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Big Ten on board for four-team football playoff

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By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune –

Once on life support, the proposal to play semifinal playoff games on campus is now dead.

The concept originally came from the Big Ten, and many Midwestern fans relished the potential for Southeastern Conference teams having to survive 60 minutes in frigid Lincoln, Neb., or Ann Arbor, Mich.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said playing at home in late December, as opposed to traveling to quasi-neutral games in the South, could have been worth an extra touchdown for Big Ten teams.

But Commissioner Jim Delany and the Big Ten athletic directors who spoke Tuesday after meetings in Chicago made two things clear: They’re on board with a four-team playoff beginning with the 2014 season, and their preference is to have rotating bowl sites, including the Rose, host the semifinals.

“It’s critical to keep the Rose Bowl in the equation,” Michigan State AD Mark Hollis said. “And from the kids’ perspective, the bowl experience is the one thing they want to keep. With campus sites, it becomes like a regular-season game.”

Said Osborne: “The bowls have been good to us. If you took them out of the playoff, it would pretty much destroy the bowl system.”

Delany praised the Rose Bowl as a “great brand that continues to show an openness … to change.”

In non-playoff years, the Rose Bowl presumably would host the top non-playoff teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Delany said he hopes a playoff model can be approved “in the next 60 days” but added that key details could stretch through the summer. The BCS’s Presidential Oversight Committee meets June 20 in Chicago.

As Delany put it, “the how and the who” still need to be hammered out.

The “who” is which teams automatically would qualify for the playoff. Delany and the Big Ten ADs favor a “hybrid” model, likely the three highest-rated conference champions and a wild card from any league. Or non-league, for you Notre Dame fans.

Last week Delany made comments to the Associated Press that were interpreted as wanting only conference champions in the playoff. Given that Alabama won the national championship last season without playing in the SEC title game, Crimson Tide fans howled.

“Maybe I could have been clearer,” Delany said. “I heard from my in-laws in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Birmingham.”

But the larger point is clear.

“I’m very much in favor of rewarding conference champions as much as possible,” Hollis said. “It’s easy for polls to determine (Nos.) 1 and 2; 3 and 4 get complicated.

“I’d also like to see strength of schedule become a factor. One of my biggest frustrations is, if a team goes 4-0 in the non-conference but the opponents are unranked teams as opposed to playing Notre Dame, Alabama, USC and Oregon and they go 2-2 or 3-1 … I like to play big games, but the system isn’t set up (to reward teams) for that.”

The “how” is whether polls and computers will determine the top four teams, or whether a selection committee will be formed.

Osborne suggested that members could be “ex-coaches, ex-ADs, conference commissioners. Or you could go just with conference commissioners. You get people who are somewhat dispassionate, well respected and understand the nuances. In the end, you might have to explain your decision.”

Ohio State AD Gene Smith half-joked that committee members would need “bodyguards” after picking the No. 4 team.

Delany implied he wants computers with secret formulas removed from the process. And if pollsters are involved, they shouldn’t rank until well into the season.

However it gets done, Big Ten ADs warned fans to prepare for another imperfect system of determining a national champion. But it still would beat an eight-team playoff that would marginalize the regular season — Exhibit A, college basketball — and require some players to suit up 16 times.

Smith warned that the four-team playoff will produce “more chaos” than the current, oft-criticized system. Hollis predicted four to six teams would think they’re worthy of the No. 4 spot.

“That’s where it can get ugly,” he said.

Delany said he and the ADs agree on a seven-victory requirement for bowl teams. Too many bowl games with mediocre teams, Delany said, is like “too much ice cream.”

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Posted on May 16, 2012. Filed under Sports.

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