- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the league's presidents and chancellors left their sand bags, stone tablets and megaphones at home Sunday.
Unlike the SEC, the Big Ten likely won't emerge from its presidents' meeting drawing lines and making bold, rigid statements about a college football playoff. All indications are there will be no official position when Delany, University of Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman and Indiana University president Michael McRobbie address reporters Monday morning. The Big Ten brass will narrow down its ideas and desires, but it welcomes more dialogue during the rest of June, when three key meetings take place -- June 13 (BCS) and June 19-20 (all NCAA Division I commissioners) in Chicago, and June 26 (BCS presidential oversight committee) in Washington -- that should shape the postseason model.
Big Ten officials are well aware that making bold statements during an ongoing negotiation can end up backfiring, and unlike the SEC, they don't want to go there. University of Florida president Bernie Machen, a member of the presidential oversight committee alongside Perlman, said last week that the SEC "won't compromise" on the best four teams model, and that the Big Ten has "got to get real."
The Big Ten has taken a measured approach since May 17, 2011, when it first discussed a new postseason model with its football coaches at the spring meetings in Chicago. The league went into the process with two objectives: be open to outcome and protect the Rose Bowl as much as possible. That's it.
Since that initial discussion, the Big Ten has had more than 50 playoff meetings and conference calls, both internally and externally with other leagues, bowl officials and the like. Aside from needing to protect the Rose Bowl partnership, the Big Ten hasn't taken a firm position, which has created mixed messages and confusion outside the conference. But no doors have been closed.
There's support in the Big Ten for a playoff model that includes the top three rated conference champions -- as long as they're rated in the top 6 -- and a wild card spot for a worthy non-champion or independent like No. 2 Alabama last season. The league views this model as the closest to the playoff models used in professional sports.
In the 14-year BCS era, 42 of the 56 teams that finished in the top four of the BCS standings won their conference championship. That's 75 percent, which is the same exact number a three-and-one system would guarantee. Only five times in 14 years would a top four team have been left out for failing to win its conference, and all five occasions involved flipping the No. 4 and 5 teams. There would never have been a No. 3 left out or a No. 6 let in.
Still, the Big Ten isn't completely wedded to the "three-and-one" concept.
This much is known: the Big Ten strongly favors a selection committee to determine the playoff participants. Eliminate bogus polls. Eliminate most if not all the computer rankings. Assemble a group of senior officials with strong representation throughout college football who meet and decide the four teams.
Bottom line: the human element should be paramount.
The league wants the committee to enter its deliberations with some instructions, much like a jury has during a trial. The Big Ten wants the committee to value league championships, head-to-head results and strength of schedule, much like the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee does. The committee wouldn't write off non-champions or non-division winners, but those shortcomings would impact a team's résumé or potential tiebreakers between two teams.
One big question: Would the committee enter the room with a clear directive (i.e. pick the top three league champions and one wild card) or suggested guidelines?
While some Big Ten teams have been criticized for soft nonconference scheduling in years past, the league, like others, is adamant that schedule strength be a huge factor in determining playoff participants. The "best four teams" model, which sounds great in principle, could allow teams to live on their league's past reputation and avoid scheduling tough nonconference foes. That is, unless a selection committee could penalize a team for having a soft slate. Locking in some conference champions would encourage teams to challenge themselves outside their conference and not be penalized for it.
In other words, last year's Oregon squad wouldn't pay the price for opening its season with a loss to LSU, winning the Pac-12, crushing Stanford at Stanford Stadium but slipping behind Stanford in the final BCS standings because of a late-season loss to USC. Oregon's league championship would take precedence in the final evaluation.
No league should want its champion left out of a playoff in favor of a team it outclassed between the lines. Again, this isn't about No. 2 vs. No. 6, where the separation is clear. It's about No. 4 vs. No. 5.
Other items you should know:
While the initial model could be decided by the end of June, some important elements might not be determined until the fall, when the BCS begins television negotiations.
Although there's some support for a "plus-one" model among Big Ten and Pac-12 presidents, it still seems likelier they adopt a true four-team playoff.
TV likely will have less influence on the playoff model than many believe. The TV folks want great games, and none of the models being discussed would impede this.
We'll have more on the playoff topic and more after Delany, Perlman and McRobbie talk with reporters, so stay tuned.
19hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward