DESTIN, Fla. – It may not happen often, but regarding the most high-profile national issue at this week’s SEC Spring Meetings, all conference coaches appear to already be very much in agreement.
Mark Richt takes the podium Tuesday.
“I would be able to say ‘Yes’ on that one,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “Yeah, we all feel like it ought to be the best four teams (in the BCS playoff).”
The SEC plans to exit this week with a consensus opinion about a new four-team BCS playoff that is proposed to start in 2012. There are still questions to be hashed out regarding how best to select the four teams, but the SEC is already clear that a prerequisite of winning the conference title should not be included.
On day one in Sandestin, everyone was on board with this, from the coaches to the athletics directors to Commissioner Mike Slive.
“I think our league has been consistent with the idea 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. “And I said the other day that if the issue is how teams are selected, then let’s go and talk about the selection process, and then figure out a way to make the selection process be palatable to everybody rather than trying to gerrymander who the top four teams are.”
Such comments were in response to a suggestion from the Atlantic Coast Conference for favoring conference champs and stronger words from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who has voiced a proposal of four conference champs out of the top six to make it.
"Some people think it should just be the top four teams. Some people think it should just be the four highest-rated champions," Delany told the Associated Press this month. "I was just floating some ideas of how you might have a hybrid where champions were respected and there was still room for at-large.”
In the same AP interview, Delany said “I don’t have a lot of regard for that team,” referring to Alabama, which reached and won the BCS title game last season despite not winning the SEC’s Western Division title.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban fired back Tuesday.
Nick Saban speaks to reporters Tuesday at the SEC Spring Meetings.
“The reason that we're even doing the top four is because the fans and the people who are interested in college football are interested in seeing the best four teams play in a playoff,” Saban said. “So now we're going to mess that up by saying you've got to be conference champion? I think somebody is a little bit self-absorbed and worrying about it affects them and how they can best get somebody in the game all the time rather than getting the best four teams, and I don't think that's fair to the fans and the people that really have made it known they want to see the best four teams in a playoff.”
While his opinion is the same, the issue hits home in a different way with Richt, who remembers Georgia’s lot during the 2007 season.
“If you’ll go back to that time, a lot of people in the media were like, ‘Well, they should be a conference champion in order to play for the national championship,’” Richt said. “Well, that wasn’t a prerequisite, but everybody tried to make it like it was. And then this year, all of a sudden it wasn’t that big a deal.”
BCS meetings are scheduled to take place June 20 and Slive said he is “hopeful” a consensus can be reached nationally.
The question moving forward, at least from the SEC’s perspective, is now discussions about how best to select the four teams. Richt and Saban each said he didn’t see a problem with using the current BCS formula to find the top four.
“The way they do it now, if you take the top four teams in the BCS instead of the top two, that’s one way of doing it,” Richt said. “It’s already in place. You wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
“If I was running the show, I'd do it like basketball does it,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “Don't they have a committee?”
Slive said the league’s goal is to determine a “format” for this week for future football schedules beyond 2012, though actual schedules may not be finalized yet.
Conversations this week are dealing with the best way to incorporate the two new league teams Texas A&M and Missouri into the existing format.
UGA athletics director Greg McGarity said Tuesday that he expects, as he has all along, that the schedule will indeed be a 6-1-1 format with one permanent rival per team, which in Georgia’s case would be Auburn.
Though nothing will be finalized until the school’s presidents vote later in the week, other permanent matchups appear to be taking shape as well, judging by various comments from coaches. These could tentatively include: Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-Missouri, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss and South Carolina-Texas A&M.
A nine-game conference schedule could be discussed, but it isn’t likely.
“It would be ideal if we could play more than one of those teams beyond the rivalry game that we have,” Saban said, “but unless we play a nine-team conference schedule, that's really not possible. And then there's a lot of issues with that. ... So I think this the best way that we can implement what we're doing right now, but I'd like to also play the other teams on the other side as often as possible, from a fan-perspective standpoint.”
Any more expansion?
