Fox analyst Joel Klatt on why the SEC has the easiest Playoff path “by a wide margin” and his interesting CFP tweaks
CHICAGO — Joel Klatt has seen enough of the current Playoff system to form a few opinions.
One of those from the Fox college football analyst is that 4 is fine. Exclusivity is not an issue, and at the risk of devaluing the greatest regular season in sports, he’d rather not tweak with that.
But there is a legitimate gripe that Klatt has with college football scheduling as it relates to the Playoff. I learned that during a sit down interview with him in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days last week.
With the ACC and SEC still operating under an 8-game conference schedule — and as the only conferences that have yet to miss out on a Playoff berth — I was curious about Klatt’s take on a simple question that’s not being asked enough.
Do the ACC and SEC have a clearer path to the Playoff than the other Power 5 conferences?
“I would not include the ACC. I would just say the SEC,” Klatt told SDS. “The SEC has, by a wide margin, the easiest path to the Playoff of any other conference.”
He has a point.
For what it’s worth, Klatt went on record saying he believes the B1G is the “best and deepest conference in the country,” so he’s not a believer that the SEC’s 8-game schedule is a gauntlet that can’t be matched elsewhere.
Before you accuse Klatt of having conference bias, consider the numbers that he brought up. He didn’t question the ACC’s strength of schedule because of a possible 56 nonconference games in 2018, 19 are against Power 5 teams/Notre Dame. That’s 34 percent.
Compare that to the SEC, which has just 13 of a possible 56 nonconference matchups vs. Power 5 teams. That’s only 23 percent.
“That’s not even close,” Klatt said. “That’s not apples to apples. That’s apples to oranges.”
In fact, look at the percentage of nonconference matchups vs. Power 5 teams scheduled for each conference:
- Big 12: 37%
- ACC: 34%
- Big Ten: 25%
- SEC: 23%
- Pac-12: 19%
Why didn’t Klatt say that the Pac-12 has the easiest Playoff path? With a 9-game conference schedule, Pac-12 teams will face an average of 9.75 Power 5 teams in 2018 compared to 8.93 for the SEC.
Real quick, though. Let’s back up before SEC fans start getting in Klatt’s mentions.
“None of what I’m saying is a knock on the SEC,” Klatt said. “It’s just the reality of the situation. If they’re going to continue to get rewarded, they should continue to do the same things.”
Two weeks ago in Atlanta, I listened to SEC commissioner Greg Sankey say that there are no plans to go to a 9-game conference schedule. The following week in Chicago, I listened to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany tout how strong the B1G’s nonconference scheduling was compared to other conferences.
I also asked 5 B1G coaches what they thought about the effectiveness of the Playoff, and while they differed on expansion, there seemed to be a consensus opinion that scheduling is not even. As Klatt said, though, there’s no reason for it to change when it appears that the SEC has found the best way to maximize its Playoff potential.
So what would Klatt do to change that? He’d change the balance of power.
“That one committee can get swayed in an easy fashion,” Klatt said.
The key word there is “one.” In Klatt’s perfect Playoff, there would be three selection committees. Maybe its media members in another committee and former players in another. Klatt’s goal for three committees would be more opinions and a better sample size for a true consensus opinion.
“What has happened now is the committee has gone rogue and done what it had not intended to do,” Klatt said. “People say, ‘No, they were always intended to get the four best.’ I understand that. The language has been there. The problem is that they have strayed from the fact that when they had two similar teams, they were supposed to weigh conference champions heavily.”
So no, Klatt didn’t support an SEC Championship-less Alabama team making the Playoff last year, nor did he support a Big Ten Championship-less Ohio State team making the Playoff in 2016.
Klatt has a way to incentivize conference championships. Instead of doing weekly ranking shows, Klatt would prefer there not be a Playoff poll. Instead, he’d have the selection committee(s) select 4 teams from the pool of Power 5 conference championship winners, Notre Dame and the best Group of 5 team that won its conference championship.
“I’m not a believer that we should just reward the four best teams whoever they are in college football because then we’re rewarding recruiting rankings and not actual play on the field,” Klatt said. “If you say you have to win your conference, you’re retaining more importance in the regular season. Then the Iron Bowl actually means something last year and you’re essentially creating 5 quarterfinal games in the conference championship games, which make those gigantic games.”
There’s another interesting point that Klatt made about his vision.
“Those changes could be made tomorrow and the fundamental nature of the Playoff wouldn’t change that much,” Klatt said.
As we know, change is often a slow process in college football. Playoff executive director Bill Hancock spoke at SEC Media Days about how much they believe in the current system and he tried to shoot down any expansion questions before they began.
But it would be intrguing to see some of Klatt’s ideas take shape.
Perhaps a larger committee would create more accountability for the perceived scheduling disparity. With Klatt’s format, we certainly wouldn’t see another year like 2017, where the SEC gets multiple Playoff teams in the field while two other Power 5 conferences get left out.
Obviously Klatt would like it if everyone switched to the 9-game conference schedule, as Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn both advocated for. Ironically enough, it was Saban’s team who made the Playoff despite playing 9 Power 5 opponents (USC faced 12 in 2017 including the Pac-12 Championship) while it was Malzahn’s program who was a win from becoming the first 2-loss team to make the field. They both got a different kind of leeway from the selection committee.
Does the SEC have the easiest path to the Playoff? SEC programs would probably argue that the conference’s number of total national championships in the 21st century suggests there’s nothing easy about reaching the Playoff. Others like Klatt would debate that the raw numbers still favor the SEC having the path of least resistance.
One thing is clear. It’s 2018 and there’s still not a consensus opinion of the process to crown a college football champion.