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June 2, 2012

SEC wants playoff with best teams

SANDESTIN, Fla. | Attention purists and traditionalists: A playoff is coming to college football. It's a matter of when, not if.

The Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings, which concluded Friday, saw every member institution football coach, athletic director and president throw unanimous support behind a playoff. That's not surprising given that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive first supported a type of playoff in 2008, advocating a "plus-one" model that ultimately gained no traction among the other conference commissioners.

But that doesn't mean the road to a playoff will be painless.

The SEC wants a playoff among the best four teams, regardless of conference affiliation, with no conditions. In its view, winning a division or conference shouldn't be a prerequisite for inclusion. Other conferences, including the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference, have voiced a desire to build a playoff populated with only conference champions to ensure their respective conferences' seats at the table. The Big Ten has also talked about a plan for a four-team playoff with three conference champions and an at-large team.

Those plans have no traction in the conference that claims six consecutive BCS national championships. In fact, they earned a sharp rebuke.

"One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four,'" Slive said. "Right now we are interested in, and I really haven't deviated from this position, if we're going to go to a four-team playoff, which I anticipate we are, that it needs to be, and I think the fans would expect us to provide, the four best teams in the country, one-two-three-four."

Alabama coach Nick Saban reiterated the league's position.

"To me, there's no question that the reason we're even doing the top four is because the fans and the people who are interested in college football are interested in seeing the best four teams play in a playoff," Saban said. "Aight, so now we're going to mess that up by saying you gotta be a conference champion? I think somebody's a little bit self-absorbed in worrying about how it affects them and how they can best get somebody in the game all the time rather than getting the best four teams in.

"I don't think that's fair to the fans and the people who really have made it known that they want to see the best four teams play in a playoff. The bigger these conferences get, the better chance you have to have two very good teams in that.

"This is my personal opinion, and I may be completely wrong on this ... I don't hear everybody complaining about how the teams get ranked. I haven't heard that. To dismantle the BCS and to go to something completely different with no track record of anything, I don't think is right. I don't think people complain about how the teams get ranked. They just complain there's not enough teams playing, or if there's a third team, the debate becomes which of those teams should be playing rather than the other."

Saban wholeheartedly supports a playoff. He said he thinks it's for the betterment of the game.

"First of all, I think we have a lot of good people trying to determine what the best format is and what the best way to implement that format might be. I've always been, we've always been as a league, for a four-team playoff. So I'm very, very supportive of what we're trying to get done.

"I always talk about the importance of the bowl system to college football. I think the deal we made in the SEC with the Big 12 is probably a good thing to support the bowl system. But I do think however we implement these games that it probably would be important that the bowl system is a part of that some kind of way. Whether they play the first round there and then the next group out or play them all there. That's kind of my opinion. I know there's a lot of people out there that are working hard on trying to figure out the best way to do all this stuff. I have a lot of confidence that they'll do the best job possible and figure it out."

The SEC's more than half-decade of dominance probably sped up the nationwide playoff discussion. But Alabama's rematch against LSU in this year's BCS national title game was the match that struck the flame.

"That certainly added fuel to the fire, but I also think there's been a lot of people for a long time each year that there have been three teams and not two clear-cut teams that should play in this game, is when you have the spike in talk about, 'Why don't we have a college football playoff?' " Saban said. "Whether it was Auburn getting left out (in 2004) ... the year we won at LSU (2003), Southern Cal got left out. To me, that's what we're trying to solve is when there is more than just two teams that are clearly better than the rest how do you manage that.

"But we're going to be having the same controversy in 10 years about the fifth team that didn't get in and why they don't get in. Just like with basketball where you have 68 teams that get in and we have a two-hour show about the eight teams that didn't get in. That's happening. That's coming soon."

Reach Aaron Suttles at Aaron@TideSports.com or at 205-722-0229.



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