Key to a College Football Playoff? Dismantle the “Super” Conferences

Stephen SmithContributor IJanuary 8, 2009



Florida and Oklahoma meet tonight to decide which is the victor in the Bowl Championship Series, but the debate will rage on as to whom the real champion is.

Is it Utah, the only undefeated team in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision?

Is it USC, which over the last several weeks of the season appeared capable of wiping the turf with just about any other team in the nation?

Is it Texas, the only team (so far) to have defeated the current so-called No. 1 team in the BCS?

Take you pick—the point is that the issue of deciding who is the real champion is anything but decided.

The BCS will continue to toy with the “plus one” idea, but that won’t really settle anything either—it’s a failure-in-the-making.

Consider this year. Which two teams would make round one of a “plus-one” format along with Florida and Oklahoma: Texas, Utah or USC? The controversy wouldn’t go away. 

The writing is on the wall: major college football needs a playoff, and in a couple of weeks we’ll have a new President who wants to make it happen.

There are many roadblocks, including the present bowl system, which values income over competition, but the most obvious obstruction to creating a fair and workable college football playoff system is the three 12-team conferences and their championship games, namely the ACC, the SEC and the Big XII. 

Here’s why: 

They Often Determine Nothing

This year’s Big XII Championship game is great example.

That Missouri would lose to Oklahoma was nearly a foregone conclusion, and the debate wasn’t whether the Tigers should have been in the championship game (which they shouldn’t have,) but whether they should have played Texas or Oklahoma. The fact that Oklahoma qualified for the championship game by virtue of a few percentage points in the BCS ranking system is at best laughable, and at worst absolutely insane.

Remember 2001, when Nebraska qualified for the BCS championship game after not even playing in the Big XII championship game?

They Often Set Up Regular Season Rematches

One of the great aspects of college football is that every regular season game has meaning—all except the conference championship games, that is.

This year, Boston College defeated Virginia Tech on Oct. 12, but lost to the Hokies in the ACC Championship game. As a result, Virginia Tech earned a berth in the lowest-rated Orange Bowl in modern history, and BC was relegated to the Music City Bowl against 7-6 Vanderbilt. So, the Eagles' October victory over VT was rendered meaningless.

Not All Conference Members Play One Another Each Year

The best example of why this is such a bad idea is Kansas in 2007.

With all due respect to the Fighting Manginos, the Jayhawks assembled an 11-1 record in 2007 largely because they didn’t play Texas, Oklahoma or Texas Tech—three of the premier teams in the Big XII—and rode their weak schedule to an at-large Orange Bowl berth.

Granted, they played well in Miami, but they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. 

They Aren’t As Profitable As They Were Envisioned To Be

This is especially true of the ACC championship game, but all of the super conference championship games create the same problem that their supporters complain a playoff system would cause: most fans can’t afford to attend those games and a potential bowl game.

This year’s ACC Championship game drew an actual attendance of about 27,000, or a little more than a third of the seats in Raymond James Stadium.

The FBS already has 11 conferences and 119 schools. Adding one more school, and assembling one more conference to create 12 10-team conferences wouldn’t seem to be that difficult, and with enough wallet grease even Notre Dame could be convinced to play along.

And don’t think any great tradition would be lost by breaking up the big three, or Conference USA and the MAC for that matter. The SEC in its present form has existed only since 1991, and all of the others are younger than that.

If college football really wants to equitably decide its FBS champion, it’s only right that every team in the subdivision be a member of conference that plays a nine-game round- robin league schedule to determine its champion and automatic playoff berth winner.

I'll leave the re-alignment debate, the playoff formatting, and at-large seeding to the experts, but the basic framework of the idea is pretty simple. It’s the best way to settle it on the field, and isn’t that the whole point of the sport?