College football fans had been clamoring for a playoff system for ages. In 2014, the world got their wish. We’ve now seen two full cycles of the playoff and the third iteration looms. All along, we knew the day would come when the collective college football community would demand an expansion beyond the current 4-team system. This year, apparently, has provided the perfect storm to push forward with change.
On Tuesday, the College Football Playoff selection committee announced their last set of rankings before the conference championship games are played this weekend. There wasn’t much change from last week, but the most important takeaway was again the positioning of Big Ten teams.
For the second week in a row, the Big Ten has 4 of the top 7 teams in the country according to the CFP selection committee. The puzzling part is the top two teams in the eyes of the committee are a pair of teams with no chance to win the coveted conference championship the committee has been so adamant they value.
In year three of the playoff, we find ourselves with Ohio State ranked #2 in the nation going into a weekend where they can neither win nor lose. They are presumed to be in the playoff regardless of what happens behind them. Michigan is sitting just on the outside at #5, also in a position where they can’t win or lose this weekend. Right behind them? A pair of Big Ten teams who actually have to play a game this weekend. Wisconsin is sitting at #6 with their only two losses coming at the hands of #2 OSU and #5 Michigan. They face off against Penn State, whose losses have come to #5 Michigan and the now ranked Pitt Panthers, who took down #3 Clemson a few short weeks ago. Oh, and PSU boasts a win over #2 OSU, their only blemish on the season.
This puts the committee in a very precarious position. OSU is presumed in. If Clemson or Washington lose their conference championship game, it would make sense for the #5 team to slide in front of them. That would put OSU and Michigan in the playoff. But neither even won their division in the Big Ten. Would the committee jump Michigan with the winner of the Big Ten Championship? Possibly. Even wilder? What would happen if BOTH Clemson and Washington lose? You are all but guaranteed 3 of the 4 playoff teams would come from the Big Ten.
So, it appears the committee is hard at work to ensure this scenario never happens again. We are talking expansion. After decades of being told how awesome the SEC is by ESPN and CBS, it’s interesting that it took dominance by the Big Ten to bring about the tides of change. And all this after only one year where anyone at ESPN has been allowed to proclaim the conference as anything but average.
But hold on to your horses, cowboy. After some lobbying by those same folks at ESPN and CBS, as well as the folks over in the SEC, the expansion may not come in the form you think. No, we aren’t talking a standard expansion to 8 teams, we are talking about the implementation of a conference playoff. Not for every conference. Just for the Big Ten to ensure they don’t entirely take over college football.
Here’s how it would work:
The top team in each division and the next two highest ranked teams in the conference will be matched up according to CFP ranking. Using this year as an example, OSU would have a rematch against PSU while Michigan has a rematch with Wisconsin. Those two games would be played at 2:30 and 7 CT this Saturday while the rest of the world is trying to crown their champion. One would be played in the Meadowlands at MetLife Stadium, the other would be played in DC at FedEx Field. The winners of those two games would then face off in Indy next weekend as the sole game in college football. The winner is guaranteed a spot in the playoff, the loser is in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany described it as a win all the way around.
We think this is going to be tremendous for the conference all the way around. It guarantees us a spot in the playoff every year, our championship game loser is awarded a spot in another high-payout bowl and we get two extra games to sell tickets to and put on TV. Even better, we have a day to ourselves for the conference championship game. We think this will be great for our conference’s exposure, as well as our member institutions’ budgets. By offering the semifinal games in New York and Washington, DC, we can further our efforts to showcase these games in true Big Ten territory. The conference has a deep and rich history on the East Coast, dating back to 2014, when Penn State played in the Pinstripe Bowl.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey also had nothing but good things to say about the decision.
I think this is best for college football. It gives the fans what they want with additional games and allows for a more fair system for all the conferences. We didn’t want to be in a situation where things are dominated by one conference and this solution helps everyone involved.
Sure, a win for everyone. No worries about the travel burden for athletes and fans alike. I’m sure this will have no impact on the STUDENT-athletes. And never mind the whole cutting out the opportunity for the Big Ten to get multiple teams into the playoff. If Big Jim thinks this is best for everyone, I’m sure he’s right. He would never do anything that was purely motivated by money, right?
When asked for his input on the decision, Kirby Hocutt, the chairman of the selection committee, addressed some of those concerns.
Well, we’ve said all along we really want to emphasize conference championships. We think this solution furthers that commitment. Now, only a Big Ten conference champion can make the playoff, but they are guaranteed a spot. We think that is a great solution.
We had discussions about expanding the whole playoff to 8 teams, but decided that wasn’t in the best interest of all conferences or the student-athletes. We wanted to have as little impact on the academics of the broader set of schools. We looked at the conferences and really just decided that the Big Ten has vastly superior academics to the SEC or the Big 12 for example, so if we only had players from that conference missing more class, we felt they would be better equipped to handle that and would limit our impact on some of the schools where we already know players are likely missing most of their classes for football.
And finally, we just think the average college football fan would rather see as many conferences represented as possible, rather than having a conference like the Big Ten get 2 or 3 schools in. In the end, we don't think it would give them a better chance at winning a national championship this year because Alabama is so fantastic, but it would be an unfair advantage in future years if Alabama were to ever left out for some reason.
We think it’s possible that we could see a situation where the SEC gets multiple teams in down the road given how great that conference is, but we just think most fans would be OK with seeing multiple SEC teams in the playoff whereas the thought of multiple Big Ten schools just doesn’t sit right with most.
This obviously is too big a change to implement right away. It will have no impact on this year, and the rest of the nation will just have to deal with the prospect of having more than one (and maybe as many as three) Big Ten teams in the playoff. As boring as that may be to some, it would be a nice way to go out before the conference is locked in to only one team beginning next year.
Honestly, I just can’t get behind this concept. Despite Uncle Jim’s assurances, I don't know that the money would be worth it here. There seems to be more down side here than upside. But what do I know? I'm just a guy with a keyboard.
Hey, hold my beer, I’m going to go light my pants on fire.
Editors note: this is an entirely made up story. We feel obligated to note this because, well, people.