SEC Network Review: "The Play That Changed College Football"
Each week, I’ll be taking a look at the SEC Network’s programming and reviewing a show, or group of shows, giving my take on the network’s inaugural season.
This is a little bit of a throwback, because it aired prior to the launch of the SEC Network, but I believe it’s worth revisiting especially as once again, we move into a new era in college football. This season marks the beginning of the playoff era. At one point, there were no conference championships either, something that we in the SEC have enjoyed for the better part of 20 years. “The Play That Changed College Football”: the documentary on the 1992 SEC Championship game between Florida and Alabama. This game certainly affected college football, but if the outcome of one play had been different, we could be looking at a very different college football landscape.
When Roy Kramer, the SEC commissioner, announced that the SEC would be split into two divisions and the champion would be decided by the best team in each division playing each other not very many people were excited about it. In fact, no one thought it was a good idea. The most overwhelming sentiment was that the teams would beat up on each other, making it harder to compete for a national championship. As it turns out, they weren’t exactly wrong about the beating up on each other, though the SEC has won 11 national championships since 1992.
The move was incredibly bold, and it almost completely backfired.
The 1992 SEC Championship game featured an undefeated Alabama team known for it’s defense and a 3-loss Florida team known for it’s offense. The game was a back-and-forth affair with teams trading scores throughout. With 3:16 left in the game, Florida had the ball, and looked poised to ruin Roy Kramer’s great experiment. However, a poor Shane Matthews throw saved Kramer as Antonio Langham intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown, giving Alabama a 28-21 lead. That score would be the final score, crowning Alabama as SEC Champions and pitting them against Miami to play for the National Championship.
Had Alabama lost that game and Florida been the SEC Championship, there would undoubtedly be unrest amongst the universities, coaches, and fan bases. Of course, we cannot predict exactly what would have happened, but it doesn’t seem like a reach to think the two-division format could have been scrapped. Instead, Kramer remains in the history books as the genius who created the conference championship games, a game that would later be added by many other conferences as it was a huge bargaining chip for schools who had an extra win especially when college football moved to the BCS.
As the college football postseason moves again, this time from the BCS to a playoff, we can only predict how the new format will play out. When Roy Kramer altered the shape of college football, he had no idea how it would affect the rest of the landscape. Similarly, we do not know exactly how the playoff will change college football. We assume that it will be better than the BCS because instead of having computers decide, to a degree, who gets to play for the title, we have a group of people sitting on a committee much like the NCAA Basketball Tournament does. The only problem here is that while computers are unable to be subjective, only considering numbers, humans are unable to filter out their own interpretation of numbers. The theory is that the committee will be able to separate the best from the rest based on what the records are, plus the eye test: who appears to be the best.
I am not sure if this will play out as well as many hope that it does. There is certainly room for growth, a potential for adding more teams to the mix, expanding the playoffs. But someone will always be on the outside looking in. Regardless of if it goes as planned, the playoff will certainly be a large, mostly welcomed, change and we can only hope it turns out as well for football as Roy Kramer’s conference game experiment turned out for the SEC. Only time will tell. I am very confident there will not be any less campaigning by coaches and fan bases when that 4th team is being selected.