Big Ten coaches, players weigh in on new college football playoff

CHICAGO – With the inception of the Bowl Championship Series following the 1998 regular season, college football was delving into unchartered waters. Now, after years of clamoring from fans and the media over the BCS system, the college football landscape once again finds itself in another period of transition. A sport that selected its champion via polls just 15 years ago will now settle things on the field with a playoff.

On June 26, a four-team playoff system was approved by NCAA presidents and will officially be implemented beginning with the 2014 season. After years of debate, the college football world is on its way to getting what many have been asking for.

Previous attempts have been made to institute a playoff, including as recently as 2008, when the idea even received support from President-elect Barrack Obama. With changes in the opinions of major conferences – particularly the Big Ten and Pac-12 – a playoff is finally on the way. The Big Ten’s fear for many years was that a playoff would diminish the importance of the Rose Bowl.

“I think the next step is a good step,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday. “And it’s one that we were initially concerned about. The Rose Bowl’s been very important. I’ve said many times, it’s probably one of the top 10 single-day sports properties in the world.”

The new four-team playoff includes two semifinal games rotated annually among six major bowls, with the national championship being bid out every year — separate from the bowl games. While the Rose Bowl may not host its traditional Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup when it hosts a national semifinal game, it will continue the tradition on years it does not play host to the semifinal.

Outrage over the BCS reached a climax last season when the BCS National Championship Game included two teams from the SEC, Alabama and LSU, which had already met earlier in the season. The SEC has dominated the BCS in recent years, claiming the last six national championships.

“The SEC the last few years is kind of the kingpin with the success they’ve had in the BCS,” said Urban Meyer, Ohio State’s first-year head coach. “But I have watched a lot of the Big Ten as we got ready to play some Bowl games in recent years. I see the Big Ten has changed dramatically.”

Meyer, who coached the Florida Gators to national championships in 2006 and 2008, noted that eight of the 12 Big Ten teams run some sort of spread offense. He also believes there are several teams are playing “as good a defense as anybody in the country.”

Over the same six-year span, the Big Ten has seen its level of competitiveness at the national level diminish. The Big Ten has not had a representative play in the national championship game since 2007, when Ohio State lost to LSU. Only once in the 14-year history of the BCS has a Big Ten team won the national championship: following the 2002 season, when No. 2 Ohio State upset No. 1 Miami.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, whose Wolverines will open their 2012 campaign against the reigning national champions Alabama, said that comparing conferences is not so easy.

“I think everybody’s different,” he said. “People make the mistake of lumping (the Big Ten) into ‘not having speed.’”

College football’s new playoff system has prompted much

discussion nationwide, and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball is no different. Ball, who competed in the last two Rose Bowls with the Badgers, said that while liked the current BCS system, it was time for a change.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s going to play out,” Ball said. “I think a lot of players in the nation like the idea of a playoff. It’s more cutthroat. It gets you down to the wire — you lose, you’re out.”

While Ball can’t speak for all of the players and coaches in the nation, he certainly shares his opinion with many in the Big Ten, including Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who had a further suggestion of his own.

“If I were the commissioner of sports I would mandate that there was at least a 12-to-14 day buffer after the two teams get determined,” he said. “You want a quality game. There’s a chance that those two teams aren’t going to be real familiar with each other, so allow them an ample opportunity to really do some homework and also get the players rested.”

Ferentz’s scenario would provide an environment similar to the NFL’s Super Bowl, which is played two weeks after conference championship games. The current plan is to play the championship game one week after the semifinals. Ferentz, along with the rest of the college football world, will have to endure two more seasons of the current BCS system before he can fully evaluate the new playoff. But for now, he and many of his fellow coaches agree that any playoff is a step in the right direction.