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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
SEC power will grow with four-team playoff

By Edward Aschoff


DESTIN, Fla. -- The idea of having a four-team playoff drifted into the 2012 SEC spring meetings and was met with a resounding "yes."

You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone toting an ounce of SEC pride who didn't like the idea of having the four best teams in the country playing for a chance to go to the national championship at season's end.

“I think the event is spectacular," LSU coach Les Miles said of a Final Four-like ending to the college football season. "Any play that is tournament-style and ends with a championship is preferred."

And one reason it's really preferred around these parts is that it'll give the SEC an even better shot at competing -- and winning -- more national championships. The conference dripping with power, confidence and championships stacked on championships wants more of those three things and believes it'll get them with this playoff model.

"If you take four teams that have won a conference championship, it will be a guarantee that only one of us could go," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "If you had it the other way, we’d have a shot of two going. You can say it any way you want, but that’s kind of what everyone’s talking about. We also could be shut out in that scenario as well.”

Hence why Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had been so outspoken about having a four-team playoff constructed purely of conference champions. He knew it would somewhat level the playing field with the mighty SEC.  More chances for the SEC means fewer for the Big Ten -- and Delany wanted to ensure Alabama-LSU never happened again.

Les Miles
LSU coach Les Miles is among those who doesn't want a playoff restricted to conference champions.
Unfortunately for Delany, you wouldn't always get No. 1 versus the true No. 4. A No. 5 or 6 could easily slide in there with a conference championship under its belt, hardly making this a battle of the top four.

But at the heart of this fight, the SEC is concerned with continuing its dominance. And coaches know that. Even if their school hasn't sniffed the BCS national championship game during its existence, they're still going to side with what benefits the league as a whole and generates a more powerful brand that it's attached to.

While Alabama coach Nick Saban called those clamoring for the conference champion mode "self-absorbed," the SEC is guilty of being a little self-absorbed as well.

"I'm not a fan of a four-team playoff if it only includes conference champions," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "That's a negative for our conference. Our conference has proven it's possible that we should have two teams in it. So, I'm not in favor of anything that rules us not having more than one team in [the playoff]."

Under Delany's original idea, Alabama wouldn't be coming off its second national title in three years. But it also means LSU might have its second under Miles. Yet Miles, who would have benefited from not facing Alabama in the last BCS national championship, is against the conference championship idea.

"I want to be the team that wins the conference, plays the best teams that they can play, sees the best team in the championship game and wins it for the championship," Miles said. "Simply put: We wanted to play the best team in the country when we got there. And doggone it, we did."

SEC coaches know that a four-team playoff (or really any playoff at all) gives this conference an even better shot at maintaining the league's supremacy at a steady rate. The SEC has won six consecutive titles and could very well win its seventh this season. But if a playoff does come -- and it could come as soon as 2014 -- the SEC wants to make sure it's covered and has the opportunity get into that playoff each and every year.

The SEC won't win national titles forever. The streak is bound to end sooner or later, but the day a playoff comes where multiple SEC teams have a chance to get in, real fear will manifest itself throughout the rest of the college football world.

"I think it needs to be the four best teams in the country," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "I don’t think it needs to be the conference champions because in our league, we might have four of the best teams in the country.”