HOOVER, Ala. -- Change is coming to the race for the national championship, a title dominated by the SEC the past six seasons.
Beginning with the 2014 season, teams will no longer be playing for a spot in the final two, instead chasing for a spot in the final four, a four-team playoff championed by SEC commissioner Mike Slive ever since Auburn's undefeated 2004 squad failed to get a shot at the title.
For the most part, the SEC's coaches fell into lockstep behind Slive on the issue of the four-team playoff, a product that matched the conference's unity at the spring meetings in Destin.
"The four-team playoff is going to be outstanding," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Our regular-season games are huge. It's big deal every game we play. I don't want college football to lose that."
Alabama's loss to LSU in the regular season last year and subsequent rise back to the national title seemed to cast doubt on Richt's statement.
After all, the Crimson Tide's regular-season loss ended up meaning very little.
And the idea that the SEC could put two different teams in the national title game sparked a series of controversy that included conference commissioners from the Big Ten and the Pac-12 suggesting that only conference champs should have a shot at the four-team playoff.
Nobody -- commissioner, coach or player -- suggested anything like that in the Wynfrey this week.
"Whoever's making the statements about conference champions is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team that would qualify," Alabama's Nick Saban said.
With 14 teams in the conference, putting a specific, unified front for all the coaches would have been impossible, but most stuck to the party line.
Nearly all of the SEC's coaches said they wanted to preserve the bowl system, calling the week players spend at bowl destinations a huge reward for the players. In addition, coaches like Saban and LSU's Les Miles acknowledged
that a playoff is what the fans largely want.
But there were a few other points left in the room.
Only South Carolina's Steve Spurrier expressed a desire to see a different format for the playoff.
Under Spurrier's plan, there would be an eight-team playoff, with six spots reserved for conference champs from the six power conferences and two at-large spots.
Auburn's Gene Chizik pointed out that a coach's view on the shift depends on perspective.
"With a four-team playoff, I'll be honest with you, that depends on what glasses you're wearing," Chizik said. "In 2010, if we had the four-team playoff, we just went through the league undefeated, won the SEC Championship Game, I wouldn't be real smoked up about having to play another game to get in."
On the other hand, Chizik admitted that as Auburn's defensive coordinator in 2004, he would have loved the idea of the four-team playoff.
Chizik also came up with another good point, saying that no plan would be without potential pitfalls.
For instance, Chizik said, if the No. 1 and No. 2 team played in a conference championship game, and the loser dropped to No. 4, those teams then would be forced to a rematch in the semifinals.
And players such as Alabama's Michael Williams expressed concern that an extra game would have the added effect of heightening the toll the SEC schedule already takes on players' bodies.
In the end, though, most of the SEC supports the four-team playoff wholeheartedly.
"What the country's asked for is what they're getting," Miles said. "That's a little bit more playoff and a little bit more games and a greater view."
After all, the nation's toughest conference likely won't be hurt by any decision the playoff's selection committee makes.
Any team with national title hopes will still have to go through the SEC.