Playoff system causes debate among Pac-12 coaches

Wednesday , May 09, 2012 - 1:51 PM

Chris Dufresne

LOS ANGELES -- Many college coaches are control freaks who operate on military time and like to assign stadium steps for anyone arriving five minutes late to a 10 o'clock meeting.

Their game plans are meticulously penned in multiple colors and tiny letters on laminated sheets. Coaches have the omnipotent power to block player transfers and close practice to the media.

So it was kind of funny hearing Pac-12 Conference coaches sounding so helpless Tuesday on the subject of a playoff.

Pac-12 coaches huddled last week at their annual conference meetings in Phoenix to discuss how different the postseason is going to look when the BCS goes RIP in two years. Ultimately, though, all they could do was throw their hands in the air, like a referee signaling touchdown.

"We're going to have no say with it," USC Coach Lane Kiffin acknowledged during a conference call.

The one thing coaches would want to control most -- how to win a national championship -- is being handled by wonks. Commissioners decided two weeks ago in South Florida to push forward with a four-team playoff after the 2014 season. The details of how that system will work will be hashed out in the coming weeks, with a decision coming as early as June 20.

Some Pac-12 coaches, frankly, can't be bothered with playoff talk.

"Right now I'm worried about getting through the day," said Jim Mora, just three days removed from his first spring game as UCLA's coach.



Kiffin isn't looking beyond the end of Matt Barkley's nose. His next best shot at a national title may be next year under the present BCS system. As for future models, he said, "We'll just try to win as many games as they allow us to play."

Several Pac-12 coaches oppose the proposed four-team model. Of the coaches who offered opinions, only first-year Arizona Coach Rich Rodriguez embraced the idea. "That will be fine, because we'll be able to include the bowl system pretty much as it is," he said.

However, Rodriguez is not in favor of a selection committee determining the four teams. "I think the more people making this decision the better," he said.

Kyle Whittingham of Utah, Jeff Tedford of California, Chip Kelly of Oregon, Steve Sarkisian of Washington and Todd Graham of Arizona State suggested the four-team format would not go far enough.

"Let's go full-fledged and get eight teams involved," Whittingham said, adding, "I want to get away from people voting to determine who will get a shot."

You can understand Whittingham's sentiment. In 2008, at No. 6 in the BCS standings, his 12-0 Utah team would have been left out of a four-team playoff.

Graham, starting his first year at Arizona State, prefers a playoff that involves six conference champions and two at-large teams.

Tedford said no system is going to satisfy everyone, but added, "If we're going to do the playoff thing, let's do it wholeheartedly and go after it."

Pac-12 coaches are, and should be, concerned a four-team model will hurt the league's chances of cracking the top four given their teams still play a nine-game league schedule.

Southeastern Conference schools play eight league games and four non-league games of their cherry-pick choosing. The SEC has won six straight BCS titles.

Also, starting in 2017, each team from the Pac-12 will begin playing an annual game against a Big Ten school.

Sarkisian said the question is "how to find common ground? It's really a unique challenge ... where's the even playing field?"

Commissioners are trying to agree on an acceptable mix. The Pac-12 is pushing for a tougher strength-of-schedule component and also would like to see only conference champions eligible for the top four.

The SEC, understandably, is arguing it should be the four highest-ranked teams. Alabama won the BCS title last year without winning its own division of the SEC.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has proposed a conference champion-only requirement -- but only if the champion is ranked in the top six.

Last year, that would have kept No. 2 Alabama in the playoff and put No. 5 Oregon, the Pac-12 champion, in ahead of No. 4 Stanford. Wisconsin, the Big Ten champion but ranked No. 10, would have been left out.

Sarkisian predicted a four-team playoff won't end the griping. "Somebody is going to be five, somebody is going to be six and easily have arguments for being four or three," he said. "You're always going to have people upset."

The decision-makers encourage all coaches to submit their thoughts to the company suggestion box.

Here's a thought: Give the coach with the best plan (that won't be enacted) a soon-to-be commemorative BCS coffee mug.

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