Asked about the prospect of adding any more teams to the SEC, Slive said Tuesday that “We aren’t in an expansionist mode now.”
But he also said, “We weren’t in an expansionist mode” last year prior to adding Missouri and Texas A&M.
“We were comfortable at 12,” Slive said. “It’s institutions like Texas A&M and Missouri that came and said they were interested in our league.”
Franklin on Grantham
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin chuckled Tuesday when asked about his post-game run-in last season with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“I'm a very, very emotional, passionate guy,” Franklin said. “This is personal to me. But on the same hand, I'm a guy that once things happen, I move on. I have tremendous respect for Coach Richt and that program. I have respect for Coach Grantham as well and what he's trying to do. I think Coach Grantham was trying to do everything he could to support his players and show them that he had their back, and I was doing the same, and those things happen from time to time.”
Richt was asked about the exchange during his speaking tour in Macon earlier this month and replied, “I don’t think we’ll have much trouble getting jacked up to play the Vanderbilt Commodores this year, I can tell you that.”
“The more that people are talking are talking about Vanderbilt in the offseason, the more that recruits are talking about Vanderbilt in the offseason, it changes the perception,” Franklin said in response to Richt’s comment. “I think that’s exciting that a tremendous program and a tremendous coach like Coach Richt is talking about Vanderbilt in the offseason. I think that’s good.”
A moving rivalry
Richt and Spurrier were each asked Tuesday about the Georgia-South Carolina game moving from early September to early October this season.
“It never mattered to me, really,” Spurrier said. “You've got to play them sometime. So whenever they schedule it is fine.”
“I know when we did play that game in the past everybody was healthy and everybody was undefeated,” Richt said. “So I’m hoping in game six, we’re undefeated and still healthy. That would be nice. But you want to get to that game where it’s very meaningful. It should be. … The last couple of years, it’s been real meaningful for us.”
The coaches’ poll
Analysts have recently discussed perhaps doing away with the coaches’ poll for college football, basically since most coaches don’t get a chance to watch all the games.
“You can't watch everything,” Spurrier said. “Obviously, probably most of us vote for our conference guys and our buddies around the country. The coaches’ vote is probably not as accurate as the media vote, really.
Spurrier’s Saban comments
Spurrier backtracked a little Tuesday from an earlier statement – published by ESPN.com – where he said of Saban, “If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they’ve always won there at Alabama.”
“No, he's a great coach. That wasn't what I was talking about,” Spurrier said Tuesday. “I was just saying, they won their 14th national championship this year, right? One reason I love being at South Carolina is that we have so many opportunities to achieve things for the first time ever. Now don't get me wrong. Some people would rather be at a place where you can win it all every year. Certainly, Alabama, LSU, Florida, there's a lot of schools that should have that opportunity.
“But once something has always been accomplished, it's neat to do it again, but it's not the first time ever. I just sort of look forward to still trying to do some first-time-ever things at South Carolina.”
Another SEC sport
Conference ADs on Tuesday discussed a new SEC rule that would permit the league to adopt a sport sponsored by only 25 percent of the league’s schools. For Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M, that would mean the addition of an SEC championship in equestrian.
McGarity said the president still have to vote on the move, “But we’re all for it. We think it provides an identity for that sport to have a championship, to be playing for something.”
Saban on Seau
NFL great Junior Seau’s recent suicide was a blow for Alabama’s Saban, who once coached Seau with the Miami Dolphins.
“There’s some people in the world that you just have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Saban said. “I mean, this guy was the most popular guy on our team from all his teammates. He was definitely was one of the best players I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. I never saw a guy who loved football more, who loved to practice more. If you made a list of guys that you would say, ‘This guy’s got it all together. He’s got to be one of the happiest guys in the world. He’s affecting everybody he comes in contact with in a positive way,’ Junior Seau would have been the first guy on the list.
“So that one is difficult. The thing it makes me even more committed to is getting guys to do the right thing when they’re in college so they maybe have a little better transition when football’s over for them.”