Coaches Agree on Playoff
By Matt Smith
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SEC head coaches agree that conference champions should not be given preferential treatment in a playoff system.
You can’t have a discussion about college football right now without the term “playoff” being mentioned at least once. Fittingly, at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, nearly every head coach was asked about his opinion on how best to determine the national champion. The consensus: conference champions should get no preferential treatment.
Of course, it’s the answer you would expect. The SEC would benefit more than any other league from a playoff involving just the top four teams rather than a model that adds value to a conference champion. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has been vocal about his support for just taking the top four teams, but Tuesday allowed many of the league’s coaches to speak publicly for the first time about a playoff. Some nuances of the playoff were also discussed, such as how to select those teams.
South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, never one to mince words, was the only coach to propose something other than a four-team playoff as he prepares for his 20th season as an SEC head coach.
“I’d do like what President Obama said – have an eight-team playoff. You know who’s won a Super Bowl the past two years? The Packers didn’t even win their own division but got hot in the playoffs.”
Other coaches were short and sweet with their responses. Missouri’s Gary Pinkel said he has been advocating a four-team playoff “for six or seven years.” Georgia’s Mark Richt and Florida’s Will Muschamp both expressed their desire for a playoff with no preference given to conference champions.
Alabama’s Nick Saban appeared to be taking a verbal jab at proponents of a conference champions-only plan, saying “somebody is a little bit self-absorbed.”
Spurrier also added that he would like a selection committee to determine the playoff teams, as did Saban. He even offered some recommendations for committee members.
“[Former Texas coach] Darrell Royal and [former Arkansas coach] Frank Broyles could head up the group. They’re honest, fair guys.”
Spurrier also shared an honest assessment of the fallacies of the coaches’ poll, which currently accounts for one-third of the BCS formula.
“Most of us [coaches’ poll voters] just vote for our conference guys and our buddies around the country. The coaches’ vote is probably not as accurate as the media vote.”
Spurrier stated earlier this spring that he favored inter-division games not counting towards determining who wins division titles. His Gamecocks swept their SEC East games last year, but losses to Auburn and Arkansas allowed Georgia to surpass South Carolina and earn the bid to the SEC Championship Game.
“I’m personally in favor of just the division games counting. I was thinking about the most fair conference I was ever in, the ACC from 1987-1989. We only had eight teams, and everybody played each other. For Derek Dooley to play Alabama every year, it sort of hurts his chances to win the Eastern Division.”
The beneficiary of South Carolina’s struggles against the SEC West last season was Richt. The Bulldogs lost their conference opener at home to the Gamecocks, but then won their final seven league games. Georgia did not play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU last season. Richt dismissed Spurrier’s idea, simply saying “every man has the right to his own opinion.”
Saban also spoke out against Spurrier’s proposal, citing the diminished impact of inter-division rivalry games such as LSU-Florida, Georgia-Auburn and his own team's annual clash with Tennessee.
“We look forward to all these rivalry games that we have in the SEC. This would minimize the importance of these games by saying they don’t count. There’s no perfect way to schedule, but I do think that you’re going to minimize the importance of cross-divisional games if they don’t count toward the championship. We’re really not an SEC. We’re just an East and a West, so why even play them.”
LSU’s Les Miles spoke out last month in defense of Spurrier, citing fairness and equal opportunity to get to Atlanta. Currently, the Big 12 and Big East are the only BCS conferences to play a full round-robin schedule. While it might be the fairest method, what’s fair isn’t always logical, and it certainly does not mesh with the traditions that have helped build college football into the national spectacle that it currently is. So, don’t be surprised if this proposal is quickly shot down this week.
The agreement on the playoff proposal is a rare harmonious situation in a league known for plenty of controversy. The problem lies, however, in the lack of a consensus between the SEC and other leagues, such as the Big Ten and ACC. Slive has traded occasional barbs over the past weeks with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and ACC boss John Swofford. The agreement announced earlier this month between the SEC and Big 12 to have their champions meet on New Year’s Day was another sign that the SEC won’t back down from any of its stances.
If the SEC simply announced the national playoff structure at the conclusion of this week’s meetings without regard for any other conference, would it really be that shocking? The league might not sponsor hockey, but no one is better on the power play than the SEC.