SEC meetings: Coaches come close to unified front on upcoming football playoff

semerson@ledger-enquirer.comMay 29, 2012 

DESTIN, Fla. -- Mike Slive, the commissioner of the richest and most successful conference in college football, did his best to cut a humble air Tuesday. He chose a stool for his press conference, leaving one foot on the ground, hands draped across his lap in a grandfatherly pose.

Slive was fielding questions about a college football playoff. At one point he was asked: whether he wanted to say, "I told you so."

After a pregnant pause, Slive shook his head. But he was smiling.

The SEC has championed a four-team playoff for major college football, and the rest of college football now agrees. Now, the question is the details, and that dominated discussion on the first day of SEC meetings.

"All those issues are on the table to be reviewed," Slive said at the end of the day of meetings. "I think what we need to decide while we're here is do we support the four-team playoff, and I think we will, at least based on preliminary discussion. How it's done and where it's done is something that has to be determined."

There are many topics this week in Destin, but the others -- such as future scheduling -- are localized to the SEC. The playoff takes on a major role this week because Slive wants to present a unified SEC front before the June 20 meetings of the BCS, where the format of the playoff could take shape.

Those details that need to be ironed out: How the bowls will be involved, how the teams will be determined, and -- the biggest question of all -- should the playoff teams all be league champions?

Georgia coach Mark Richt, emerging from the coaches meetings Tuesday evening, said there was general agreement on the best four teams being picked for a national playoff, regardless of conference.

"I think all coaches in our league (agree on that). And of course the commissioner has been pretty vocal about his feeling," Richt said. "But, yeah, we all feel like it ought to be the best four teams. We don't exactly know the best way to find the best four teams right this minute. That's probably up for debate. But we don't think you must be conference champion to be able to play in it."

Alabama coach Nick Saban had even more pointed comments on that subject. That's not surprising, because Saban's team made the BCS championship game this past year despite not winning its division -- then validated that by beating LSU.

"Somebody's a little self-absorbed in worrying about how it affects them and how they can get somebody in the game all the time, rather than getting the best four teams." Saban sai. "I don't think that's fair to the fans and really to the people who have made it known that they want to see the best four teams in this playoff. And the bigger these conferences get, the better chance you have to have two very good teams in that."

That could be taken as a thinly veiled shot at the Big Ten, which is most vociferously pushing the league champions model.

So if the playoff becomes the best four selected teams, how are they selected?

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier favors a committee deciding it, one headed by two notable former coaches.

"If I was running the show, I'd do it like basketball does it. Don't they have a committee?" Spurrier said. "I'd have some guys, and maybe put Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal heading up the group. I think those are two honest, fair guys."

But Richt and Saban agreed on keeping the BCS standings as a way to determine the playoff teams.

"I haven't heard anybody complain about how the teams get ranked," Saban said. "To dismantle it and go to something completely different that has no track record of anything, I don't think is right. But I don't think that people complain about how the teams get ranked. They just complain that there's not enough teams playing."

There also seems consensus on keeping the bowl games as part of the playoff. Slive cited the tradition of the games, saying "it makes sense" to keep them involved.

Slive has been a playoff proponent for a while. It might have taken this past season, when two of his teams made the title game, to get the rest of the country on board. He was asked Tuesday whether that was the impetus.

"That's not for me to say," Slive said.

While the playoff debate has been divisive in the sport, now that it's imminent, the hardest thing to find in Destin was someone who was against it.

"I've been for it for six or seven years," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We're so much closer to having the best teams play (in the championship). Last year, if you look at the top four teams, one plays four, and two plays three. It's tremendous. I think it's tremendous."

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