10 Reasons Every Conference Should Play a Title Game
As of the 2012 season six of the 11 conferences that call the FBS home conduct a league title game to determine a champion.
The concept of a conference championship game in the modern era of college football was initiated by the SEC which debuted its league title game back in 1992.
Joining the SEC in the postseason festivities were the Big 12 and WAC in 1996, the MAC in 1997, the ACC and C-USA in 2005 and finally the Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences in 2011.
With lagging membership making a division format impractical, the WAC’s title game lasted only from 1996-98 while the Big 12 championship game lasted from 1996-2010, ironically leaving the airwaves just moments before the Pac-12 and Big Ten finally went divisional.
This leaves the Big East, Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences as the only currently viable FBS leagues that have never conducted a title game, a fact that ought to change given the current climate of realignment.
Though this is no doubt a scintillating brief history of league titles at the top tier of college football, there are significant knock on effects for conferences which conduct a championship game vs. those that don’t.
One of the inherent advantages for leagues without a season-ending title tilt, especially in the age of the BCS rankings, is that their top finisher (or automatic champion) is not subject to a final game against a quality opponent that could result in a loss outside of the regular season but before the bowl bonanza.
To illustrate, Michigan State played in the inaugural Big Ten title game last season but the last-minute loss to Wisconsin earned the Spartans a third loss that ultimately cost them their spot in the BCS.
On the flip side, Michigan was propelled to the Sugar Bowl by virtue of not winning their division, not playing in the title game and therefore not earning an additional and very costly loss.
The following slideshow adopts a decidedly “the glass is half full” approach and highlights 10 provocative reasons why every FBS league should play a title game.
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The No. 1 reason why each and every FBS conference should play a title game is equality, and this is a brazen statement that rings even truer given the dark reign of the current BCS scheme.
One of the first steps in leveling the playing field in the world of the BCS should be requiring every league to conduct a championship game.
Under the current system teams that compete in conferences without a title game have a significant advantage, from a BCS admission standpoint, over those that have to play in a championship clash.
In a scheme where every loss weighs so heavily not having to play an extra game against a high quality opponent can be the difference between making a BCS bowl (or national championship) and not.
To illustrate, if Alabama, K-State and Oregon had all have remained undefeated in regular-season play this year then the Tide and Ducks would have faced a very good opponent in a conference championship while the Wildcats sat home.
A loss in the title game would have thrown either Alabama or Oregon out of the title hunt, but Kansas State would have had the advantage of sitting home with their perfect record intact, no matter what.
Unfortunately, even a playoff won’t right this wrong; the only fix is requiring each FBS conference to have a title game.
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It’s difficult to deny the fact that college sports are really all about money.
Indeed, no matter how we love the lofty ideal of the amateur athlete competing for the love of the game, lots of people are getting rich while the game goes on.
There is no doubt that staging a conference title game, regardless of the actual billing, will bring in cold hard cash from TV contracts, ticket sales, merchandising and travel-associated expenses.
The winners are the conference itself, the schools competing, the schools not playing, the host city and a slew of travel-related businesses.
No More Ties
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One of the real weaknesses of the Big Ten in its pre-championship game era (ummm…before 2011) was the number of times the league title race ended in a tie.
To illustrate, from 2000 to 2010 the Big Ten championship ended in a tie six times, including three-way ties in both 2000 and 2010.
Though a tie in a major conference might be a good thing for the teams that share the title, it presents a messy situation in terms of the BCS scheme and even more so with a move to a true playoff system.
The logic is pretty simple, you can’t have a true representative from your league if a three-way tie exists, and alternatively if there is some nutty tiebreaker in place at least one program always gets screwed over (i.e. Michigan State).
Then you are still the “Big Ten Champion,” but you punch your ticket to the Capital One Bowl instead of the Rose Bowl and nobody can tell you why.
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Though we’ve already established the fact that having to play in a title game is a disadvantage vs. not playing in one, a solid argument could be made for a silver lining to the otherwise cloudy forecast.
Yes, if you lose the title game, you’ve cost yourself a shot at a national title and perhaps a BCS bid but if you win it, you’ve created momentum moving forward to whatever the next step might be.
Going back to the situation earlier this year, if K-State, Alabama and Oregon had remained undefeated through the regular season the Tide and Ducks would have gone on to play in a league title game while K-State sat home.
Taking this “what if” scenario one step further, let’s say that a perfect Oregon loses its title tilt while the Tide triumph propelling them into a BCS National Championship Game matchup with Kansas State.
