You probably have noticed the SEC is becoming more partial to a playoff in college football. That's worthy of applause, if not an "amen" from the rest of the BCS.
Last year, University of Florida president Bernie Machen spoke out in favor of a playoff. This season, after he felt his Bulldogs had been slighted by the BCS, Georgia president Michael Adams did the same.
And just a few weeks ago, SEC commissioner Mike Slive proposed a four-team playoff at the BCS meetings. Although the proposal went nowhere, it reflected the SEC's forward thinking on the subject.
The SEC is doing just fine under the current system. It has won back-to-back national championships, and national champion LSU and Georgia finished one-two in the final Associated Press poll last year. Moreover, the league is sending more teams than ever to bowl games, and it's winning most of them.
So why change a system in which your teams are flourishing?
Answer: Because the conference leaders have figured out a couple of things: (1) The SEC is clearly the strongest football conference in the country; (2) Despite its recent success, the SEC still has a lot to lose by not having a national championship playoff.
Slive's playoff proposal wouldn't diminish the SEC's bowl presence. And it would virtually assure the conference members of having a shot at the national title.
But that's a moot point. The current system is in place for at least another five years.
The relevant question: What can the SEC do to enhance its chances of playing for the national title? It's certainly a question worth discussing at the conference's spring meetings this week.
First of all, the SEC should insist that strength of schedule count for more in determining which teams play for a national championship and in the most prominent bowls. If it needs video evidence, I would highly recommend the Georgia-Hawaii Sugar Bowl in January.
Hawaii, which played one of the easiest schedules in the country, had no business playing in a BCS game. And that opinion was expressed long before Hawaii was embarrassed by the Bulldogs. Slive called the match-up "frightening," as if to express concern for the Hawaii team's safety - and I think quarterback Colt Brennan would back him up on that - against an opponent whose physical superiority was so apparent.
Strength of schedule applies to BCS teams as well. Aside from national championship game opponent LSU, Ohio State played only three teams ranked in the final top 25. Michigan, at No. 18, was its highest-ranked regular-season opponent. Yet the Buckeyes ended the regular season No. 1 in both polls based on their inflated 11-1 record.
In addition to stressing the merits of schedule strength, the SEC should be advocating that the NCAA make two open dates the rule, not the exception as in the case of the 2008 season. The tougher your conference, the more significant a second bye week becomes during a 12-game, regular-season schedule.
Also, the SEC office and its schools should schedule with care. Otherwise, you could end up like Georgia, which has a team presumably talented enough to challenge for a national title, yet burdened with a ridiculous schedule.
Georgia is scheduled to play what should be the top six teams in the SEC, and only two of those games will be played in Athens. It also must play a non-conference road game against Arizona State between conferences games against South Carolina and Alabama.
Who made that schedule? Jeremy Foley?
Florida, which has national championship potential as well, has a more manageable schedule than Georgia. Yet Ohio State, Oklahoma and Southern Cal play schedules more conducive to winning a national title.
Georgia and Florida might have the two best teams in the country. But that doesn't mean they will be good enough to overcome their schedules.
Until there's a playoff, qualifying for the national championship game is a risky proposition for the nation's best football conference. The SEC's challenge is to reduce that risk.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.