Debate: Should SEC revamp title game format, pick 2 best teams?
The College Football Playoff selection committee is tasked with choosing the Final Four.
Automatically, their decision leads to a lot of upset fan bases and leaves out at least one of the Power 5 conferences altogether.
One qualifier the committee leans on most heavily is “conference champion,” which automatically eliminates a lot of deserving teams.
Should they? Most conferences aren’t balanced. The SEC certainly isn’t and hasn’t been for a long time. The two best teams in the SEC haven’t met regularly in the conference championship game because the format demands that the West champion must play the East, no matter how inferior that East opponent might be.
The gap is well-documented and growing. An expected West title in Atlanta this year would be the division’s eighth consecutive.
Six of the seven West teams have spent time in the top 5 of a CFP rankings — something no East team has accomplished. This season, the West is 9-1 against the East and has outscored its little brother by a whopping 358-168 margin along the way.
And the SEC is hardly alone in this predicament. The Big Ten East and ACC Atlantic are similarly stacked. Two Atlantic teams — Florida State and Clemson — have occupied a spot in the Final Four. A third, Louisville, is knocking on the door this year. The highest a Coastal Division team has climbed in any CFP rankings is No. 10.
Yet just like Auburn and Alabama can’t meet in the SEC Championship Game, neither can Clemson and Louisville in the ACC, or Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten.
The Big 12 sees the inherent danger in random division alignments determining who gets to play for its championship and instead will pit the two most deserving teams.
The other Power 5 leagues, including the SEC, are sticking with tradition. Should they? We debated whether the SEC would be better served scrapping the East vs. West and instead using a ranking to determine which two teams it sends to Atlanta, or rolling with the cyclical nature of college football and understanding it won’t always be this lopsided.
Answer: The SEC should keep the title game format between the two best teams in the divisions. College football is cyclical, and the SEC East will come back in due time.
If we want to have a discussion of potentially realigning the divisions and switching Auburn over to the SEC East, we can certainly have it. But don’t tweak the title game format just to fit recent history’s needs.
However, I’m still a BCS homer; what do I know?
— Jon Cooper, director of operations
Answer: I think (picking the two best teams) can work and also address address another issue, the infrequency of most cross-division rivalries. If every team had a couple, to maybe three, permanent rivalries within an 8-game schedule, you could rotate the rest of the league and not have to go years without playing particular opponents, as is the case now with cross-division opponents.
In other words, maybe Auburn and LSU don’t play every year any more (assuming they wouldn’t be selected as permanent opponents). But there would be more Auburn-Tennessee and LSU-Georgia games and that’s a fair trade-off in my book. It’s ridiculous that you can go decades between road trips to certain conference opponents (Texas A&M won’t visit Lexington for the first time in an SEC game until 2025).
Sure, there would be uneven schedules, but this solution wouldn’t create that problem because it already exists (how about Tennessee having to play Alabama and Texas A&M in its cross-division games?). It just would not fix it. But it would eliminate the possibility of a mediocre team making the SEC championship game.
Remember in 2011, when UCLA made the Pac-12 title game with a 6-6 record (thanks to USC being ineligible)? That would never happen in this format.
— Gary Laney, LSU beat writer
Answer: The last thing the SEC should be doing is copying the Big 12, which is on its way to extinction.
More than likely, the Big 12 will be left out of the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years. It’s desperate to be relevant and looking to beef up the résumés of its best teams.
Yes, the SEC is as lopsided as ever these days, but keeping the East and West divisions is the prudent move. The problem is that Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — nationally relevant programs by any measure — have all sputtered to some degree during the same time frame.
The West has been augmented by a recent boost from the Magnolia State. More often than not, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have failed to be genuine contenders until fairly recently.
It really wasn’t that long ago when Florida dominated and Alabama struggled. Cyclical indeed.
— John Crist, senior writer
Answer: First of all, I just wanted to express my disgust at the Big 12 for vehemently justifying not having a conference title game up until a little less than two weeks ago. Just had to get that out of the way.
Keep in mind that it wasn’t until last season that the SEC West finally surpassed the East’s most dominant stretch in the conference, which was six straight conference titles from 1993-98, so things are definitely cyclical.
However, the priority above anything else should be to reward the two best teams in the conference with a chance to play for the league title. Nothing should be given more consideration than that.
When looking at the current state of the Power 5 conferences, divisional alignments in three of those five are crippling the chances of legitimate contenders.
The ACC’s Atlantic Division has Clemson and Louisville. The Cardinals are certainly head and shoulders above any team in the woeful Coastal and would love a second shot at Clemson after their classic on Oct. 1. Louisville’s rise was unexpected since it’s been either Clemson or Florida State that’s won the Atlantic over the past seven (yes, seven) years and won the title game each of the past five years.
The Big Ten East has Michigan and Ohio State (Michigan State is having a rare down season after years of consistency). A Wolverines loss at the Shoe on Nov. 26 would mean them missing out on a chance to play for the league title despite being better than anyone in the West (they’ve already beat its best representative, Wisconsin).
And then there’s the SEC West. No explanation needed with how lopsided things have been in recent seasons. So yes, do away with divisions and find a way to put the two best teams in the conference title game.
As Gary laid out, there are ways to preserve rivalries while also improving the infrequency of some cross-division matchups, which is a plus. With 14 teams, there’s no such thing as doing a round-robin like the 10-team Big 12 has been doing, so uneven schedules are inevitable, but we can address uneven title games.
— Talal Elmasry, managing editor
Answer: We wouldn’t be in this predicament if we simply went to an eight-team playoff that included the Power 5 conference champions, two at-large selections and a qualifying best Group of 5 selection.
Short of that, I’m always in favor of pitting best on best, and scrapping whatever tired traditional impediment that is in the way. The cycle argument is tired. Sports writers have been leaning on that word for decades, and every time they do, they’re making an excuse for why the two best teams aren’t playing for a title.
And how long do you want this cycle to last? This isn’t just one, two or even three recruiting classes. The SEC West is about to win its eighth consecutive SEC title.
Nobody wants to watch Alabama blow out (pick and East team) by 35 in Atlanta. And a team like Auburn (or Louisville or the Michigan/Ohio State loser) shouldn’t all but be eliminated from the playoff table because it didn’t make it to its conference championship game.
The road to Atlanta isn’t the same for everybody. It’s infinitely easier for a good East team to get there than a good West team. If the paths aren’t the same, why should we treat the title of “division champs” the same?
Everybody thought adopting the wild card in baseball would ruin the playoffs. It’s done exactly the opposite. It’s created excitement. It’s produced World Series champions. All because MLB was brave enough to take into account the fact not all divisions are created equal.
The SEC should do the same and scrap East vs. West. The goal should be to send the two best teams to Atlanta every year. The current system, used by almost everybody, doesn’t guarantee that at all.
— Chris Wright, executive editor
Chris Wright is Executive Editor at SaturdayDownSouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @FilmRoomEditor.