Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany (Nati Harnik/AP)
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is aware of public outcry for a change in the way college football determines its national champion and he's not eager to earn more criticism for whatever plan the commissioners and Notre Dame choose for 2014.
"My hope is whatever we do, we understand it's not perfect and we do whatever is in the best interest of college football, and that we get away from this constant drumbeat of criticism," he said.
So it was odd for Delany and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman to say in a teleconference Monday that they would like to keep the status quo — the current BCS system — effectively making the last few months of playoff talk a waste of time.
"I think if the Big Ten presidents were to vote today, we would vote for the status quo. We think it best serves college football," Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said. "I don't think any of us are anxious to ask our student-athletes to play a 15th game. We think, in many respects it is as good as you can do.
"But we're also realistic that that doesn't seem to be something that has gotten a lot of support and that some movement is necessary. Our second strong preference would be for a plus-one."
The collective groan from college football just registered on the Richter Scale.
At least the Big Ten knows keeping the old system after months of teasing the college football-loving public with a playoff would not fly. But to put it out there anyway is just, well, strange. Then the Big Ten went on to say it would be in favor of a plus-one and in favor of a four-team playoff with the four best teams and not just the conference champions as Delany originally suggested.
I'm not sure there are anymore fences left for the Big Ten to straddle. The conference is essentially saying it's open to any idea and therefore won't alienate anyone.
It's diplomacy in its finest form.
"I didn't really think that the conference champions-only (model) met the public's demand for elite teams playing each other," Delany said. "I thought the combination of champions and an elite at-large team regardless of status -- it could be a champion, could be an independent, could be a divisional runner-up or championship loser -- was probably the right formulation. But that was just to get the discussion going.
"I think that people understand now that our search right now is to find the best four football teams. However you do that, typically it's going to involve a lot of champions. I don't care whether it occurs in a committee but I do think the two key issues are honoring champions, honoring strength of schedule, honoring teams and coaches that try to play good schedule and recognizing teams that play an additional championship game versus one that doesn't."
The criteria by which the teams in the playoff are chosen is something on which most would agree. Strength of schedule must be used and some weight should be given to those teams that win their conference championships. Delany also suggested a selection committee instead of the computers and polls, but said the rules by which the selection committee abides would still need to be ironed out.
In the end, the Big Ten is all about preserving the Rose Bowl by any means necessary. The status quo does that, the plus-one does that and the four-team playoff could do that, though the Rose Bowl would probably try to bid for the financial boon that would come with hosting a semifinal game or the national championship if it could be the highest bidder.
Delany said he didn't think all of this would be ironed out after the commissioners meet again at the end of this month, but it doesn't really have to be. While a lot of bowl games are waiting to learn decision so they can try and make their best play to get a piece of the action, the conference commissioners can take a little more time to make sure they get this right.
All of these conferences have their own motives and are trying to work for their best interests. In doing so, they're fighting each other, crossing each other and perhaps making this a tougher process than it needs to be.
At least the Big Ten seems to be open to anything, which puts the ball back in the court of the other conferences, especially those that have been vocal about their own agendas.
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