As the world of college football plows steadily toward a likely four-team playoff, the Big Ten Conference offered, at best, lukewarm support on Monday for new proposals for determining a national champion.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman outlined the conference's point of view in a teleconference after a meeting on Sunday of the Big Ten's Council of Presidents/Chancellors.
Despite admitting the flaws of the current system — especially the rankings used in determining the Bowl Championship Series standings — Delany said, "We don't find the fault with the system a lot of others do. We think it has served us well, although, obviously, over time it's been battered and criticized."
Perlman said if the conference presidents were to vote now, it would be to maintain the current system, with adjustments about automatic qualifiers and how the top two teams are selected.
"We think it best serves college football," Perlman said. "We think it best protects our student-athletes. I don't think any of us are anxious to ask our student-athletes to play a 15th game. We think, in many respects, it's as good as you could do."
After that, Perlman said the "strong preference" would be for the plus-one system, in which the top two teams are selected after the traditional bowl games.
"It would provide maybe three, maybe four games, maybe more, within the bowl system that would be exciting games that could implicate the national champion," Perlman said.
Only after that, did the Big Ten get around to endorsing the idea a four-team playoff, with the stipulation it include the bowls for semifinal games.
The key issues for the Big Ten are continuing a connection with the Rose Bowl, giving credence to conference champions and making sure the regular season doesn't lose its significance.
Just how a new playoff system accomplishes all of that is still to be determined in discussions Delany said would probably continue into the fall.
Delany believes the plus-one model remains on the table, even as the overwhelming sentiment appears to be swinging toward a playoff. As to the difficulty of picking the top two teams after the bowl games, the Big Ten would argue all of the plans have flaws.
"If you go to the four-team playoff, it's going to be exceedingly hard to pick between four and five," Perlman said. "That's just the nature of the beast. It's easy to say you want the top-four teams, but defining the top-four teams is not something that can be done mathematically."
The Southeastern and Big 12 conferences want a four-team playoff featuring the top-four ranked teams. The Big 10, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast and Big East have expressed support for a plan that gives weight to conference champions.
The so-called "3-and-1" plan would include three conference champions and a wild card, which could be a non-champion or an independent such as Notre Dame or Brigham Young.
Delany didn't endorse any of the specific plans but suggested playing semifinal games at bowl games is a key element.
"We thought the bowl system, of those two methods, was the preferred method, not only on behalf of the Rose Bowl but on behalf of the 100-year bowl tradition," Delany said.
It was pointed out the Big Ten may have fared better in a playoff than the plus-one over the past 20 years. But Perlman said that should not be the focus.
"I think the presidents of the Big Ten are confident enough with the quality of the football we play that we'll do fine under any system," Perlman said. "To try and do a nuanced evaluation of what's going to be marginally better for us or marginally worse for us, I think is probably impossible.
"The past tells you what the past is. The future? We'll do fine under whatever system, so we need to look for something that's good for college football."