Conference Championship Time (Yawn)
I’ve never been a fan of conference championship games.
They’re usually mismatches, rematches, or games no one cares about.
They’re poorly attended—other than in the SEC—and played in neutral sites that lack the on-campus atmosphere of a big game.
They were created mainly to provide TV content and generate huge rights fees.
And with the advent of the playoff, and the clamor for a larger playoff field, they are becoming more irrelevant—and more irritating—by the minute.
Consider this year’s games. We have rematches in the Pac-12 (Washington vs. Utah) and Big 12 (Oklahoma vs. Texas). We have a mismatch in the ACC (Clemson vs. Pitt). We have a four-loss Northwestern team playing in the Big Ten Championship (vs. Ohio State).
The lone attractive game, as usual, is in the SEC, where No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Georgia. You’ll remember those two teams played for the national championship last year in a terrific barnburner.
But none of this is necessary.
Yes, there are divisions in four of the Power Five conferences, but they are artificial groupings, created so that division champs could meet in a championship game. Worse yet, they are nonsensical or non-geographic in many instances, and terribly unbalanced in others.
It would be very easy to declare conference champions at this point without the title game—undefeated Alabama in the SEC, undefeated Clemson in the ACC, one-loss Ohio State in the BIG, one-loss Oklahoma in the Big 12, and Washington (which has the best conference record, defeated Utah earlier in the season and beat WSU in the Apple Cup) in the Pac-12.
Rather than a largely uninteresting and irrelevant schedule of conference championship games, wouldn’t it be better to have the first round of an eight-team playoff?
Of course it would.
As a bowl director, I originally was opposed to the playoff, fearing that it would diminish the bowls (which it did) and the regular season (which it didn’t). The playoff has proven to be a huge success, and a boon to the sport.
But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Four teams is better than the old two-team BCS model, but when you have five “power” conferences, one or more champions will be left out of the playoff every year and one or more deserving teams won’t get to compete for the title. Depending on the outcome of Saturday's Alabama-Georgia game, this year’s field will not include the champions of at least two and perhaps three of the Power Five group.
If you go to an eight-team tourney, each year’s field would feature the five league champs plus the next three highest rated teams. More elite teams would have a chance to grab the brass ring, and there would be less quibbling over who was left out.
Consider this potential field and these quarter-final matchups on the docket this weekend:
Big Ten runner-up Michigan vs. SEC champ Alabama
Pac-12 champ Washington vs. ACC champ Clemson
SEC runner-up Georgia vs. undefeated independent Notre Dame
Big 12 champion Oklahoma vs. BIG champion Ohio State
No Respect: The Pac-12, left out of the playoff for the third time in five years, got no love from the CFP selection committee. Consider that 10-2 Washington State, which lost to USC 39-36 in a game marked by officiating controversies and to Washington in a blizzard that severely curtailed its passing offense, is ranked only No. 13, behind five three-loss teams. Ouch!
So the Pac-12 will almost certainly have just one team in the "New Year’s Six" bowls. The winner of Friday night’s title game between No. 11 Washington and No. 17 Utah will go to the Rose.
I can’t see a scenario where WSU would be able to jump a team to move into the top 12, because No. 12 Penn State, No. 10 LSU, No. 9 Florida and No. 7 Michigan all have concluded their seasons. If No. 8 UCF loses to Memphis in the American Athletic championship game, another Group of Five team must take its place. And No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 4 Georgia will not fall out of the top 12 with a loss this weekend.
So the only possibility would be an unlikely embarrassing loss by No. 6 Ohio State to Northwestern, but even that might not do the trick.
Pac-12 Series: John Canzano of the Oregonian and OregonLive.com is doing a four-part series on the beleaguered Pac-12 Conference administration. Canzano is an excellent reporter and the first two articles have been scathing examinations of Commissioner Larry Scott’s high-spending regime and the conference’s officiating snafus, most notably the Woodie Dixon fiasco. Definitely worth a read.
NFL Hypocrisy: Commissioner Roger Goodell’s protestations and ever-changing policies notwithstanding, the NFL’s stance on domestic violence is a joke. Two days after being cut from the 49ers (finally) for a number of domestic violence transgressions, linebacker Reuben Foster was picked up by the Washington Redskins.