Decision day coming at SEC meetings

DESTIN, Fla. — After a week of discussion and debate, the final day of the SEC’s spring meetings should bring some decisions.

The presidents of the SEC schools plan to adopt a firm position Friday on how the league wants a college-football playoff to be structured, as well as determine whether the 120-year-old Georgia-Auburn football game will continue on an annual basis.

Florida president Bernie Machen, chairman of the SEC’s board of directors, said Thursday that the league’s presidents will coalesce behind a playoff plan that incorporates the bowl system.

“I think we’re going to all be together on it,” Machen said in a corridor of the Hilton Sandestin Beach resort. “Our goal is to come out of the meeting [Friday] with a position for the league.

“I’d be amazed if there wasn’t a four-team playoff, semifinals in the bowl system and the final championship game bid out separately.”

UGA president Michael Adams said later that Machen “may have polled the delegation more than I have if he’s saying that. ... We haven’t had that discussion yet. I expect that discussion [Friday].”

It is no secret that the SEC position will call for the playoff to include the nation’s top four teams, setting up a negotiating battle against other leagues that want to limit the field to conference champions.

“I think everyone else is going to have to come to us on that,” Machen said.

The other hot-button issue facing the presidents on the final day of the SEC meetings is a 14-team conference football schedule format for 2013 and beyond. The league’s coaches couldn’t reach consensus on the issue earlier in the week, punting it to the presidents and athletic directors.

It is an important issue for Georgia because annual cross-division rivalries such as the Bulldogs’ game against Auburn are at stake.

Georgia strongly favors a 6-1-1 format, which SEC commissioner Mike Slive has described as “the leader in the clubhouse”: six games against division opponents, one game against a permanent cross-division opponent (Auburn in Georgia’s case) and one game against a rotating cross-division opponent.

But some schools, most vocally LSU, have argued this week that permanent cross-division opponents should be eliminated.

LSU coach Les Miles said they create disproportionate advantages or disadvantages for particular teams. He said it’s inequitable for Mississippi State to play Kentucky every year while Auburn plays Georgia.

Another argument against a 6-1-1 format is that it would take six years to play all of the teams in the other division — and 12 years to play all of them at home. Also, some SEC teams do not have a natural cross-division rival.

On the other hand, in an era of expansion and realignment, losing the annual Georgia-Auburn and Alabama-Tennessee games would be another blow against tradition.

“There are just some things that are part of the SEC fabric that we think are important,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, that will ring true.”

Alternatives floated this week include nine-game conference schedules and a hybrid system where some teams have permanent cross-division opponents and others don’t.

“It’s going to be one of those decisions that, whatever is decided, some are going to like it and some aren’t,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “... My sentiment, to be real clear, is we should play Auburn.

“I think our league in particular is special because of rival games and the passion of our fans. As we progress, I think we need to be mindful of that and respect that.”

Machen, who wants to preserve Florida’s annual cross-division game against LSU, agrees with Richt. “You could draw up other scenarios, but I’d say for right now [6-1-1] works fine,” he said.

Said Adams: “I don’t see any groundswell for change right now.”

As for the playoff, Machen said the SEC position will be carried by Slive to meetings with commissioners of the other BCS conferences June 13 and June 20. Machen, a member of the BCS presidential oversight committee, said a decision on a playoff could emerge at that group’s June 26 meeting in Washington. “I think the basic structure of the playoff will be known [then],” he said. “I think we’re close now.”

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott last week reintroduced the concept of a “plus-1” format — one additional game following the existing bowls — as an alternative to a four-team playoff. But Machen said Thursday, “There is no traction anywhere for a plus-1.”