- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has chaired the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee, so he knows a thing or two about difficult decisions and fan backlash.
While a four-team playoff in college football will please most fans of the sport, Smith thinks it won't mitigate the debate about who's in and who's out. Just the opposite, in fact.
Smith and his fellow Big Ten athletic directors on Monday began studying the polls, the final BCS standings and any other rankings since the 1992 season. They found that differentiating between No. 4 and No. 5 is often tougher than choosing the two best teams to play in the national title game.
"When you start looking at [Nos.] 3, 4, 5 and 6, you're going to be able to put a piece of paper between those teams," Smith said.
The final regular-season polls from recent seasons often show small differences between No. 4 and No. 5.
In 2010, No. 4 Wisconsin had only six more points than No. 5 Stanford in the AP Poll, 22 more points in the Harris Poll and 37 more points in the Coaches' Poll. In 2009, both Florida and Boise State were within 70 points of No. 4 Cincinnati in the AP and Coaches' polls. In 2004, the AP Poll had Utah at No. 4 and Texas at No. 5, while the teams were flipped in the Coaches' Poll, separated by just 24 points. In 2007, No. 4 Georgia led No. 5 Virginia Tech by just 35 points in the Coaches' Poll. The final Harris Poll that year had USC at No. 5 and Virginia Tech at No. 6.
"Who's going to pick that 4 and 5?" Smith said. "It's just like in the NCAA tournament. Who's left out? That's what's going to happen."
It's not surprising that the conference commissioners spent so much time on potential selection procedures for the playoff at last month's BCS meetings in Florida. Several Big Ten ADs say there's support for a selection committee to be used for the future format.
The playoff also will put more teams in the mix for berths than the current system, when usually only one team can have a legitimate claim to one of the spots in the title game.
"In the FCS, now they've got 20 teams in the playoff and they're talking about going to 24 because the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th teams are not happy," Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said. "Well, you can only imagine what's going to happen here. Every team probably in the top 10 or 12, they're going to have some argument as to why they should be in the four-team playoff.
"People think this will settle it on the field, this will diminish the amount of controversy. I don't think that'll happen at all. If anything, it will escalate it because you have more teams involved."