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The Delany Plan: Do conference champions make the best national champions?

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(Jerry Lai/US Presswire)

From the beginning, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has supported a playoff, but he's also been in favor of doing things his way.

Remember, Delany is the same guy who supported the ill-conceived Rose Bowl plan, which preserved the Pac-12-Big Ten Rose Bowl tradition, but forced other teams to actually have to fight their way into a playoff. Shockingly, no one else supported that idea.

It's a given that college football is going to a four-team playoff system, but how those four teams are chosen is still up for debate. Well, Delany has an answer. According to what is being called the "Delany Plan," the top four conference champions should go, but only if they're ranked in the top six of the national rankings.

On the surface it seems simple enough: If four conference champions are ranked in the top six you take the top four conference champions. When fewer than four conference champions are ranked in the top six the next highest ranked team would get into the playoff.

Done and done.

However, sometimes the conference champion isn't always the better team. In 2011, the playoff would have been (according to the BCS standings) No. 1 LSU vs. No. 5 Oregon and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State. Looks great unless you're No. 4 Stanford, which didn't win its conference, but was the higher ranked team.

In 2010, No. 4 Stanford would have been aced out again because Oregon won the league and Big Ten champion No. 5 Wisconsin was within Delany's six-spot window. In that year, the playoff would have been No. 1 Auburn vs. Wisconsin and No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 TCU.

I know, I know, if Stanford would just win its conference it wouldn't have this problem. Fair enough, but in 2008, Texas beat Oklahoma head-to-head, but because of the Big 12's outdated tiebreaker, Oklahoma went on to play for the conference title. The playoff would have been No. 1 Oklahoma vs. No. 6 Utah and No. 2 Florida vs. No. 5 USC. No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Alabama would have been left out.

In 2005 and 2006, Big Ten schools Ohio State and Michigan would have been shut out respectively in favor of Louisville and Oregon.

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(Chris Morrison/US Presswire)

The problem with this plan is that it doesn't always reward the best teams. What if four conference champions had been in the top six this year and Alabama had been aced out? The national champion never would have gotten a chance to be a national champion despite clearly being (prior to the game) the second-best team in the country.

Since 2008, the SEC would have knocked one of its own teams out three of the four years. Since 2008, four teams from the non-BCS conferences have been ranked in the top six and just one team from either the Big East or ACC has met that top six threshold.

In most years, the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 are going to have at least one team within the top six making this a pretty sweet idea for those conferences and a lousy idea for everyone else.

Again, play better football and this won't be a concern though some would argue TCU, Boise State and Utah didn't play as tough of schedules as other teams ranked in the top six, but were rewarded nonetheless.

While the "Delany Plan" isn't the worst way to choose a playoff, it does need to do one thing — drop the preseason rankings. If all of the rankings started in mid-October, teams would not be rewarded because of their rosters or what they did a year go. Teams should have to earn that top spot early in the season. That gives every team, regardless of conference, an opportunity to get into one of those top six slots. Because if a team is preseason top 3, as long as it plays a moderately decent schedule, it's hard to justify moving that team down if it keeps winning. Consequently, it prohibits another team with a better schedule from moving up.

If the rankings started later, then teams could actually work their way into those spots. It also would aid teams from the ACC, Big East and some of the smaller conferences. If those teams played tough nonconference schedules and beat key opponents, they would deserve to be in the "Delany Plan" conversation. Of course, conference play would probably limit those teams a little bit, but at least they would have a chance and not be eliminated simply because of pedigree.

While Delany is catching a little grief over this idea, at least its a viable option. As college football searches for the perfect way to choose its conference champion, it's going to take some time to find the best way to execute a playoff..

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