Big Ten also likes conference champs

Ohio State's Gene Smith and Pac-12 members seem to agree on a criteria for future playoff teams. AP Photo/Terry Gilliam

The Big Ten is holding its spring meetings in Chicago this week, and it appears the thinking among administrators is in line with what the Pac-12 athletic directors and commissioner Larry Scott said two weeks ago: Any potential college football playoff needs to prioritize teams that win their conference.

Adam Rittenberg over at the Big Ten blog chatted with Ohio State AD Gene Smith, who was unequivocal about his top priority:

"The conference champion piece," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "We're a collegiate environment, and we've set everything up for competition to be conference champions, and we have it in every single sport that we have. ... When you go through your conference and you win your conference championship, that's pretty strong."

Other parties at the table in this playoff debate favor a "Four best teams plan," one that would only ensure the process remain just as subjective as the present BCS standings.

The good news is there is plenty of room for compromise between the folks who are right (winning a conference championship matters) and those who are wrong (let's pretend we can rank the four best teams).

The Pac-12 blog is on record supporting the "Top-six plan": Conference champions would be required to be ranked in the top six of the final rankings in order to earn automatic berths in the four-team playoff. If four conference champions aren't ranked in the top six, then the highest ranked at-large teams would fill however many voids there are.

But there's wiggle room here:

[Nebraska athletic director Tom] Osborne told ESPN.com that there has been "a lot of discussion" this week about having the top three conference champions and the highest-ranked at-large team in the four-team playoff. This model would give access to a team like reigning national champion Alabama, which didn't win its league or its division but finished No. 2 in the final BCS standings and beat LSU for the title.

"I don't think you can say all four placements are conference champions," Smith said. "You have to leave some room for that type of scenario, that best high-ranked team that is not a conference champion has some room to get in there."

Of course, you can immediately see how this could get controversial. What happens if a fourth conference champion has the same record as a more highly rated at-large team? Further, we still don't know the rating system -- the old BCS rankings, a new ratings system, a selection committee, etc.

The good news is that the Pac-12 and Big Ten are aligned on their thinking: Any playoff format needs to give priority to teams that win their conference championship.