The Big Ten wants you to know that it doesn't really have a burning desire to participate in a college football playoff, but it will begrudgingly go along with the masses. And all that saber-rattling about conference champions vs. the four "best" teams? The league is on board with picking the four best, as long as you acknowledge that no system can guarantee that result.
Those were the two main takeaways from Monday's Big Ten conference call, when commissioner Jim Delany and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman explained the consensus reached by the league's presidents and chancellors after Sunday's meeting. Perlman painted the conference presidents as traditionalists who preferred to keep the current BCS system first and an incremental"plus-one" playoff model second. While Delany later said the "plus-one" idea -- where the two national finalists would be selected after all the bowls were played -- was still very much on the table, it sure sounds as if the Big Ten will reluctantly go along with the four-team playoff crowd.
"We recognize that we needed to be realistic," Perlman said. "We're not the only conference that has had a say in this matter."
Perlman said the current BCS system is "in many respects, about as good as you could do," while Delany added that none of the Big Ten presidents, athletic directors or coaches is pushing for any kind of playoff. Yet they then went on to roundly criticize polls and the methodology for selecting teams for the championship, which is the main basis for the BCS system.
"A computer doesn't have an eye," Delany said. "So an eye test is missing if there is an injury" or other issues with a contender. Delany also said the impetus for change is that the BCS "has been battered and criticized" and treated "like a piñata" for the past 15 years. So to reiterate: The Big Ten's No. 1 preference would be to keep a current system that everybody hates and which uses a totally bankrupt formula to select its teams. Gotcha.
But to be fair, the league is hardly standing in the way of a four-team playoff, and this after being viewed for years as being one of the sport's main postseason obstructionists. Delany has absorbed widespread catcalls from misinformed people and SEC figureheads who accused him of trying to tilt the process toward his favor by demanding only conference champions -- even though he never really said that. On Monday, Delany said this point-blank: "I totally agree we should have the four best teams." Perhaps that will placate the SEC loudmouths who couldn't pull themselves away from Chick-Fil-A long enough to bother reading the actual specifics of what the Big Ten proposed.
Yet Delany also -- and rightly -- noted there's no quantitative or foolproof way to select those four best teams. He said, "The what and the how are a more challenging situation than the model you select." Everyone who has bashed the Big Ten of late ought to applaud the league's push for a selection committee to choose the four semifinalists, thus eliminating the corrupt polls and flawed computer formulas from the equation. That's the fairest and best way to come up with the field, though it's far from perfect.
"It's easy to say you want the top four teams," Perlman said, "but defining the top four teams is not something that can be done mathematically."
But the important point is that the Big Ten is not going to stand in the way of a four-team playoff, even if it has to be dragged kicking and screaming down that road.
Some other notes from today's call:
-- SEC officials drew a line in the sand last week, with Florida president Bernie Machen ridiculously ranting that "we won't compromise" about having the top four in the playoff. Some in the South also took thinly veiled shots at Delany. The Big Ten commissioner didn't fire back and insisted that everybody "was taking the high road" during playoff discussions between the conferences.
"When you're working with groups of people, sometimes you can't have your cake and eat it, too," he said. "That's what compromise is about, and you try to avoid demands. I would say one of the reasons we have a chance of coming together is that not everybody is trying to have their cake and eat it, too. And not everybody is making demands."
-- The Big Ten quickly gave up on the idea of campus sites for semifinals, and Delany said there were some practical problems with that plan. As an example, he pointed out the difficulty of fans and media getting hotel rooms in State College, Pa., compared New Orleans. Delany said he saw having semifinal games outside the current bowl structure as a "slippery slope" away from the collegiate model, though he acknowledged some of the inherent weaknesses and corruption among the bowls.
When I asked him if he had the same concerns about a national title site, Delany said he had no problem if that game were bid out to sites that don't necessarily have bowls. He said it should be a "national game" available to all regions of the country.
As for the potential difficulty of fans traveling to semifinal and final games out of their home areas (not to mention conference title games), Delany's answer was, basically, "Well, you asked for it."
"If we were really concerned about fan travel, then maybe we'd play 14 games, not 15," he said. "But we're responding to fans who'd like to see an additional game."