DESTIN — If there had been a four-team football playoff five years ago similar to the one being proposed now, Georgia might have had a shot at the national title.
The Bulldogs won their final six regular-season games to finish 10-2. But they had to settle for a Sugar Bowl berth, where they beat Hawaii 41-10. LSU beat Tennessee in the SEC title game then Ohio State in the BCS title game.
"We might have got in that four-game scenario in 2007," coach Mark Richt said Wednesday during the SEC's spring meetings.
Last season, Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season then beat it to win the BCS title — without a league or even division title.
Those are two examples of why support from SEC coaches for a playoff is strong. But one area the conference likely won't compromise on is only conference champions being eligible.
"The reason we're even doing the top four is because the fans and the people who are interested in college football are interested in seeing the best four teams play in a playoff," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "So now we're going to mess that up by saying you've got to be a conference champion?
"I think somebody's a little self-absorbed and how it affects them and how they can best get somebody in the game all the time rather than getting the best four teams. I don't think that's fair to the fans and the people who really have made it known they really want to see the best four teams play in a playoff."
Ultimately, creating a playoff might hinge on the issue of it being exclusive to conference champions.
Coaches from the Pac-12 this month said they heavily favor it being restricted to conference champions. Other leagues that have struggled to get representation in the title game in recent seasons, the ACC, Big East and Big Ten, agree with the Pac-12. The Big 12 agrees with the SEC.
Wednesday, SEC coaches gave their stamp of approval for a four-team playoff.
"'I've been an advocate the last six or seven years," Missouri's Gary Pinkel said. "I think we've got it so much more right in college football. Every single game is so critically important in college football, and we should embrace that. You can win six games in basketball and win the national championship. You can't do that in college football. So I think we're very close (to the right formula)."
Commissioner Mike Slive said the SEC is expected to make its official stand on the issue Friday, when the meetings conclude.
"I think our league has been consistent with the idea that if you are going to have a four-team playoff, the best four teams ought to be selected to play for the national championship," Slive said. "If the issue is how teams are selected, then let's go and talk about the selection process and figure out a way to have the selection process more palatable to everybody rather than gerrymander who the top four teams are."
Slive and the SEC coaches said they are open to discussion on specifics such as if the teams will be chosen by poll or committee. But most insist the current bowl system must remain intact.
"I think we need to get the best four teams in the country." Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "If that's where we're headed, that's fine. But I want to keep the bowl system in place. I think that's very important for the student-athlete to have that great experience of going to a bowl game and having those four or five days at a nice place, a nice city, and go play that extra game."
Men's basketball: Coaches agreed to a one-division 18-game plan that likely will be approved Friday. Teams would play everyone once and four teams, on a rotating basis, twice. The final game will be a second one against a designated rival: Florida-Kentucky, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Georgia-South Carolina, Alabama-Auburn, Mississippi-Mississippi State, Arkansas-Missouri and LSU-Texas A&M.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]