SEC reaps reward of rejected playoff plan

Dan Wetzel

ATLANTA – There's a sizeable portion of college football lamenting that the BCS championship game will feature a rematch of two teams from the same league – LSU and Alabama of the Southeastern Conference.

Go ahead and be frustrated.

Just don't blame the SEC.

The familiar chant of "S-E-C, S-E-C" filled the Georgia Dome on Saturday night, this time LSU fans celebrating their 42-10 victory over Georgia for the league title. It was more than that, though. This was the recognition of a new level of power: The league is assured a sixth consecutive title Jan. 9 in New Orleans.

If it were up to the SEC, though, it never would've happened. At least not without giving teams from two other leagues a chance to prove themselves on the field.

In 2008, commissioner Mike Slive pitched a so-called "plus-one" plan that essentially was a four-team playoff using existing bowl games. Other than the ACC, the other conferences not only summarily rejected the plan, they refused to even discuss its details.

"I remember it being a lonely meeting," Slive said Saturday. "That's all I want to say about it."

So don't hate on the SEC for this, correct?

"That's for you to conclude," Slive said, with a smile. "That's not me saying it."

Slive is humble guy, a genteel 71-year old, almost allergic to trash talk. Besides, he doesn't have to say it because in this case, to the rejected go the spoils. Sticking with a simple 1-2 matchup in the BCS title game has proven to be a boon for the SEC and a disaster for just about everyone else.

Under Slive's plan, LSU and Alabama would've had to beat two extremely good teams on a neutral field to assure this season's title game.

Instead, they get placed right in. Everyone else gets some NIT-esque bowl experience; it might be fun, but it isn't for the glass football.

[Wetzel: Flawed BCS process must be scrapped]

The decision to dismiss Slive's plan in 2008 even had ramifications far beyond a single-season title chase; it changed the landscape of the sport.

Many conferences failed to see the increased access to the championship (four teams rather than two) and the additional revenue from the system as a lifeline for survival. They wound up nearly wiped out.

The vote all but assured the gutting of the Big East, where teams have jumped ship in fear of losing automatic qualifying status. Non-AQ leagues such as the Mountain West, Western Athletic and Conference USA have been butchered.

BCS-generated instability even played a part (along with distrust of Texas) in the Big 12 losing four schools and nearly blowing up for good courtesy of Pac-12 raids.

"I don't think any of us are happy that the BCS is one of the contributing factors to conference realignment," BCS executive director Bill Hancock told The Associated Press.

Well, it is. And it was easy to foresee.

[Recap: LSU 42, Georgia 10]

The SEC has snagged Texas A&M and Missouri from a weakened Big 12. By expanding the league's television and recruiting footprint, it should be stronger in the seasons to come.

The BCS is a perception-based system, and by winning so many titles in a row, the SEC's perceived (if not actual) strength now is unquestioned. As much as some want to howl about the fairness of Alabama getting another crack at the Tigers, it's not like there is a clear-cut counter-argument.

Besides, a one-loss SEC team is almost always going to get the benefit of the doubt with voters over a one-loss anyone else. That's just how it is in a subjective system.

The BCS built the SEC's reputation. And now the SEC's reputation has overwhelmed the BCS.

When Slive drew up his "plus one" plan, he was reacting to 2004, when a 13-0 Auburn team got snubbed from the title game. He wanted a more expansive postseason that would assure his teams a chance to settle things on the field.

So in 2008, he unveiled his plan, which he thought would not only help the SEC but improve the sport overall. Before the BCS meeting, he said, "I think we will be able to discuss at a high level a tangible concept that has been [hashed] through."

Instead, there was no discussion. High level or low.

The reason? That a "plus one" would prove so popular and profitable that there would be pressure to expand it, something the powerful bowl lobby opposes.

"Even though we could construct barriers at this time, we felt like there could be easily an erosion of that, more pressure to add more teams with an ability to get to the national championship game as we went over time," then-Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe explained at the time.

Fear of success was enough for some to scream for silence.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: LSU running back Alfred Blue]

Slive went back to Birmingham humbled. Now his league has grown so dominant that in any given season, the SEC is all but assured of one spot in the title game. The other 100-some odd schools compete for the other.

And now they have to compete with the second-best SEC team for it.

"The decision was made a long time ago in the BCS to say you don't have to be a champion, that there shouldn't be any constraints, either formal or informal," Slive said. "If it's the two best teams in our league or the two best in another league, they are the two best teams.

"This may put this in perspective that people may not have thought about."

In 2009, Slive watched the SEC title game between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama. He quipped at halftime that day that his "plus one" had come to fruition after all. It didn't dawn on him then, he said, that he should get both BCS game slots.

"At the time, just getting [one team] to the [BCS] game, we were happy," he said.

And now?

"If I could go back and see you then, I would say, 'These are the two best teams; they should play in the (BCS) game,' " Slive said.

Don't hate him for the new reality of college football. It wasn't his conference's idea.

It was yours.

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