Delany: Playoff talk shifts from what to how

CHICAGO -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't reveal the future college football playoff model Tuesday, but he made it clear the process is shifting from what the format will be to how it will be determined and who will participate.

Although Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman recently told ESPN.com he and other presidents prefer a plus-one model, a true four-team playoff is much more likely. And the format almost certainly will take place within the existing bowls. That's the model that Delany, the Big Ten's athletic directors and the league's football coaches prefer.

"I had a conference call with our football coaches about a week ago," Delany said Tuesday at the league's spring meetings. "What they said to me was the 'how' is even more important than the 'what.' They were in favor of the Rose Bowl, the bowl system. They felt it was the least slippery slope. They understood on-campus events could be competitively favorable to them, but they were very clear that the events ought to occur in the context of the bowl system."

Delany maintained no format is set -- the commissioners have been asked to present two models to their constituencies -- but he suggested one isn't far from being finalized when he stated, "It will be demonstrably clear how flexible and how open the Rose Bowl has been in this process." The conference commissioners hope to finalize a format by July 1 and could do so at a June 20 meeting in Chicago.

What will take longer, of course, is how the teams are selected, always a hot topic in college football and one that will only get hotter. Delany wants to make that part of the process as transparent as possible.

"Regardless of how we go, it's going to be difficult for coaches and fans and programs and conferences to absorb," he said. "The conversation about the how and the who needs to be really open. Let's get coaches in the room and talk it out. Let's get commissioners in the room and talk it out. Let's do it in front of the media.

"Let's [let] everyone see the difficulty of these decisions and then let's make decisions and live with it."

Delany added that while the BCS has tried to do the right thing, it hasn't explained itself well at times.

"That would mean if we're going to use computers, people are more up front about what's in those computers," he said. "It would mean perhaps the pollsters that we have would have to refrain from ranking teams before they ever play. It would mean we would have to honestly discuss strength of schedule and how we measure it. ... If a computer guy is unwilling to explain to me and everybody else what's in his program, I don't think it ought to be part of the process. If a coach is arguing for championships, I'd like to hear the rationale behind that. If someone is arguing that you don't have to win championships and they're willing to live with a poll that is not even transparent, I'd like to hear that.

"And I'd like to hear coaches talk about the influence that a poll-only process, how that plays out in the nonconference scheduling."

Delany favors a "hybrid model" with a "quality-control cap" for selections: where the best conference champions are "honored" but allowances are made for elite teams that haven't won their leagues and/or divisions, as well as top independents like Notre Dame. He clarified his recent remarks to the Associated Press that many interpreted as a shot at reigning national champion Alabama, which didn't win the SEC or the West division but crushed LSU in the title game.

"I wasn't concluding that those teams ought not to be included," Delany said. "I was simply stating a case for some sort of hybrid combination. I know it might not have been taken that way, and I could have been clearer. But I have heard from my in-laws in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Birmingham that they don't like [former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer's plan, to have only league champions in a playoff] and they wanted to clearly understand what I was trying to say."

Delany called the polls "good indicators" but, like several Big Ten athletic directors, wants to further explore the possibility of a selection committee and how to balance the interest of independents and at-large teams. And he wants to do so in a transparent forum.

He added that the model could be finalized before the selection component.

"What has everybody been focused on? The model," Delany said. "But these other issues are very significant. Our coaches, 'Jim, we'd like to hear about the what, but what about the how and the who?'"

Answering those questions is the next step in the playoff process.