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Thursday, May 2, 2013
A lot on table with College Football Playoff

By Ted Miller

PHOENIX -- Although the new College Football Playoff format likely will ignite a spirited debate between Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and his SEC counterpart, Mike Slive -- as well as every other major conference commissioner -- there is at least one area where Scott and Slive agree: increasing the value of scholarships to cover cost of attendance.

And, just like Slive, Scott was willing to say for the record this week that if the NCAA isn't going to facilitate a solution, maybe then it's part of the problem.

Larry Scott
In regards to increasing the value of scholarships to cover cost of attendance, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is "in lockstep with the SEC."
Scott said the Pac-12 is "in lockstep with the SEC" on the matter, suggesting that a $2,000 stipend added to the existing scholarship structure would be a straightforward solution to a longstanding issue, one the NCAA needs to prioritize.

"And if it gets blocked completely, if there no movement in this direction, I think it will cause some real soul-searching among some of the conferences as to whether this structure -- one size fits all; if everyone can't do it, then no one should do it -- can make sense for us long term," he said.

That "structure," of course, is the NCAA.

The College Football Playoff, which will be a revenue gold mine for the major conferences, figures to push forward the issue of improving the lot of student-athletes, who are generating the revenue. That said, the front-line concerns during Pac-12 meetings at the Biltmore resort in Phoenix this week were how the new playoff system will be set up.

While little news was made this week, there was plenty of discussion about the makeup of a playoff selection committee and the lack of uniform standards across the major conferences, whether that's about conference and nonconference scheduling or how many support staff members each school can hire.

The selection committee, however it will be made up, will face significant scrutiny. It will be asked to make subjective distinctions between teams that often will have little common ground for comparison. The process will amount to a four-team BCS system but with human faces -- humans who can be blamed by disappointed fans of the team deemed No. 5.

Scott echoed Slive in suggesting the committee needs a strong resume of football expertise, and that picking former coaches might be one direction to take.

"Coaches have tremendous comfort with other coaches, as long as they are not too distant [from their coaching careers]," Scott said. "Ideally they are former coaches that have worked at multiple institutions across multiple conferences that would have a broad feel and perspective."

Said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez: "I think it’s a good idea to have a big committee. I know there is an issue that if you can’t get two or three people to agree on something, how are you going to get 20? With that being said, I think you can find 20 quality people to be on a committee. I still think you have to use some kind of poll to help. But you’ve got to have someone that can watch the games -- somebody that actually gets a chance to watch film or watch them on TV and make a true evaluation of who the best teams in the country are."

But most college coaching careers are regional. And most coaches will have fan bases that strongly view them as a foe.

As far as athletic directors making up the committee, as many do for the NCAA basketball tournament, more than a few Pac-12 ADs offered up a "no, thanks," though the Pac-12 blog was amused with Oregon State's Bob De Carolis gamely volunteering that he thought it would be "fun."

One way to make things easier for a selection committee is creating scheduling standards to which all of the participating major conferences agree. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten has announced it will play nine conference games starting in 2016. Within the SEC and ACC, which play eight conference games, there has been resistance to adding another.

Conferences that play eight conference games not only have an easier path to a good record and potential inclusion in a playoff, but -- perhaps counterintuitively -- also increase the perception of strength of schedule because it reduces the number of losses within a conference.

"I think a big thing for us is whether we all have level playing fields," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose Cardinal, like USC, have the burden of an annual matchup with Notre Dame on top of a nine-game conference schedule.

"All those things need to come to the forefront so that when this does come about, we all are playing by similar rules, so we can be judging apples and apples," Shaw said.

While the momentum seems to be toward everyone playing nine conference games, there continues to be a strong divide in the Pac-12 over whether the conference should revert to eight conference games if it doesn't become a playoff qualifying standard. Playing nine conference games makes scheduling easier and improves ticket sales, but it also hurts the Pac-12 competitively.

The issue didn't come up this week, as it had during past conference meetings, but it again could become relevant.

"We've had serious discussions, and I've raised the issue, from a competitive standpoint," Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said. "It's been one of my key issues. I love playing a nine-game conference schedule. It's good for football. But I want our counterparts in other conferences to do so as well, and make sure we're not at a competitive disadvantage."

Scott said strength of schedule will be a critical component of the selection process, but it might require a couple of years for conferences and teams to recognize what that means.

"Frankly, the first time a team gets punished, is maybe out of the playoff or gets a No. 3 or No. 4 seed rather than a one or two seeding as a result of playing an FCS team or playing a weak nonconference schedule, that will change behavior," Scott said.

"Change" has been a constant in college football of late. The tension surrounding the new College Football Playoff is there in part because we don't yet know what that change is going to look like.