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Volume 21 No. 39
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'Plus-one' concept paved the way to football playoff

The model for the College Football Playoff, which went into effect last season, is practically the same as what Mike Slive proposed after the 2004 season in what was called the “plus-one.”

Auburn went undefeated that season but was left out of the BCS championship game, which went with Southern California and Oklahoma, two teams that also were unbeaten.

Slive pledged to never have an SEC team go undefeated and be left out of the title game. So a task force was put together, with the Big East’s Nick Carparelli chairing a group that included executives from the Big 12, ACC and SEC.
Former SEC executive Charles Bloom, now a senior associate AD at South Carolina, still has the handwritten notes that he took from the meetings.

“We were charged with coming up with a plus-one template that he could take to other commissioners,” Bloom said.
“We broke down the positives and the negatives, the TV, the travel, the impact on other bowls, how to handle multiple teams from the same conference, whether we’d go to one network or two, like the NFL. It’s all the same issues that we have today. What we have today with the College Football Playoff is pretty close to what we looked at back then.”

Slive pressed on for a playoff when others wanted to punt.

Photo by: Getty Images
One of the big differences a decade ago was the use of the word playoff. While it’s part of the formal name now, it was too politically hot to even say in the mid-2000s.

“Playoff was taboo back then,” Bloom said. “Unfortunately, the plus-one never got as far as a proposal among the commissioners. It died before they could even talk about it.”

In January 2008, ACC Commissioner John Swofford


SBJ Podcast:
Writer Michael Smith and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss Mike Slive's impact on college athletics, his management style and what the former SEC commissioner's future holds.

assumed the role of BCS coordinator, which revolved from one commissioner to another. Swofford said that the plus-one would be thoroughly discussed during his time as coordinator.
Swofford also knew that he had an ally in Slive.

“Early on, Mike and I were the only two,” Swofford said. “So it was fun to strategize with him how we could push along a plus-one. Not that we expected it to take off right away.”

In a 2008 commissioners meeting, Swofford agreed that Slive would first propose a discussion about the plus-one and Swofford would second it.

“We had allotted about 30 minutes on the agenda for a discussion of the plus-one, and we needed about two minutes,” Swofford said with a laugh. “The two of us spoke up and then there was literally no further conversation.”

Over the years, the SEC’s success in the BCS championship — winning seven of eight before the CFP was implemented — gave Slive a stronger platform.

“Mike represented a league that was having tremendous success and there is a certain leverage that comes with that,” Swofford said.

“Mike does what he says he’s going to do,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “Sometimes it’s taken longer for other people to come around to his way of thinking, like in the case with a playoff. But other times he’s been a consensus builder and gotten things done very effectively.”

As the commissioners came together to form the parameters for a playoff in recent years, “Commissioner Slive was the glue,” said Bill Hancock, the CFP’s executive director.

“Mike brought a collegiality to every discussion,” Hancock said. “He had a position, he represented his conference well, but he also took a global perspective. Mike was not the only one to do that, but it was fairly uncommon. … Mike understood pretty quickly that no one was going to get everything they wanted, but everyone was going to get something.”

The primary sticking point in the creation of the playoff was whether the four teams should be conference champions or whether the CFP should take the four best teams, regardless of conference.

Slive supported the model with the four best teams, which kept the door open for the SEC or any conference to get multiple teams in, but he faced initial opposition from many of the commissioners.

Slive eventually won out by making the case that the playoff would suffer with a 10-2 or 9-3 conference champion as opposed to an 11-1 at-large team.

“Mike’s a great gentleman, but he’s also very competitive,” Hancock said.