Big Ten takes big step back

Big Ten takes big step back

Published Jun. 4, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

What the heck just happened here?

The Big Ten, and specifically commissioner Jim Delany, were among the most forward-thinking leaders when it came to expansion and playoff ideas, and then came a disastrous conference call on Monday morning that might have set the college football world straight back to 1996.

In what came across as one of the more puzzling media sessions in the entire playoff discussion process, Delany, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman and BTN president Mark Silverman combined forces to say …

-- The Big Ten’s first preference for a playoff format would be to keep the status quo. But knowing that it’s probably not possible …


-- The unconvincing Big Ten would probably, sort of, kind of, maybe would like a plus-one, because it supposedly gives everyone an equal shot at playing for the national title. And why? Because the No. 5 and No. 6 teams might be angry if there was a pure playoff format, and maybe the top two teams could lose, and maybe the No. 5 team could sneak up into the national championship, and maybe the Big Ten would have a team within ten miles of the top four. Simple, right?

-- The Big Ten prefers the status quo, but thinks the poll system is antiquated and the computers aren’t necessarily fair, but a committee might be fine.

-- Apparently, the Big Ten was just kidding with its terrific idea of a champions-only playoff model. That was “just to get the discussion going.” Delany also said that he wants the best four teams to be in a playoff. Congratulations, SEC, you won without even firing a shot.

-- As if you didn’t already know, the Big Ten really, really, really likes the Rose Bowl. At the end of the day, if the rest of the world went on about its business and the Big Ten got to play the Pac-12 every year in the Rose Bowl, everything apparently would be fine.

Something smelled from the start of the conference call, and then it all snowballed.

Silverman got on the line and talked about the impressive health of the BTN -- a terrific success story after a rough beginning. He talked about the expanded reach, going international, selling out the ad inventory and basically crowing about how the network has become a cash cow. So then to have Delany come on and talk about how the Big Ten programs are each getting $284 million, and how the presidents would like to keep the status quo, and it sounded like no one wanted to mess with the treasure bath.

More importantly to college football fans, the Big Ten came across as unprepared, tone deaf and, for lack of a better word, complicit. While the SEC and Big 12 are taking the bull by the horns saying they want a playoff format of the top four teams – showing the utmost confidence in their brands and their caliber of football. Meanwhile, the Big Ten couldn’t have come across softer.

In a half-hearted argument, Delany and Perlman tried to defend the idea that a plus-one actually helps the Big Ten, assuming the league would get its game in the beloved Rose Bowl, win it, and then take a shot at being in the top two.

No, it doesn’t make any sense.

The Big Ten would rather roll the dice and maybe get into the top two for a national championship if everything breaks right rather than man up and hope to have a team good enough to be in the top four of a playoff. You want a plus-one, Big Ten? Okay, but take a wild guess at who would really like a plus-one?

While the ACC and Big East will have no interest whatsoever in a plus-one model, the SEC would love, love, LOVE it, because there would be a terrific chance of more fun like the scintillating Alabama – LSU rematch in the 2012 BCS Championship Game.

With the new SEC and Big 12 alliance in a big bowl game, in practice, the two powerhouse conference champs would play in one bowl, the Big Ten and Pac-12 champs would play in the Rose Bowl, the Big East and ACC would fend for themselves, and then the top two teams left standing in most seasons would probably be the winner of the SEC-Big 12 bowl and whatever No. 2 SEC team obliterated whatever team it faced in the Sugar Bowl or other BCS game.

Since the BCS started in 1998, just going by the years the Big Ten didn’t put Ohio State in the BCS championship – 2002, 2006 and 2007 – the league wouldn’t have been within remotely close to playing for the national championship in most seasons. According to the plus-one idea, the Big Ten might have played for it all in 2002 getting Ohio State in, and it would’ve had an outside shot of the Buckeyes sneaking into the title game in 1998, but that would’ve been a guess.

What is the Big Ten doing? In most years the league would have a team in the playoffs according to its now-defunct champions-only model, and it would’ve had a shot in the SEC’s top four idea. In a plus-one, the SEC and Big 12 would benefit the most while hoping for the right pieces in the right year for the Big Ten.

But more than anything else, Delany and the Big Ten took a huge step back on Monday morning. Everything was going in the right direction with real, live playoff proposals that actually made sense, and then came this.

Big Ten, it’s time to step aside and let the adults of the SEC and Big 12 handle this. Apparently, you’re not ready or willing to step up into the big time.