- Associated Press - Friday, December 3, 2010

EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Mark Dantonio is only the latest coach left vexed by a conference tiebreaker.

Dantonio spoke out this week after it became clear his Michigan State team had little chance of going to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans tied Wisconsin and Ohio State for the Big Ten title, but the Badgers are in line for the trip to Pasadena because of their superior BCS ranking.

“The computers don’t see every team play,” Dantonio said.

Dantonio would prefer his league use a different method to resolve this kind of deadlock _ but the situation is hardly unique. Sometimes, there’s simply no easy way to separate teams that finish even in the standings.

The Big Ten and Big 12 are both turning to BCS rankings to break ties.

Oklahoma is advancing to its conference title game at the expense of Oklahoma State and Texas A&M after a three-way tie atop the Big 12 South. In the Big Ten, Michigan State could miss out on the Rose Bowl despite beating Wisconsin, which beat Ohio State. Head-to-head results aren’t part of the tiebreaker since Michigan State didn’t play Ohio State.

Instead, BCS rankings will be used when the final version comes out this weekend.

Dantonio says he’s never been thrilled about allowing national poll voters and computers to determine how a conference breaks a tie.

“If I’m going to make a decision in my family, I’m not going to outsource it,” Dantonio said.

Unusual tiebreakers have been around since long before the BCS, of course. Nobody could accuse the Big Ten of outsourcing anything in 1973 after Ohio State and Michigan _ both undefeated _ played to a 10-10 tie. The conference’s athletic directors held a vote to decide who went to the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes prevailed even though they’d also gone to Pasadena the previous season.

“It was the greatest disappointment of my career,” Michigan coach Bo Schembechler said shortly before his death in 2006. “Everybody, including (Ohio State coach) Woody Hayes, congratulated me after the game and said, ‘Oh, you’ll do a great job in the Rose Bowl’ and all that.”

The Southeastern Conference nearly faced the same predicament in 2003. With Florida, Georgia and Tennessee headed toward a three-way deadlock in the SEC East, the league’s athletic directors hastily changed the tiebreaker, adding BCS rankings to the process so they wouldn’t have to vote on which team went to the conference title game.

When the three teams did end up tied, Georgia was No. 7 and Tennessee was No. 9 in the BCS standings, both ahead of Florida. Even that didn’t quite settle matters. Since Georgia and Tennessee were within five spots of each other, the league used their head-to-head matchup _ a Georgia win _ to decide which team got to play for the SEC title.

Although Dantonio’s not a fan of using BCS rankings in these situations, he understands the rationale.

“That way everybody can be hands-off,” he said. “It’d be a lot tougher if I was sitting here with 11 votes right now, and then you had to make a decision who’s going to go to the Rose Bowl. It’d be a lot tougher for every single coach in that conference, and there would be a lot of scrutiny involved in it. I understand that, but sometimes you’ve got to stand up and make a decision.”

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s team lost out in a tiebreaker this year because its BCS ranking wasn’t high enough, but he’s at a loss to think of a better process. In 2008, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech finished tied, and each went 1-1 in head-to-head matchups. Oklahoma went to the Big 12 title game because of a superior BCS ranking _ and the Sooners eventually played for the BCS championship.

That caused plenty of consternation among Texas fans, but the conference didn’t make any major changes to its system.

“We went back to our Big 12 meetings and everybody said, ‘Well, we need to change it. We need to change it,’” Gundy said. “I was one of the guys who said, ‘That’s fine. What are we going to change it to?’ Nobody had an answer.”

And a three-way tie seems downright simple compared to what the old Southwest Conference had to resolve in 1994. With Texas A&M on probation, five teams finished tied for first with 4-3 conference marks. Texas Tech, which had gone the longest without playing in the Cotton Bowl, received the berth.

There’s a chance five Big East teams could tie for first this season, but it’s a remote one that would require _ among other things _ Rutgers to upset West Virginia on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Dantonio will learn his team’s fate soon enough. The last time the Spartans won a Big Ten title was 1990, when there was a four-way tie at the top and Michigan State ended up in the John Hancock Bowl. Now, its worst-case scenario figures to be the Capital One Bowl against a team from the SEC.

With that in mind, Dantonio came up with his own de facto tiebreaker to separate Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the three teams atop his league _ all of which finished the regular season at 11-1 overall.

“In the end, whoever wins that 12th game is really going to be looked at as the true champion,” Dantonio said. “In the end, that’s how it’ll look.”



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