Recently I skewered ESPN‘s football analysts for their four-team playoff choice in a mock selection committee meeting. Now I’ve learned that the actual selection committee also had a walk-through exercise based on the 2008 season. Like ESPN’s analysts, the real-life committee failed. Based on Heather Dinich’s excellent article, they apparently chose these final four:
- USC (Pac-10 in 2008)
- Florida (SEC)
- Texas (Big-12)
- Oklahoma (Big-12)
This is disappointing news, as I’d hoped the actual selection committee had more common sense than the pretend selection committee. I will not repeat my rant here, but suffice it to say all my criticisms of ESPN’s analysts apply doubly to the actual committee members.
Today I shall attempt to be more objective in my follow-up analysis.
Since 1936, subjective polls have been an important part of college football. Now, in 2014, the playoffs have arrived. It seems to me that people are having a hard time accepting that there’s been a paradigm shift.
(At least, there was supposed to be a paradigm shift. Considering the committee’s results, it’s looking more like same song, different dance.)
A fundamental truth in all playoffs is that good teams are eliminated early. Likewise, lesser teams advance deeper. It’s just the way it is. This phenomenon comes with the playoffs.
Football fans, journalists, and committee members have a hard time accepting early elimination. It’s strange if you think about it, because they accept it with the NFL and other sports, such as NCAA basketball. But college football was so different for so long, they’re having a hard time letting go of old habits, and getting their thought processes in sync with the new system.
I’ll admit it: In 2008, there was some screwy stuff going on in the Big-12. There was a three-way tie, and the Big-12’s tiebreaker rules were poorly worded. The way it worked out, one-loss Oklahoma won the championship, while one-loss Texas did not. But Texas had beaten Oklahoma head-to-head, which is why people have a hard time accepting Oklahoma as the undisputed champion.
I get all that.
But the Big-12 had a process by which the teams in their conference played a season of games and decided who was their champion. For the committee to come in, after the fact, and give Texas a mulligan, while Utah and Boise State are sitting out in the cold, is baloney.
Bottom line: The Big-12’s poorly worded tiebreaker was the Big-12’s problem. Not the committee’s. They shouldn’t punish the other eleven conferences because the Big-12 wrote sloppy rules. This is why I say the committee failed.
Texas controlled its destiny when it entered the season. If they hadn’t have lost to Texas Tech, they’d have won the Big-12. As a result, they were eliminated early. Journalists and committee members, please try to keep up and accept that early eliminations are part of the playoff paradigm shift.
The Committee’s Principles
2. Principles. The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering:
* Conference championships won,
* Strength of schedule,
* Head-to-head competition,
* Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory), and,
* Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.
The very first bullet point states that conference championships are supposed to be a major component. Yet in their walk-through meeting they chose a team that wasn’t a conference champion. Will someone please explain to me how this happened?
Further, I couldn’t disagree with the fifth bullet point more. Football is the ultimate team sport. Teams should not get asterisks by their losses based on who was injured or suspended.
As for conference champions vs strength of schedule: These are not conflicting criteria. If you say that a 9-3 SEC champion can make the playoff, as a 12-0 ACC team can, then schedule strength has been acknowledged. Because there are more conferences than spots, I do agree that schedule strength is a criteria worthy of heavy weight, but not to the exclusion of conference championships.
Four ‘Best’ Teams
Independent schools aside, each season the respective conferences play a series of games which culminate in declaring a conference champion. Giving a playoff spot to a team who is not a conference champion is putting subjective criteria above field-of-play results, and corrupts the integrity of the playoff selection process.
The definition of “best” should not be an ambiguous moving target, constantly changing by whim. Champions matter, dammit.
Not scared enough yet? Consider this: In 2008, the Utah Utes won the Mountain West, won the 2009 Sugar Bowl, and finished with a #2 ranking in AP poll with a 13-0 record. Incidentally, their Sugar Bowl opponent was Alabama–a team who’d spent most the season ranked #1. The Utes soundly thumped the Crimson Tide 31-17. Bama fans, like me, remember whippings like that for a long time. It’s hard to believe committee members forgot so quickly.
Clearly, Utah was a top-four team. Yet both mock committees left Utah out of the playoff. What greater indication could you need to prove that more weight should be given to conference champions?
If I was on the committee, I’d be worried the 2014 season is going to be as chaotic as the 2008 season. (It’s looking like it will.) I’m not sure where all their confidence comes from, because the only take-away I’ve gleaned so far is that the process still needs work.