In a lot of ways, the current BCS system is atrocious. While it may work out for the national championship game this year, in giving the SEC champion a bout against Notre Dame, it still remains an inconclusive way of figuring out the best team in the nation. Thankfully, we will be moving toward a four-team playoff heading into 2014, but as flawed as the BCS is, there is another issue that is about to become a lot bigger heading into 2014: the effect of the conference championship games.
Nick Saban raised an interesting point earlier this week when discussing the BCS system. Saban pointed out the SEC championship game is a huge disadvantage for whatever team loses, as essentially the loser of the game won’t have a shot at a BCS bowl game even after winning its division and finishing in the top two of the conference. For example, this year either Alabama or Georgia will be passed over for a BCS bowl for Florida, even though Alabama and Georgia both won their respective divisions and Florida did not. So in effect, it’s almost a punishment for going to the SEC championship game.
Of course, Alabama and Georgia are playing for a national championship appearance and Florida is not, so obviously the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs are at an advantage by playing in the SEC championship game. But being in the conference championship game isn’t always an advantage. Last year undefeated LSU had to additionally beat Georgia for a guaranteed national championship berth, while a one-loss Alabama got in without having to play an extra game.
And let’s assume that this year there was a four-team playoff and we had no conference championship games. The four teams competing for a national championship would be Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Now if you include conference championship games, then the four would be Notre Dame, Alabama/Georgia, Florida and Oregon. Just by making the SEC championship game, Alabama or Georgia would not be in the playoffs, while Florida and Oregon would benefit by not winning its division and not having to play in a conference championship game. In this scenario, it doesn’t seem right that Florida is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs by not winning the SEC East while Georgia is at risk by winning it.
To take this even further, if Stanford had lost to UCLA and Oregon won its division, then by winning the division the Ducks would have to beat UCLA just to make the four-team playoff, compared to not having to play an extra game and automatically making it by not making the Pac-12 Championship game. And the team that would benefit with Oregon losing a conference championship game would be Kansas State, who wouldn’t have to play a conference championship game. Even Notre Dame, who definitely deserves to be in the national championship after going undefeated, benefits by not having to play in a conference championship game, as if the Irish did and lost, then Notre Dame wouldn’t be in the BCS title game.
There is also an idea that only conference champions should be allowed to make the national championship game or the upcoming four-team playoff, which if you take this year as an example, is also an absurd idea. Potentially, the six BCS conference champions, along with a one-loss Alabama or Georgia, would include a two-loss Oklahoma, a two-loss Rutgers, a three-loss UCLA, a five-loss Wisconsin, and a six-loss Georgia Tech. This year may have more postseason suspensions than most, but the point remains: Only Alabama and Georgia in this scenario are top-10 BCS ranked teams at the moment and would be the only conference champions to appear worthy of going to a national championship game or a four-team playoff. And how would a team like Notre Dame fit in to the equation as an independent?
So Saban raises an interesting point – conference championship games do and will create a lot of issues. But that’s the thing about college football: Regardless of the format, there is no one right way to settle anything, and regardless of how the BCS, playoffs, or conferences are set up, there is always going to be controversy.