If there is one thing we should like about the SEC, it's that our leaders have common sense when talking about a 4-team college football playoff - proposing one in which the top four ranked teams, regardless of conference, will play in the playoff. Of course, that's how it should be done -- it's only fair to anyone honestly looking at the situation. Here's why:
1. Four teams is too small to allow automatic bids. If the Big 10, Pac 12, and ACC want automatic bids, they need to push for at least 8 teams. Due to that small amount of teams -- 4 -- it simply makes no sense to allow anyone besides the top four in. This isn't a 'tournament' -- it's a 4 team final four of the best of the best.
2. It allows access to anyone in another conference - Mountain West, Big East, etc -- to the final four as long as they are good enough. Access points for everyone, in my view, is the best way to handle college football long term without legal challenges -- not by giving lesser teams automatic bids to a small playoff.
3. Not all conferences were created equal.
4. If you want the four best, you take the four best.
Yet, if you read the news stories, the ACC, Big 10, and Pac 12 are suggesting that conference champions be given preferential treatment -- and that perhaps "a top 3 conference champion and wildcard' scenario might play out. This proposal, given that we're only talking about four teams, is absurd.
It's absurd enough that a Plus One system would actually be better than a four team playoff, in my view. The reason is that in a plus one, at least more of the bowl games mean something (a critical flaw in the current structure). I'd actually favor, for people who love the bowls and want them all to be interesting, a "plus four" system, where four teams are selected after the bowls -- where all the bowls essentially become quarterfinals, but with no set brackets.
That aside, the reasons why the Pac 12 / Big 10 solution is nonsense are obvious.
The most telling reason is you could actually end up with a situation where the #1 and #3 teams weren't in the playoff, particularly if you said you had to win your division, unless you had a situation where conference winners had to have a minimum ranking to prevent it from being embarassing. Let's say this was the post-conference championship poll:
LSU #1 (11-1, but lost SEC West)
Notre Dame #2 (11-1)
Alabama #3 (11-1, won SEC West, but lost SEC Title to 9-3 Florida)
Texas #4 (11-1, Won big 12)
Oklahoma State #5 (11-1, loses Big 12 in tiebreaker with Texas)
USC #6 (11-2 -- lost Pac 12 title game to 9-3 Oregon)
Virginia Tech #7 (10-3)
Florida #8 (10-3)
Oregon #9 (10-3)
In this situation, you could have this playoff
#9 Oregon at #2 Notre Dame (qualified as "at large" since LSU didn't win division)
#8 Florida at #4 Texas
#1, #3, #5, #6 and #7 would all be out.
Yeah, that wouldn't stir up any controversy.
The only fair way to do it is to take the Top 4. More often than not those are going to include a couple conference champs, at the very least. But it wouldn't include a 6th ranked Ohio State.
What boggles my mind is why these conferences aren't promoting an 8 team playoff. Larry Scott said that could "end college football as we know it". How? It could actually save it, if you actually do want conference champs to get in. The reason is that field would be large enough to allow for some conference champs (top four) but also at larges. To me that would be the best solution.