Theoretically, conference championship games should be awesome. In a 27-hour period, you’re essentially assured four top 25 games that have major College Football Playoff implications. Should be fun, right?
Except it’s definitely not and historically, that’s always been the case. We’ll get into that in just a minute, but I’m guessing many of you awesome people who should totally follow this site on Twitter and Facebook are wondering “Why can’t we have both, dude? More football is a good thing, right?”
I get that, but I’m STAUNCHLY of the thought that an eight-team playoff AND conference championship games are incompatible for a multitude of reasons.
Let me start here. For many schools who have won the national championship over the past few decades, the path to a title down the stretch consisted of winning your rivalry game and then, in many cases, just playing in the National Title game, if selected. This was the path that USC and Ohio State went on for much of the 2000s.
If we moved to an eight-team playoff without removing the conference championship game, a title run for most schools looks like this:
** Rivalry game (expensive and often a game fans travel to away stadiums for)
** Conference championship game, which for many teams, this is quite a trek to a random city on short notice.
** Playoff quarterfinal game with pricey tickets in a neutral location, again on short notice.
** Playoff semifinal game with pricier tickets in a neutral location and on shorter notice.
** National Championship game with really expensive tickets at a location that could be 1000 to 2000 miles away — and on short notice again.
That’s insane for fans, the true and most loyal fans who want to get on board with what could be a magical season. That could be five big games, none of which would be played at your home stadium. How much would this cost for your team in an average year? 10K, easy. Not cool.
And that’s just for fans. The actual players (who get none of the money these games generate and further subjects them to the possibility of injury with the extended season) have finals during this stretch and miss three of our most major holidays in preparation for all this. Also, their families would be even more taxed by the amount of travel and expense attending five big games in a 45-day period. It’s a big ask. Too big.
To be blunt, you’re kind of an asshole, IMO, if you want to go to an eight-team playoff — considering the fact that it’s a huge pain in the ass for the diehard fans, as well as the players and their families. I’d imagine you probably park your car like an asshole if you’re in favor of this.
So given that any rational person would go, “Yes Ben, this is asking too much from fans, coaches, and players,” the question then becomes: Do you want an eight-game playoff with no conference championship games or the current system?
And that’s a no-brainer, especially because the conference championship games have just fallen on their faces. First off, there is this:
In P5, ONLY B1G Champ game has recent divisional balance. Pac12: North 6-0. SEC: West won last 7. ACC: Atlantic last 5.
— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) December 3, 2016
That tweet is from Friday, and guess what: The Pac-12 North won again (in a blowout), the SEC West won again (in a blowout), and the ACC Atlantic once again won in slightly more competitive game.
Do we really need to see Alabama DESTROY a SEC East team each year?
I wish they'd cut to the chase and call the SEC Championship the
"The SEC East's Annual Offering of Ritual Sacrifice to Alabama"#SECond
— Kirk Barton (@Kirk_Barton) December 3, 2016
There was certainly a run of good SEC Championship games during the past decade. But of late… not so much.
Since 2010 there has only been one game here within a 14-point margin. Let’s do the math, looking at this stretch. That’s 314-141 over the last seven years in favor of the SEC West. The average margin of victory has been nearly 25 points! Only twice in these seven years did we actually see a top 10 matchup in this game.
The ACC Championship Game hasn’t been much better. Yes, the games have been a bit more competitive, but over the last 12 years, this turd of a game has given us just one top 10 matchup. You probably wouldn’t even have watched some of these games on a regular season Saturday. During a six-year stretch during the BCS era, there wasn’t even a single game with a top four team — meaning the game had no championship implications and often featured teams outside the top 15, top 20, and even an unranked team.
The Pac-12 Championship Game has been worse, with the North outscoring the South 247-114, only one of those games being competitive, and up until this year there was only one instance of a top 10 matchup.
The Big Ten has fared a bit better in terms of matchups, attendance (we’ll get to that), and quality of game. But that said, the East is 3-0 since the Big Ten did away with their really stupid Leaders vs. Legends division format. Since that realignment, we’ve had three games, one of which was a 59-0 drubbing of Wisconsin by Ohio State and then two games in which Ohio State didn’t play in, but would ultimately find themselves higher in the rankings than the winner of the B1G championship game.
So why do these games suck so much?
Well, I mean, they’re basically unnecessary — outside of bringing in television revenue (though four Playoff games would be more lucrative).
One of the main issues is that more often than not, we’re not getting the two top teams in a conference playing because of the imbalance in the divisions.
Another issue is with programs getting sanctioned. We’ve often had teams ineligible for these conference championship games and thus having really middle-of-the-road unranked teams as replacements, which includes a 6-6 UCLA team. Nobody wants to see a 6-6 UCLA team.
While I would say it would be a lot better if we had teams from the same division being able to play each other, the possibility of having rematches that could often just split the games between conference rivals is not ideal. I mean, Ohio State vs. Michigan or Auburn vs. Alabama in back-to-back weeks would be weird, and splitting those games could take both teams out of a Playoff in that scenario.
