We all knew the first Selection Sunday in the history of the College Football Playoff would be controversial, but could we have known that this announcement could usher in a new wave of change in college sports?
More will be said on this by other Student Section writers in the coming weeks, but let’s briefly outline how much this announcement — with Ohio State leap-Frogging TCU to get to No. 4 — could change college football and the way it operates:
THE BIG 12 AND THE CONFERENCE TITLE GAME PROBLEM
We talked about this issue last week. The big news item mentioned in that piece came from Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, who noted that in April, an NCAA board will vote on a proposal concerning conference championship game autonomy.
The Big 12 stands apart from the other Power 5 conferences on this issue, and in light of the league getting shut out of the Playoff, the Big 12 faces the political reality that it was punished for not having a conference title game… even though it plays a round-robin schedule in which no team avoids another. (The Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Pac-12 can’t say the same thing. Their larger sizes ensure that certain teams will avoid others. This year, Michigan State and Wisconsin didn’t play. Arizona State and Oregon didn’t play. Alabama and Georgia didn’t play. Georgia Tech and Louisville didn’t play.)
If a 10-team Big 12 plays a conference title game, the league will ensure that the conference title game will be a rematch. The purpose of a conference title game, of course, is to ideally match two opponents that didn’t meet during the first 12 games of the regular season. This is exactly what happened in the Big Ten, ACC, and SEC title games. The Pac-12 game was a rematch between Oregon and Arizona.
Does the Big 12 want an annual (guaranteed) rematch? It might have to expand to 12 teams. Should it do so, BYU, Cincinnati and Boise State would be the foremost candidates. We might see a new set of conference realignment questions affecting The American and the Mountain West.
That wasn’t exactly the first thing which came to mind when contemplating how the first College Football Playoff announcement would affect the sport.
THE TCU ISSUE:
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS AND HEAD-TO-HEAD
First things first:
It’s perfectly reasonable for the committee to have voted Ohio State over TCU and Baylor — the selections and even the seedings were reasonable. It is very important to note that Alabama and Florida State — the two teams that likely would have played for the national title in the Bowl Championship Series era — were placed in opposite halves of the playoff bracket, instead of being forced to play in the semifinals. These two semifinal games will feature the last two national champions in the sport against two teams that want to become the new king. The semifinal matchups are balanced, and that would not have been the case if Bama and Florida State had to play in the semis, with Ohio State and Oregon getting to play in the undercard in the other half of the draw.
The problem with the first College Football Playoff was not the teams selected or the seedings and placements. The problem was the process.
This revealed itself not in the fact that Ohio State got in over TCU and Baylor, but in the fact that Baylor finished ahead of TCU, with the Frogs landing at sixth after being third entering week 15.
This point does not require much elaboration:
When TCU was placed third following week 14 — after beating a 6-6 team (Texas), not anyone special — many people understandably thought that the Frogs were going to make the field. Yet, this was (and is) a new process, with 12 human beings making up their minds. No one ever knew for a fact what these 12 people would do. There was always the possibility that Baylor’s head-to-head advantage and conference title would matter more, and it while it might be an overreaction to say those were the only reasons Baylor finished ahead of TCU, it would be just as much of an overreaction to say those reasons had nothing to do with Baylor finishing above TCU.
Given that the committee valued head-to-head and a conference title to at least some degree in the Baylor-TCU competition, it seems very hard to deny the claim that the weekly Tuesday night rankings were serving the interests of television ratings, not the inclusion of all criteria used to arrive at the final selections.
Read the caption in the photo below — it adequately summarizes the issues at hand:
Barring real changes to the process — which was a sham in year one — the College Football Playoff’s announcement of the final four teams reveals that there’s absolutely no good reason to watch midseason rankings next year, if the committee insists on keeping them. This should certainly move the ball toward one end-of-season announcement. The selection of Ohio State should also lead college football to simply come out and establish a written order of criteria in which teams are given a roadmap for what they have to do each season.
OHIO STATE AND FLORIDA STATE:
THE PRIMACY OF THE EYE TEST… AND THE LINGERING MEMORY OF CHRIS FOWLER’S WORDS
It is clear — and entirely reasonable — that Ohio State cracked the top four not just because it won the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin, but because it demolished the Badgers and (moreover) did so with a third-string quarterback. Answering so many questions about their ability to play well in spite of injuries gave the Buckeyes all the ammunition they needed to state their case for the playoff. Putting Ohio State in the playoff as a response to Saturday’s events is not a flawed or illogical reaction by the committee.
Let’s note, though, that Ohio State’s ability to look extremely impressive is an eye-test measurement. When comparing the 2014 Big Ten to the 2014 Big 12 — and when looking at the Virginia Tech loss compared to TCU’s loss to Baylor in particular — it’s clear the committee framed the existence of a resume in a very particular way, such that the “eye test” acquired prominence. There’s no rule saying the “eye test” can’t be used — college football is great at not having precise rules, thereby perpetuating arguments that get watched a lot on ESPN — so it’s valid to put Ohio State in the playoff field.
What might get overlooked as a result of Ohio State’s eye-test success story is that Florida State, though bumped up to No. 3 from No. 4 this past weekend, still finished outside the top two.
Under the BCS (as mentioned above), FSU would have been a top-two team, and very likely No. 1. Simply because FSU didn’t “look good,” however, its 13-0 record was downgraded in favor of optics. The committee made two statements about the eye test, not just one. Florida State at No. 3 was as much an eye-test result as Ohio State being No. 4.
Moving on from that last point, there’s one more thing to be said about Ohio State getting in and the Big 12 being shut out, something that can’t be mentioned without referencing one of the more emotional and controversial moments in college sports broadcasting this season:
Remember when Chris Fowler launched into his epic rant and included a note about how it would be good for ESPN if the Big Ten did well?
It is very, very hard on an intellectual level to think that Ohio State’s selection had absolutely nothing to do with its box-office name and its drawing power in a semifinal against Alabama in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
No, this probably wasn’t the primary consideration — that would be an overreach, and it would fail to give credit to the work earnestly done by the committee.
However, if you’re still unsure about that point, consider the flip side from the Big 12’s perspective:
If TCU and Baylor were instead “Texas” and “Oklahoma,” would they have been left out?
Reasonable people can disagree, since Ohio State is its own powerful brand. Yet, you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone in the Central Plains or Texas that Texas or OU would have been jumped by the Buckeyes.
Chris Fowler’s Big Ten remarks were affirmed, and that’s just one of many storylines to emerge after a College Football Playoff announcement which carried a lot more news value than the creation of two semifinal games.
It will be fascinating to see how college sports — and college sports media — react and adjust to the first Selection Sunday in college football’s 145-year history.