It looks like we are getting closer and closer to having a four-team playoff in college football.
A little less than a week after conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met in a playoff war room in Chicago, ACC commissioner John Swofford told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach on Monday that "considerable progress" has been made concerning a playoff ahead of their meeting in Chicago on Wednesday.
Swofford said he hopes the commissioners will be able to present a four-team playoff model, to be implemented beginning with the 2014 season, to the BCS presidential oversight committee in Washington, D.C., next week.
What still needs to be ironed out are when and where the two semifinal games and the national championship game will be played, how the four teams will be selected, what will happen to the current BCS bowl games and how the conferences will divide as much as $400-500 million in annual TV revenue.
But what most people are really interested in is how the teams will be selected. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has made it perfectly clear that he wants the top four teams selected, regardless of if they win their conference or not. He knows that plays to the SEC's strength because there could be the occasional scenario, as in 2011, where the SEC could send two teams to the playoff, increasing the conference's chances of competing for and winning a national championship. And if you take conference championship prerequisites out of it, the SEC might even be in contention to get three teams in (very, very unlikely, but the league did have the top three spots in the BCS heading into the final weekend of the 2011 regular season).
The problem that Slive has run into is that other big conference commissioners are leaning toward prefering giving special treatment to teams that win their conferences. And other commissioners certainly don't want to see three SEC teams in the playoff.
So that means that compromise is going to have to be made. Someone will have to bend, even if the SEC has been very consistent about its feelings toward selecting the four teams.
"This league (the SEC) is all about competition and it just makes sense to me to let the four best teams compete and see who's going to be the national champion if we're going to have the playoffs," Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin told ESPN.com at the 2012 SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. "It's hard for me to fathom a scenario that the fans across the country would really buy into that doesn't feature the four best teams."
As we get closer to finding out what will be made of all this playoff talk, it sounds like Slive and his SEC comrades won't get their way. That doesn't mean the SEC will be at a total loss. A hybrid scenario of some sort should still consistently have the SEC champ in it and that "wild-card" spot could go to the next-highest SEC member if it's ranked high enough. An SEC team ranked No. 2 or No. 3 has a better shot at making the playoff than a conference champ ranked fifth or sixth. But what Slive is worried about is a fourth-ranked SEC team getting passed by a fifth-ranked conference champ.
Slive's push for the "best four" model is all well and good, but other commissioners don't think it's easy to determine definitively a No. 4 from a No. 5. That's where winning your conference comes into play. In a hybrid, it's much easier to determine if a No. 2 or No. 3 should go over a 4 or 5, so that's where the SEC -- or any other conference -- would come up short. Slive understands that 2011 will only happen so often, so he wants to make sure that an SEC team sitting around fourth or fifth in the rankings has a shot to play for a national title.
Thus strength of schedule now comes into play, forcing SEC teams to step out of their comfort zone in scheduling. Now, maybe that No. 4 SEC team has a better case because it played two tougher out-of-conference games. But tougher schedules mean you decrease your chances of running the table, and Slive knows that.
We still have a way to go, but it seems like the cards are stacked against the SEC and compromise might be the best option.