Another issue is that these games often don’t mean anything in the scheme of things, beyond the conference championship. And over the years, that has become way less significant.
This year, neither Penn State nor Wisconsin were playing for a Playoff berth, as has been the case for many of these games. In fact, if you look at the majority of these games between the four conferences, few of them have had many national championship implications.
When they do matter, it often involves a team that seems set for a Playoff/BCS berth, has to play an extra game against a lesser foe. There is everything to lose, but nothing to gain (like Alabama this year).
And it’s not just the national championship contenders with something to lose. Often teams get thrown to the wolves in the conference championship games, lose and then find themselves going to a lesser bowl — just because they were good enough to win their division, but not good enough to win the conference.
Repeated from Friday night:
USC does deserve the Rose Bowl, but Colorado clearly got punished for playing a 13th game.
— Matt Zemek (@MattZemek) December 4, 2016
The value of the conference championship game really lost its appeal when the College Football Playoff was instituted. Five years ago, a win and a trip to the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, or Fiesta Bowl was exciting. Now, you don’t care about those games, but instead the sole goal of making the Playoff. When that’s not in play for one or both teams, these games are pretty meaningless and you can tell by the attendance at those bowls.
The Big Ten and SEC have fared a bit better here, mostly because of a more accessible venue for more teams (and yeah, the more rabid fans), but the ACC and particularly the Pac-12 have had empty seats galore. This year’s ACC Championship Game had 25K fewer tickets sold than last year’s game. However, the Pac-12 is even more depressing with its 2012 game played at Stanford vs. an in-state team in UCLA. Woof. Even the lowly Oakland A’s draw more than 32,000 a few games a year in literally one of the worst stadiums in all of the major pro sports leagues. For most of the conference championship games, you can get into these games for under face value. There will be empty seats and at times, tens of thousands of them.
So yes, while there have been some amazing games over the years, the reality here is that data doesn’t lie in that these games are historically often lopsided and irrelevant, often with very little fan interest or intrigue.
So you’re telling me an eight-team playoff would be better?
You bet your ass it would.
I know some may say, “That’s too many teams! Five to eight don’t deserve a shot at the championship!”
We said that when we moved to four teams and, lo and behold, the team ranked sixth heading into the conference championship game weekend ended up winning the first four-team Playoff. Ohio State was almost left out of the four-team Playoff that year and, in fact, were left out the following year with one loss. That Buckeyes team was arguably even better, including a more experienced Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott, among other Buckeyes scattered across the NFL.
You’re telling me that you would prefer conference championship games, as opposed to seeing teams like Stanford and Ohio State in the Playoff last year or USC and Penn State this year?
You’re most assuredly going to get higher ratings, more television money, and full attendance by making the switch.
I know some may say it’s lame to watch an No. 8-seed play a much better No. 1-seed, but imagine the one year a lowly Boise State or Houston beats an Alabama. You’d eat that up and it’s not like those programs haven’t had similarly surprising wins during the past decade, in addition to surprising wins by UCF and Utah before they joined the Pac-12.
Just imagine a December Saturday before Christmas with four Playoff games. That would be one of the best sports days of the year. You could also move one of the games to Friday and just make a weekend out of it. Either way works and would be amazing.
All conference champions (from the power 5 conferences) would be assured a spot in an eight-team playoff and we’d often get to see a Cinderella non-Power 5 team in the mix, like Houston last year or Western Michigan this year, in addition to two or three deserving at-large bids for teams like Ohio State last year or Penn State this year.
Do we absolutely need an eight-team playoff? No. Not at all, but we certainly don’t need conference championship games and given that the schools, networks, and conferences are never going to give back that money, this is by FAR the best way to go.
The reality of the situation
Just like the bowls had to be appeased by moving to the four-team playoff, the same will have to be done with the hosting cities for the conference championship games — as well as the networks, which is even trickier.
Right now, Fox airs two of the three conference championship games and will also broadcast the returning Big 12 Championship game in odd years, with ESPN airing it in even years. CBS and ESPN each have one game.
If you did away with conference championship games and continued to package all Playoff games in one package that ESPN currently has, CBS would lose a huge property and Fox would lose two games in some years and three in others, and that shit is not going to fly. That is the big impediment right now.
While I think conferences, fans, players and coaches would prefer the eight-game Playoff, it’s ultimately going to take the television networks’ cooperation and you can bet CBS and Fox would fight such a move unless they can’t get some piece of the action.
The move from the BCS to the Playoff has been a huge boost to college football and the thinking is that a move to eight teams is inevitable. While that may dilute the significance of the regular season (a valid concern), the only reasonable thing to do is replace the often disappointing and frequently unnecessary conference championship game and usher in much more robust and exciting college football season. If we’re going to do this, let’s do this the right way.