National playoff big on SEC agenda

Arkansas-SEMO Live Blog

Missouri and Texas A&M athletic officials will participate in their first Southeastern Conference spring meetings later this month, but the arrival of the former Big 12 Conference members may be overshadowed.

"What's going to take the day is discussion on the conference's position on the four-team playoff," SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said this past week. "The commissioners were charged with going back to their conferences, with each conference stating a position on their preference. There will be a lot of discussion on that."

SEC and Big 12 officials certainly enhanced that discussion Friday by announcing a bowl agreement for its football champions or other deserving representatives that will begin in 2014.

The Big Ten Conference debated specifics for the impending college football playoff during its spring meetings last week in Chicago, and the topic was discussed during the recent Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 Conference gatherings as well. The SEC meetings will be held May 29-June 1 in Destin, Fla., and the Big 12 will get together that same week in Kansas City.

Commissioners of the 11 Bowl Subdivision conferences, along with Notre Dame athletic director James Swarbrick, came to a consensus in late April to implement a groundbreaking four-team playoff once the current contract with the Bowl Championship Series expires after the 2013 season. The playoff would contain semifinals right after Christmas and a title game around Jan. 1, but there is a lot more ironing out required.

"The devil is in the details," Bloom said. "How do you fill it? Who's hosting it? Is it inside the current BCS structure, or will it be separate bowls? Is it a neutral-site bid or campus sites? Is it conference champions only? All those items are up for discussion."

Conference commissioners are scheduled to reconvene June 20 to develop the playoff system that university presidents can approve by July 4.

The Big Ten supports a proposal that would contain the three highest-ranked conference champions plus an at-large selection in the four-team field. That would not have affected last year's final BCS standings, which had LSU followed by Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford, but it would have altered the landscape in 2008.

Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Alabama were the top four teams in the final '08 standings, so the Sooners and Gators would have been in such a playoff as conference champions along with the Longhorns as the at-large. The Crimson Tide would have been excluded and replaced by fifth-place finisher and Pac-12 [then the Pac-10] champion Southern Cal.

Whether the SEC concurs with the Big Ten proposal remains to be seen, but the SEC no longer appears to be fighting the suggestion that all four teams must be conference champions.

"What if the No. 1 team, the No. 7 team, the No. 11 team and the No. 17 team happened to be conference champions?" Alabama coach Nick Saban said recently in Mobile. "You are not really getting the top four teams. If you look at all the years when we've had issues with who plays in the championship game, there is an odd team that is left out.

"In 2003, when I was at LSU, USC got left out. Auburn got left out when they were undefeated [in 2004]. Those are the times when people start screaming."

The conferences have expressed a desire to hold the semifinals at current bowl sites and possibly bid out the championship game. Nebraska athletic director and former Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne said in Chicago that taking the bowls completely out of the playoff would all but destroy the bowl system.

Big Ten officials previously opposed a four-team playoff but believe it will maintain the importance of the regular season, though not everybody is wholeheartedly on board.

"If we're in the top four, then I'm going to kill my coaches," former Florida and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told reporters in Chicago. "Forget recruiting. We're going to put that on the side. We're going to prepare in case we have to play any one of those three teams, and that will be exhausting."

Said Osborne of the changing times: "When I started coaching, the regular season was nine games, and then 10, 11 and 12. Now with conference championship games and this, you're dealing with 15 to 16 games."