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Kovacevic: Pitt left out of playoff? No chance

| Friday, May 25, 2012, 12:30 a.m.

It's been a wild week for college football since the Big 12 and SEC announced a new bowl game pairing their respective champions. Speculation has bordered on hysteria, almost entirely because of how this game will connect with the "the exciting postseason atmosphere created by the new four-team model."

That last part was written into the press release by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, and not by accident.

All concerned had to be delighted to paint the image that this joint venture, combined with the Big Ten and Pac-12 teaming up for the Rose Bowl, will turn the big four of football conferences into the Big Four.

Or even the Only Four.

The extrapolated conclusion reached by many: Someday, the only route into a national four-team playoff would be through participating in one of these four conferences. Plain and simple, the winner of the new Big 12-SEC Bowl would play the winner of the Rose Bowl. You're either with them, or go get your own ball.

Even Notre Dame would finally find a dance partner.

Yeah, I know. Wow.

In that event, of course, the local fallout would be:

1. West Virginia struck gold.

2. Pitt struck out.

But I don't believe either to be the case, at least not for now.

It does, indeed, appear West Virginia has done well despite its desperate status upon leaving the Big East. The Big 12, left for dead last summer, has never looked more formidable. Visibility will be huge, and the school will reap about $20 million annually.

All sounds great.

Pitt arranged to bolt the Big East, too, for the ACC. In the new landscape, that means they left the sixth-best conference — if that anymore — for the fifth-best. The ACC's new TV deal ensures that all schools get $17 million annually. The conference looks stable now, but should any of its members - hello, Florida State — get nervous and rush to this Big 12-SEC party, all would go into flux.

Sounds scary, right?

Imagine Pitt left hanging yet again.

Imagine a playoff format that excluded the Panthers.

Imagine ...

Well, let's stop there. None of this is going to happen.

The conference commissioners, university presidents and even the pundits flirting with a four-team playoff based on four conference champions are fantasizing. Imagine the litigation. Or even legislation. If you thought senators fumed when Utah or Boise State were snubbed by the BCS, just wait until someone tries to close the door permanently on dozens of schools.

"No way," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson responded Thursday when I raised the topic. "We don't know where a lot of this is headed, and we might still be looking at some form of the current BCS setup. But everyone absolutely will have access to the national championship."

But some will have more than others, just as the current BCS rewards only the aforementioned six conferences with automatic bowl bids. The four-team playoff field could be determined by a BCS-style formula. Or it could give automatic berths to select conference champions. That will be feverishly debated.

As for the local schools ...

Look, Pitt will break mostly even with West Virginia on money, if only because of the Mountaineers' travel load in the Big 12. Add up the buses and planes to get all their teams from Morgantown to, say, Ames, Iowa, and that $3 million edge is gone.

More important, if you ask me, the Panthers will have a more realistic path to the national title.

That's still the goal, right?

West Virginia will have to plow through some serious heavyweights — Texas, TCU, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State — just to stay afloat in the Big 12, much less contend. Pitt's ACC opponents come with some pedigree, particularly Virginia Tech, but won't be nearly as strong. A 13-0 or 12-1 record isn't easy anywhere, but it sure looks more feasible in the ACC than the Big 12.

Would 12-1 in the ACC be enough to make a four-team playoff?

"Oh, I would think so," Pederson said. "Look, it's pretty clear that there are five power conferences and that the ACC is one of them. We control the eastern seaboard, we've got the prestige, the athletics, the academics ... we're thrilled to be where we are."

I don't doubt Pederson. But did you see what he did there?

He cited five "power conferences," not four.

No one wants to be left out.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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