SEC swipes at Big Ten undermine spirit of compromise

Obstacles remain to agreeing on four-team college football playoff

Their teams have won six straight national championships. So Southeastern Conference football coaches and presidents have earned the right to be a little chirpy.

But some of the blather coming from last week's SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., stunk worse than what emits from industrial sections of Gary.

"For some young kid from Mobile, Alabama, who has never seen snow, to have to go play a national championship game in Wisconsin — I don't know if that's the right thing."

Alabama coach Nick Saban actually said that. Right after ripping the "self-absorbed people" (read: Big Ten officials) who floated the idea of playing semifinal playoff games on campus.

The Big Ten officially spiked that idea at its meetings last month, but given that the conference has struggled to convey its views, you almost understand why word did not reach parts of the South.

When Commissioner Jim Delany went off topic with an Associated Press reporter working on a Title IX story last month, his comments were misinterpreted as a demand that only conference champions be eligible for a four-team playoff.

That would be an absurd stance, given that Saban's Crimson Tide were the nation's best team last season — despite not even qualifying for the SEC title game.

It also has become a rallying cry for the Big 12 and SEC, which want the top four teams in the playoff, regardless of whether they won their conference.

How about this headline on ESPN.com: "SEC's playoff position: Big Ten is scared."

Self-absorbed … scared … any other insults?

Trampling on the spirit of compromise, Florida President Bernie Machen asserted that the public does not want top-rated conference champions to have an automatic spot. And therefore, "I think everyone is going to have to come to us on that (stance)."

And according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there was this zinger from Machen: "The group that has to get real is the Big Ten to realize the world is going in a different direction."

Big Ten presidents and chancellors will huddle Sunday at conference headquarters in Park Ridge. A source said the group hopes to emerge with a position on the key remaining obstacles to a playoff that would begin with the 2014 season.

Obstacle No. 1: Who's eligible?

Tribune solution: Adopt a hybrid model — the top three conference champs and a wild card. This will add heft to conference races and title games and limit the importance of rankings, which are subjective. It allows the SEC (or, perish the thought, another conference) to send two teams to the playoffs. But not three.

Three teams from one conference would be a major turnoff in a sport that thrives on geographical rivalries. If the SEC coaches were not so "self-absorbed," they'd realize that.

Obstacle No. 2: Who decides?

Tribune solution: The current combination of Harris Poll, coaches poll and BCS computer rankings has no chance. Coaches determining playoff teams is like John Edwards serving on his own jury. And too many computer operators keep their formulas under wraps.

A selection committee has drawbacks, namely the need for members to go into witness protection. But I still favor the human element of a committee. Last season, Oklahoma State lost once — on a missed 37-yard field goal the day after Cowboys women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and three others were killed in a plane crash. Unbiased computers are important, but find me a software program that factors in a team's emotional state.

Obstacle No. 3: Where to play?

Tribune solution: The title game will go to the highest bidder. Good. The semifinal games will rotate among BCS bowl sites. Also good, given that stadiums at Oregon, TCU and Kansas State can't accommodate big crowds and 1,200 media members. And players on those semifinal teams deserve a bowl trip.

But which bowls? Do it this way: Designate two before the beginning of each season. Pair the Rose (best) with the Orange (worst) and the Fiesta with the Sugar. Then allow the top-ranked team to pick its venue, giving incentive to finish first.

With such a system in place, LSU last year would have selected the Orange against No. 4 Oregon or Stanford to avoid giving those West Coast teams a Rose boost. After the 2010 season, Auburn would have picked the Sugar over the Fiesta.

Either way, Nick, don't worry. Your players won't have to wear gloves.
CHICAGO