NEW YORK — If college football leaders want to eliminate automatic bids to the Bowl Championship Series, Jim Delany won't stand in the way.
However, if they want to turn the BCS into a four-team playoff, the Big Ten commissioner plans to push back. And Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick would be on Delany's side of the debate.
Delany was at IMG's Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Wednesday, part of a panel discussion with Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford, Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky and Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson.
The commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors who control the BCS are in the early stages of determining the future of major college football's controversial postseason system.
Among the many possible changes is eliminating automatic bids to the highest-paying bowl games and having the BCS set only the matchup for the No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game. The other bowl games would be free to make deals with whatever schools and leagues they would like, much the way it was before BCS.
Banowsky said automatic-bid status has become divisive. C-USA, which does not have an automatic bid, just lost three members — SMU, Houston and UCF — to the Big East, one of six conferences that has an automatic BCS bid through the 2013 season. Thompson's league, which also is a non-AQ conference, is losing Boise State and San Diego State to the Big East.
"I feel strongly that it has been a negative driver from our perspective," Banowsky said. "I hope that as we evolve the BCS we do it in a way that can create a more happy BCS without creating these class systems. I think it's possible to do it, create a competitive format that requires teams to be competitive teams in order to participate and rewards the teams that are a competitive."
Delany followed with a response that drew laughs from those in the crowded hotel conference room.
"As long as I can go to the Rose Bowl, I'm OK without automatic bids," Delany said. "If Brit doesn't want automatic bids, that's fine with me. And if he doesn't want me to have one that's OK, as long as I can go to Pasadena."
Delany told reporters later: "If they (Banowsky and Thompson) are saying, essentially, let the system be market based, I can't object to that."
The Big Ten and the Pac-12 have a long and lucrative relationship with the Rose Bowl. In the current BCS set up, the champions of those leagues play in the Rose Bowl unless they are in the national championship game. The BCS has allowed teams from other conferences more opportunities to play in the prestigious California game, including TCU of the Mountain West last season.
"That opportunity wouldn't have come about if the BCS system hadn't existed," Thompson said. "However, is it a better world for that opportunity to exist for the Big Ten and the (Pac-12) without these automatic qualifying standards? That discussion has started and I'm excited about the opportunity to continue to have that and see where it comes out."
Thompson has proposed both an eight- and 16-team playoff system to the other 10 major conference commissioners.
"It hasn't gone real well," he said with a smile.
Swofford, along with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, proposed in 2008 a four-team playoff format known as the plus-one. It was shot down by not just the Big Ten and the then-Pac-10, but the Big 12 and the Big East as well.
There seems to be growing support for a plus-one entering into this round of BCS negotiations.
On Tuesday at the IMG forum, Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby said the plus-one model in is "inevitable" and Washington's Scott Woodward said he supports it and believes it will "eventually" happen.
Swofford said he thinks college football's leaders are more open to changes in the BCS than ever before, and he still supports a plus-one.
"Two more teams would have the opportunity to play for the national championship. It wouldn't eliminate the controversy. It's a mini-playoff which concerns people, because that can be a slippery slope if you look at the history of the NCAA and its playoffs. They start with one number and they very quickly grow to larger numbers, and that bothers people.
"I think there could be more support for it if there were a way to assure some people that it would be contained as a plus-one."
Count Delany and Swarbrick among those who fear that slippery slope.
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"That's what happened in I-AA (football). It's what happened in the (NCAA) basketball tournament. It's what would inevitably happen here,' Delany said. "I don't necessarily think the slippery slope is theoretical. I think the slippery slope is practical."
Notre Dame, a football independent, also has a vote in the BCS negotiations.
Swarbrick said he's "not a fan of the plus-one."
"I think there is momentum for change," he said. "I'm probably a little less certain than Bob (Bowlsby) of the form of the change."