It’s time to end conference title games.
They’ve had a nice 22 year run, but the time has come to replace them with an expanded playoff. This weekend, 22 years after the SEC debuted a title game, the Pac 12, SEC, ACC, and Big Ten will all play title games. Every single one of these games will be worthless. We already know who the best teams in the Pac 12, SEC, ACC and Big Ten are, that’s why we played an entire eight or nine game season. Oregon, Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State are all unquestionably the best teams in their conferences. So why are we making these teams all play an additional game to tell us what we already know — that they’re the conference champs?
It’s simple, money.
The reason why we have conference title games isn’t to crown a true champion, it’s so the leagues can make more money. But here’s the deal, the leagues would all make more money than they make off the conference title game if they just expanded the playoffs to eight teams and did away with the conference title games. If you’re worried about breaking contracts, you could even play the quarterfinals in the same venues where the conference title game is played now — Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, and Santa Clara could all host geographically seeded playoff games and then you could play the rest of the playoff under the same schedule. If a team loses a quarterfinal game, that team could still play in a bowl game at the end of the season, just like the teams that lose the conference title games do now.
Right now the conference presidents say they don’t want to expand the playoffs because they’re too worried about academics. (Stop laughing, guys. Really, they said that). But if you eliminate the conference title games and put the quarterfinal games on the same weekend you’re ending up with the exact same schedule and playing the exact same amount of games. (You could also bump back the quarterfinal one week and play the games in the second weekend of December if that worked better for scheduling).
Ending the conference title games would also put an end to the infernally uneven divisions in college football. You could do away with the SEC East and West, with the Big Ten East and West, with the Pac 12 South and North and with the ACC’s two divisions that none of you can ever remember which team is in which division. Divisions essentially create two conferences within the same conference. They’ve never made sense. The only reason they exist at all — the ONLY reason — is to fit the loophole that allows conference title games. In order to have a conference title game you must have two divisions of at least six teams and those teams must play every other team in their division. The result is scheduling inflexibility, griping about uneven competition and, at times, two divisions that feel like entirely different conferences. The divisions would be eliminated tomorrow if you did away with conference title games and every conference would be better off as a result.
Let’s use the SEC as an example: Right now it takes an SEC team 12 years to complete a home and home circuit. That’s ludicrous. Without divisions the SEC teams could play three yearly rivals and then five additional teams. In two years you’d play every team in conference, in four years you’d play every team in conference at home and on the road. You’d have one set of 14 team conference standings, if two teams finished with the same record and didn’t play each other to break the tie then you’d have league co-champions. Big deal. Both these teams would have a good chance of advancing to the playoff and for most of the conference’s histories league co-champs were common.
Your eight team playoff could be made up of all five major conference champs and three wild cards. Rather than play a conference title game as part of the eight team playoff — which could lead to an 8-4 or 9-3 team with no business in the playoff upsetting a conference champ and stealing a bid — you’d reward the team that actually won the conference in the regular season. (If there was a true tie and the two teams at the top didn’t play each other then non-conference scheduling would be important to decide who deserved the automatic bid). For the smaller schools you could tell them that if they finish in the committee’s top 15 — or some other number that makes sense — they could get an automatic bid, taking away one of the wild cards. The committee would seed the five conference champs and the three wild cards 1-8.
What do we lose in this system? Sure, a small minority of the time the conference title games have been important to deciding the final BCS match-up, but that was when we were only selecting two teams. Only twice, both times in the SEC, has a conference title game ever matched up two undefeated teams. Most of the time, like this year, conference title games feature one team that deserves to be in the playoff and the other team that clearly doesn’t.
Why don’t we use the regular season’s 12 games to make decisions about the best teams as opposed to an arbitrary conference title game? Especially when, with four or eight teams in the playoff, you’re going to regularly create an odd situation — a team could be in better shape not advancing to the conference title game and getting to rest on the sideline without risking a loss and losing its spot in the playoff rather than having to play an extra game to risk a playoff spot and “win” a conference championship that it already won in the regular season.
Put simply, conference titles don’t matter as much in a playoff era. Every single fan reading this right now would rather his or her team advance to the playoff rather than win a conference title. This isn’t even a hard call. Instead of playing unnecessary conference title games, it’s time to expand the playoff to eight teams.
This year instead of Alabama-Missouri, Florida State-Georgia Tech, Oregon-Arizona, and Ohio State-Wisconsin, we’d have three brand new games featuring three more deserving teams than Missouri, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin. (One game would repeat).
Using the committee’s current seedings an eight team playoff would look like this: Alabama-Michigan State, Oregon-Arizona, TCU-Baylor!, and Florida State-Ohio State
Wouldn’t you rather see these games than the meaningless conference title games we have scheduled instead?
All five conferences are represented and the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 all get two teams into the playoff. (Sure, there would be seeding arguments — why in the world is Michigan State in the playoff despite not beating a single top 25 opponent all season? — but arguments are what make college football special. All we do is argue about college football.)
This year should be the final year for conference title games.
It’s time to expand to eight teams and do away with them forever.