Florida president to push playoff plan at SEC meetings

Updated: May 29, 2007, 12:46 PM ET
Scripps Howard News Service

DESTIN, Fla. -- Welcome to "Weekend at Bernie's."

The annual Southeastern Conference business meetings started here Tuesday, and by the end of the week, Florida president Bernie Machen will know if he has the support of the league in pushing forward a national championship football playoff plan.

Machen has been making noise about a playoff since December, when he feared the Gators might be shut out of the national championship game using the current Bowl Championship Series system. That didn't happen. The Gators got their shot at No. 1 and trounced Ohio State for the national championship.

Now, Machen says he has a plan that involves setting up a corporation to run a playoff separate from the NCAA and BCS commissioners.

"We'd just won the SEC championship, and I'm standing there in the Georgia Dome lamenting the fact I didn't even know if we were going to the national championship game," said Machen, recalling when he began to get motivated about devising a plan.

Also this week, there might be some discussion about the progress of creating an SEC-TV network, just like one the Big Ten Conference is starting this fall. Another of the expected hot topics is discussion of how league schools are adapting to the APR (academic progress rate).

By the end of the week, the SEC will announce a record payout that should exceed $120 million, surpassing last year's record of $110.7 million. That would mean each of the 12 league members will receive at least $10 million for the first time.

School presidents and chancellors began arriving last Thursday, including Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, who said he and SEC commissioner Mike Slive have talked to Machen about his plan. Khayat said he's looking forward to hearing what Machen has to say, though Khayat believes there are a lot of roadblocks in the way for any playoff.

For one, no money figure has been discussed. The payout for such a playoff would have to be outlandish enough to turn the heads of school presidents, most of whom have fought the idea of a playoff for many reasons, including stretching the season even longer and damaging current bowl relationships.

"It's probably naive for me to say this, but I don't believe they can buy a compromise on this," Khayat said.

"The interests of the SEC are we have a great regular season TV package, great attendance, great fan interest. We have a great championship game. We have eight bowl relationships and we believe in the bowl system.

"We are opposed to extending the football season deep into January. We are aware of the wear and tear on football players over a four-month period."

The only playoff Khayat can see is to take the top four BCS teams, seeding them and using two Jan. 1 bowls to match No. 1 vs. No. 4 and No. 2 vs. No. 3, with the winners meeting the following week for the national championship.

"That would be palatable," Khayat said. "I'm the only one I've heard say that, and I haven't said it much. I think we need to listen to anybody with credibility that has something to say about determining a national championship."

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has been a playoff proponent for years. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville raised his voice in the fight when his unbeaten 2004 squad got left out of the BCS national championship game.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, whose team won the 1998 national championship the first year the BCS system was implemented, said he thinks presidents and conference commissioners still aren't keen on a playoff.

"I don't really hear very many presidents or commissioners in the meetings I'm in really talking about a playoff," Fulmer said. "I don't think you can get a consensus with our head coaches.

"But will it eventually happen? I'm sure it will, because of television and the dollars it can create."