ACC takes stance on playoff format

The ACC has taken its stance on a college football playoff, and commissioner John Swofford will advocate the league’s position this month at three separate meetings that will help determine the future of the sport.

In an interview with ESPN.com last week, Swofford said the conference would like to see a three-game playoff format (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3), and conference champions should be given precedence in the selection process, but the league isn’t entirely opposed to the idea of a selection committee. Swofford said the ACC favors using bowls for the semifinals and bidding out the championship game.

“Our position is one of emphasis on teams that win conference championships, however that is factored into the equation,” Swofford said. “Our league is not uncomfortable with the current formula, although we would want strength of schedule as a factor and could accept any committee involvement as long as its charge includes criteria that emphasizes winning conference championships.”

NC State coach Tom O’Brien said a four-team playoff won’t be big enough if BCS officials truly decide to honor conference champions.

“If that’s going to be the case, you can’t have a four-team playoff,” he said. “You’re going to have to go to a six-to-eight team playoff in order for conference champs to be involved because of the number of teams that are in BCS conferences, unless that whole thing changes. Four doesn’t work because there are six BCS conferences and Notre Dame. We think there’s some merit to the fact you win a championship, and you are a conference champion, and you’re in a BCS league. That’s our point.”

The debates will continue this week when BCS officials meet Wednesday in Chicago. The NCAA Division I Conference Commissioners Association will also meet in Chicago June 19-20, and the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee will meet June 26 in Washington.

“I don’t think there’s anything we stand to lose,” Swofford said. “Everybody is going to have access if there’s a playoff. What we want to have for our champion is as prominent a game as we can have if it is not playing in the semifinals. Beyond that, as we would in any system outside of these games -- is to have the best possible bowl sites and bowl matchups.”

Duke athletic director Kevin White, a former athletic director at Notre Dame and former BCS representative, said he has mixed feelings on a college football playoff.

“I thought the current system did what it was intended to do,” he said. “The regular season was important, every game mattered. The playoff really started in late August or early September. … I think the system worked, it was pretty effective.

“But there’s such a national appetite for change,” he said. “I get it, I understand it, but sometimes we change just for the sake of change. Personally speaking, I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer the status quo. As I think about Duke and the conference, I’m probably more in favor of the two semifinal games within the bowl system with a stand-alone national championship game. That seems to make some sense to me if we’re going to change for the sake of change.”

Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said his counterparts throughout the league have spent more time discussing the possible formats for a playoff than the possibility of a selection committee, but that some combination of a human element and computers would be beneficial.

“I do like the computer rankings, where you get obviously a very unbiased ranking with regard to all of the variables that go into it,” he said. “I don’t think you want to do away with that. I think that should be a leading component or analysis of who are the best teams. But I do believe there is a place for people who have a good, solid background in football and have a good understanding of football with regard to being able to look at factors relative to each team and form a highly educated opinion in an unbiased fashion to go along with what the computers do for you. I think that would be helpful.”

As the rest of the BCS world tries to muddle its way through meeting after meeting, Virginia coach Mike London has a unique perspective on it all: been there, won that.

Granted, London was at the FCS level when he won a national championship with Richmond, but he has been part of a playoff format and said it’s worth taking a look at. For those who are concerned about how a playoff would affect academics, London said he took his academic adviser on the road with him and gave them a study hall period.

“I think it’s doable,” he said. “I know there are a lot of arguments not to do the FCS model because of bowls and things like that, but … I just think there’s some merit in looking at the FCS model a little harder.”

Not everyone in college football, though, is clamoring for a change.

“To be honest with you, I wish we’d leave it alone,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We have a great national championship right now. Everybody says, ‘settle it on the field.’ Well, you don’t know who’s going to get hurt. We’re not a tournament sport, and all that is is a tournament. Not even in basketball – which is a tournament sport – does the best team win a national championship every year. Gimme a break, settle it on the field. The current formula means you better be good Weeks 1-12. That’s a formula, and it’s worked pretty darn well.”

Just not well enough, apparently, for the sport’s decision-makers.