Big Ten ADs want league champs protected

CHICAGO -- The SEC champion has an unofficial reserved spot in the national championship game because of the league's unprecedented run in winning those contests.

Big Ten athletic directors want to make sure their league champion, which hasn't hoisted the crystal football in nearly a decade, has as good a chance to play for the national title as possible in the future postseason model. The ADs have spent much of the spring meetings discussing elements of a four-team playoff, but their top priority is clear.

"The conference champion piece," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "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."

Smith thinks conference championships have been devalued a bit externally because of the obsession with national championships. Ohio State is the last Big Ten team to play for a national title in football (after the 2007 season) and the only Big Ten team to win a championship (after the 2002 season).

"Our industry and the media have built up the national championship so much that we forget that these young people win valuable conference championships that they will have for the rest of their lives," Smith said.

What type of access should conference champions have in a four-team playoff? Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently mentioned a proposal to have the top four conference champions receive automatic berths in a playoff as long as they finish in the top 6 of the final rankings.

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.

"There's some balance there. ... But clearly, high-ranked conference champions should be in the mix somehow."

Including, in most years, the champion of the Big Ten.