- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The simplest way to explain where the SEC stands going into Wednesday’s BCS meetings is that the SEC doesn’t see its streak of six straight national championships ending any time soon.
In other words, the more, the better.
So in a four-team playoff to determine the national champion, the SEC’s preference is that it’s wide open.
No provisions about winning your conference or winning your division to qualify for the playoff.
Just the highest-ranked teams -- period.
Keep in mind that the top three teams in the BCS standings going into the final week of the regular season a year ago were: 1. LSU, 2. Alabama and 3. Arkansas.
Having three teams ranked that high that late in the season may be a rarity, but you can bet that the SEC anticipates having two teams in the running most years, which is why SEC commissioner Mike Slive and the athletic directors and coaches in the league don’t want any restrictions placed on a playoff.
The rest of the country might have groaned when it was determined it would be an all-SEC championship game last season between Alabama and LSU.
But the SEC loved it and would love it even more if the pathway to a four-team playoff were wide open, meaning there could be more SEC rematches in the works in the coming years.
Obviously, a lot has been thrown out there for what the process to determine the national champion will look like in 2014.
We’ve heard talk of status quo, a plus-one format, a four-team playoff that would be open to conference champions only and a four-team playoff that would include the three highest-ranked conference champions and one wild-card team.
For instance, had the last suggested format been in effect last season, LSU, Oklahoma State and Oregon would have gone as the three highest-ranked conference champions, with Alabama qualifying as the highest-ranked wild-card team.
In a conference champions-only format, Alabama would have been left out, which is why the SEC wants no part of that concept.
Ultimately, the SEC is confident that the four highest-ranked teams will be the ones participating in a playoff and that it won’t turn into an invitational of conference champions.
The bigger question is: How will the teams be picked?
A selection committee wouldn’t be Slive’s first choice, but everybody in the SEC is open to seeing how a selection committee would work, who would be on that committee and what parameters would be put into place.
Already, you’ve heard some in the SEC say publicly that part of the reason some of the other conferences want to give so much weight to conference champions is to keep multiple SEC teams out of the playoff.
LSU chancellor Michael Martin said some want to “mute the power of the SEC.”
Would there be a similar SEC bias on a selection committee? Let’s face it: The rest of the college football world is getting increasingly tired of seeing the SEC win the championship every year.
The Big Ten floated out the idea of playing the semifinals on campus sites. Part of the thinking was that southern SEC schools would then have to occasionally play in wintry conditions outdoors at such places as Columbus, Ohio, or Madison, Wis.
The SEC would rather see the semifinals played at the bowls, ideally at bowls where there are already tie-ins. For example, the top SEC team would get a chance to play in New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl or maybe even the newly created Champions Bowl that will pair the SEC vs. the Big 12.
And while the semifinals would be played at bowl sites, the SEC is OK with having the championship game being bid out to cities all over the country.
There’s sure to be some give and take when all this shakes out. But at the top of the SEC’s agenda is making sure the playoff is open to all teams.
As LSU coach Les Miles told me this spring, “If we’re going to have a playoff, let’s have a playoff and get the four best teams in there. We’re not interested in a four corners format where you go to all four corners of the country and pull in the best teams from those regions or those conferences. That’s not a playoff and doesn’t solve a thing.”
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