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Stalemate stalling playoff progress

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BCS director Bill Hancock: 'There's lots to figure out.'
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Thayer Evans

Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans previously wrote for The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as contributed to The Economist, USA Today, The Washington Post and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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CHICAGO

There once was consensus about the future of college football's postseason.


But less than two months after 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame uttered the P-word — as in "playoff" — to great fanfare at the annual Bowl Championship Series meetings and decided they would explore four-team options, that accord has deteriorated into what appears to be an impasse between the SEC/Big 12 and Big Ten/Pac-12.

It's one that would make the European Union proud and figures to last at least until those who have the final say on college football's postseason future — the 12 university chief executive officers who comprise the BCS' presidential oversight committee — meet June 26 in Washington.

That's when the group will have "options — plural" as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott tersely told reporters Wednesday after the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met at an airport hotel here.

Although the few meeting participants who spoke afterward all insisted progress continues to be made in talks for a new postseason starting in the 2014 season — they refused to provide any specifics, however — it all remains overshadowed by the staredown between the SEC/Big 12 faction and Big Ten/Pac-12 bloc.

"There's lots to figure out," BCS director Bill Hancock said. "There's some things where we're inches apart and some things where we're further apart."

Even Hancock, the minister of positive BCS spin, sounded unsure Wednesday when asked about the "seismic change" he proudly trumpeted for college football in April, when a four-team playoff became en vogue.

"Well," said Hancock, "the presidents will make their decision, so it's hard to predict what they will decide."

For the first time Wednesday, the authority of the BCS's presidential oversight committee became the main talking point, an indication of the SEC/Big 12 and Big Ten/Pac-12 stalemate.

And until recently, the committee's only option for the new postseason seemed to be a four-team playoff, which is favored by the SEC and Big 12. But for now, apparently, the Big Ten and Pac-12 support the plus-one format, which will at least be presented to the BCS' presidential oversight committee.

It's just one of the many battle lines the two sides have drawn in what has become a bitter war over college football's postseason future, one thus far dominated by the SEC/Big 12 marriage. The two have been steadfast about a four-team playoff consisting of the best four teams played at neutral sites.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten and Pac-12 stablemates have flip-flopped and sometimes contradicted each other on their stances about playoff games being played on-campus, only conference champions being eligible for selection and now the plus-one. But neither is fooling anyone with the latter, a mere last-gasp attempt to try to save face with their respective university presidents.

It's no secret that SEC commissioner Mike Slive and acting Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas have pummeled Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany during this power struggle. Read into it what you want, but Delany sneaked out of the hotel Wednesday without addressing the media in this city that is home to his conference and with one of his league's media representatives on hand, while Scott left the meeting early to catch a flight back to the West Coast.

"It will be up to them to decide what they want to decide there, if anything or not," Scott said of the BCS' presidential oversight committee.

While Delany hid and Scott was eager to leave, Slive, Neinas and Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby — who starts as Big 12 commissioner Friday — it was not surprising they were unified and adamant about their positions.

"My focus has been, as I've said to you over and over again, on the four-team playoff," Slive said.


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So, when conference commissioners and Swarbrick meet in Chicago once again next Tuesday and Wednesday in conjunction with the NCAA Division I Conference Commissioners Association, don't expect a truce between the SEC/Big 12 and Big Ten/Pac-12.

"We now need to go back and talk to our league and our presidents in getting ready for the 26th," Slive said.

After all, consensus among the SEC/Big 12 and Big Ten/Pac-12 seems to be forever lost, but as reiterated countless times Wednesday, the members of the BCS' presidential oversight committee make the decisions — and that fight in the war for college football's postseason future is just ramping up.

Tagged: Oregon State, Larry Scott

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