SEC coaches want top 4 in playoff

DESTIN, Fla. -- The Southeastern Conference is looking out for No. 1.

Maybe even No. 2.

Football coaches from the powerhouse and recently expanded league were in unison Tuesday that they want a proposed four-team playoff to include the best teams in the country -- and not be tied to conference champions.

Their solidarity came as no surprise considering the league has won six consecutive national championships, with the latest one coming when Alabama knocked off LSU after not winning its division or making the league title game.

"I think it needs to be the four best teams in the country," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "I don't think it needs to be the conference champions because in our league we might have four of the best teams in the country."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive has been a driving force behind a proposed playoff for years, and remains as committed as anyone to getting it done this summer.

The playoff system could debut as early as the 2014 season, replacing a current No. 1 vs. No. 2 BCS championship matchup that has rotated among the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Rose Bowl sites.

Slive expects the four-team model to be discussed by coaches, athletic directors and school presidents/chancellors, and an official league decision is expected to be announced Friday.

"Our league has been consistent that if you're going to have a four-team playoff that the best four teams ought to be selected to play for the national championship," Slive said. "If the issue is how teams are selected, then let's go and talk about the selection process and make the selection process more palatable to everybody rather than try to gerrymander who the top four teams are.

"I'm very open to looking at any and all ways to make changes in the actually selection process itself."

Slive said the league also will settle on a format for football following the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, with teams likely to play six division games, maintain one cross-division rival and alternate an eighth conference game among the other six teams from the opposing division.

The designated rivalries are expected to be finalized, too. All indications are Missouri and Arkansas will be deemed cross-division rivals, leaving South Carolina to pair with Texas A&M.

Also, basketball coaches are close to finalizing an 18-game schedule that would put teams back into divisions. The coaches dropped division last season.

But the proposed football playoff dominated discussion on Day 1.

"We're so much closer to having the best teams play," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Every single game is so critically important in college football and we should embrace that. You can lose six games, eight games in basketball and still win a national championship. You can't do that in college football. I think we're very close."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said the new format shouldn't include a team that doesn't win its conference division -- an obvious reference to national champion and SEC West runner-up Alabama.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is pushing to have two semifinal games played at campus stadiums, which seems to address the concerns of playoff opponents who say that such a system would lessen the importance of the regular season. After all, that would reward the two highest-seeded teams with a home game -- a huge incentive and major advantage.

Slive believes the semifinal games would be part of the bowl system.

"My guess is that it will end up being in the bowl system," Slive said. "I think it's better for college football as a whole than just a plus-one."

Not surprisingly, Slive's coaches seemed to wholeheartedly back his plan -- although South Carolina's Steve Spurrier reiterated his preference for an eight-team playoff.

"Do you know who's won the Super Bowl the last two years?" Spurrier said. "Weren't the Giants 8-8? And the Packers didn't even win their division the year before and got hot in the playoffs. It just depends on how much importance you want to place into a playoff system, a tournament. I know there have been a lot of NCAA (basketball) champions that didn't necessarily win their conference but they got hot in the tournament.

"I don't know how it will play out."

Deciding how to select the Final Four is up for debate.

"I don't know. The way we do it now?" Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Just take the top four teams in the BCS instead of the top two. That's one way of doing it. It's already in place. You wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel. Change is here, it sounds like, I suppose it's worthy of discussion as to how to do it. But I'm not for making it a prerequisite that you have to be the winner in your in league. I wouldn't make that part of it."

Neither would any of his colleagues.

LSU's Les Miles, Alabama's Nick Saban and several others made it clear that limiting a four-team playoff to conference champs likely would benefit everyone outside the SEC.

"It's just like politics and self-interest," Saban said. "Somebody wants to create a circumstance that's going to help their situation or conference. That's not in the best interest of college football."

Added Richt: "If you take the top four teams, I think we'd all be in favor of that in our league. If you take four teams that have win a conference championship, it would guarantee that only one of us could go. If you had it the other way, we'd have a shot at two going. You can say it any way you want, but that's what everybody is talking about."