conference or at least division champions, and the Pac's Larry Scott will agree with Delaney. Even if Slive and Swofford could be persuaded to accept that as a compromise, the question becomes: What about Texas?
Because Texas holds all the strings that keep the Big XII flying, it is more honest to ask what will Texas think or do than to ask what the Big XII will think or do. As the Big XII has no divisions, Texas may be opposed to allowing a conference division champ in the playoff. And as Texas and OU would again be in the same division should Texas add, say, Louisville and BYU to its league, Texas probably will oppose this Delaney plan regardless of the size of the Big XII.
Here is related news: the Football Championship Series schools, formerly known as 1AA, are expanding their playoff to 24 teams: http://www.southernpigskin.com/SoCon/view/fcs-to-expand-playoffs-to-24-teams
If you refer to that article, then you should see why I say that the four team playoff cannot last long for Major college football. Basketball recently added teams to its tournament, FCS is adding teams to its playoff, and there are at least two major camps regarding how teams should get selected for the Major college playoff. As the two camps crystalize competing visions of how to select four teams, coaches and ADs will conclude that the only way to make it work without internecine war that could bring back the old bowls system is to expand the playoff to eight teams: Champions of the five Major conferences (with restrictions, such as at least nine wins) and three at-large teams.
If presidents/chancellors balk, saying they oppose a sport going into a second semester, proponents of an eight team playoff will point to basketball, which begins before Thanksgiving and ends in April. The NCAA basketball tournament requires three weeks to play, which is how long an eight team football playoff will last. If presidents/chancellors allow the #2 revenue sport to play during two semesters and to have a three week post-season, they have no justification for opposing a three week football post-season.
The 800 pound gorilla perched precariously on the arm of the sofa in the living room is neither Delaney nor Bevo. The 800 pound gorilla is Notre Dame. A playoff restricted to conference or division champs will exclude Notre Dame as long as it remains independent in football. It would be self-defeating for any conference to facilitate any easy path for the Irish to get into the playoff because that would hurt them by taking a spot away from one of their members.
That is the reason that New York Times writer Pete Thamel now says that with the Big East crumbling and a playoff set, Notre Dame may well leave its basketball league behind. Thamel first declares, "The ACC is the most likely destination ..." for the Irish, and then he becomes more bold, asserting what I have said for a decade: that the ACC is "the only realistic designation ..." for Notre Dame in terms of a conference for all sports.
Once Notre Dame is settled, we can expect a quick move to an eight- team playoff that starts with the champions of the five major conferences and completes with three at-large selections.