By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — The pro-playoff crowd once branded the Big Ten the “axis of obstruction.”
Now it’s the conference of compromise. The league got dragged into playoff talks over the wishes of some presidents and chancellors who care more about the Rose Bowl and maintaining the best regular season in sports.
The Big Ten flirted with a plan to use on-campus sites for semifinal games before realizing it wasn’t feasible, in part because players insisted they wanted a true bowl experience.
League officials remain open-minded about some aspects of the final details. Presidents and chancellors met Sunday at Big Ten headquarters in Park Ridge, and they declined public comment until Monday, when Nebraska’s Harvey Perlman, Indiana’s Michael McRobbie, league Commissioner Jim Delany and BTN President Mark Silverman will take reporters’ questions on a conference call.
But from all indications, the league will not draw a line in the sand on the prickliest remaining issue — the makeup of the playoff. The Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and Big East favor an automatic berth for the three highest-ranked conference champions — plus a wild-card fourth team.
The SEC and Big 12 do not want to give automatic inclusion to conference champions; they favor a playoff with the four “best” teams, as stated by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive.
Best? By what measure?
Although they’re in the minority on the issue, if the SEC and Big 12 hold firm, there is a compromise: Form a selection committee to choose the top four teams but give it instructions. Treat it more like a jury evaluating evidence than judges at a beauty pageant.
Big Ten officials would want the committee of perhaps 12-14 members to enter its deliberation with certain principles:
Ignore the polls, which are flawed because they prejudge teams by ranking them in the preseason.
Reward conference champions.
Penalize teams that play FCS foes.
Reward teams that play challenging nonconference schedules.
In a tiebreaker between two teams, emphasize the winner of a head-to-head contest.
That last one might seem obvious, but last season Oregon beat Stanford. In Palo Alto. By 23 points. And yet, because Oregon had one more loss — to the beast that was LSU — the Ducks finished the season ranked fifth. Stanford was fourth.
On top of that, Oregon won the Pac-12 championship game.
So, Mr. Slive, which was the “best” team — the one that finished fourth, thanks to flawed polls and computers with mostly hidden formulas, or the Pac-12 champion?
As negotiations continue on a playoff that would begin in the 2014 season, that’s what the Big Ten will emphasize. Its officials will say it also wants the best teams to qualify for the playoff. But it will present a different definition of best.
The Big Ten began its internal playoff discussion by broaching the subject with its football coaches May 17, 2011. The progress in less than 13 months has been astounding considering the colossal impact a playoff will have.
Three key meetings remain, the first two in Chicago: on June 13, commissioners of the 11 BCS conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick will meet; on June 20, commissioners from all the leagues will gather; on June 26, the almighty Presidential Oversight Committee will huddle in Washington, D.C.
Expect the discussions on revenue-sharing, the length of a TV deal and a selection committee to bleed into the summer.
BCS officials can wait until September or October to negotiate with ESPN and potential partners NBC, Fox and Turner Sports. (As future technologies emerge, partnerships also could be formed with giants Apple, Google and Facebook.)
By then it should be clear that the Big Ten, once an obstructionist, has emerged as a facilitator.