Now Alabama enters the title game with more recent game experience; it hasn't sat idle as long and the last contest it played in was a huge game against a top-ranked opponent.
You could argue that the presence of a title game makes the Tide more physically, emotionally and mentally ready for the national title game.
BCS Rankings Boost
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Another angle for why conferences should sanction title games is that the playing of a championship against a quality foe gives the winner a boost in the oh so important BCS calculations.
Indeed, if the race is close what could help more than beating a ranked opponent in a title game?
Alternatively, what could suck more than playing out your schedule and then sitting at home with nothing to do but hope that the teams who are ranked higher in the BCS standings lose their league title games?
It’s about controlling your own destiny, it’s about leaving a fresh victory in voters and computers “minds” and it’s about having yet one more opportunity to add something to your “body of work.”
To illustrate, consider what happened to Oklahoma State in 2011 and take a moment to ponder what a win in conference championship game could have done to the Cowboys and Crimson Tide’s paper-thin gap in the final BCS rankings.
Heisman Campaign Boost
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Since the league title games are played before the Heisman is decided, an outstanding individual performance in a victorious championship game can help a Heisman candidate in the same way it can help an entire team in the BCS standings.
To illustrate, if Oregon’s Kenjon Barner explodes in the season finale vs. Oregon State and then in the title game (if the Ducks make it there after their loss to Stanford) he could climb back up the Heisman charts as quickly as he dropped down.
Barner has the huge advantage of playing a final game, a championship game, in front of a huge audience (what else will be watching?) while Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, K-State’s Collin Klein and even Texas A&M’s Johnny Football will be sitting home, watching and hoping for the best.
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If you look at how the conference title games are scheduled, it’s easy to see that these contests are a huge opportunity for exposure on a number of levels.
For 2012, Friday, Nov. 30 is home to the MAC title game at 7 p.m. and the Pac-12 championship at 8 p.m. while Saturday, Dec. 1 will feature the, the C-USA championship (time TBA), the SEC title game at 4 p.m. and the Big Ten and ACC championships at 8 p.m.
This fairly staggered schedule means that most of the college football nation, and more than likely a wider swath of sports fans, will be tuned in to watch each of these games individually.
This scenario offers individual players, programs and conferences to showcase their talents on a much bigger stage.
Think about it, when else is a huge national audience going to watch two MAC teams and two C-USA teams square off for a trophy?
No matter how you slice it, that’s good stuff.
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In the same vein as the slide on exposure, fan interest can’t do anything but increase with the playing of a league title game.
Not only will fans stay more interested throughout the entire season with a championship appearance constantly on the line (more teams are involved than in a single division format without a title game), but the game itself will draw a thong of enthusiasts from across the board.
To illustrate, Oklahoma fans would be far more interested in the Big 12 race if they knew that they had a shot to win a division title and advance to a championship game. This is a far more appealing scenario than thinking it was all over after the early-season loss to Kansas State.
Furthermore, while enthusiasts associated with Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State are losing interest as their programs drop off the radar in terms of titles, fanbases from all these schools would definitely still tune in for a league title game involving two teams they faced earlier in the year.
The way the Big 12 is formatted presently, it’s easy for fans to lose interest, putting a title game back on the horizon would amp up excitement in a big way.
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Another big benefit for conferences that end their title race with a fully sanctioned title game is the generous dose of media coverage that comes along with a title tilt.
Really, this angle is a subset of the idea of increased exposure and provides a powerful boost to the players, coaches, programs and conferences involved.
Think about it this way, why the Big 12 plays a shrunken list of regular conference games the weekend of Dec. 1, the Pac-12, MAC, C-USA, SEC, ACC and Big Ten will be awarding actual championship trophies.
The Mountain West, WAC and Sun Belt will be further off the radar than they normally are, and the big discussion on the radio, TV and Internet will be about who can beat who to win a full-fledged conference championship.
You can’t put a dollar value on that.
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Lots of folks like to defend the current bowl explosion by saying that it helps recruiting and builds a bridge between the current season and the next.
If that’s true then how valuable, along the same lines, is participation in a nationally covered, nationally viewed conference championship game?
Yes, it's one thing to join more than 50 percent of the FBS field in an obscure, meaningless bowl game that you hope somebody is tuning into, but it’s another thing entirely when you’ve got the whole nation’s attention while playing for actual championship hardware.
So, recruit A is talking to recruit B, “Hey, you got a letter from Kent State, didn’t they win the MAC last season and weren’t they ranked in the BCS? We watched that Dri Archer guy run all over Northern Illinois in that championship game, remember?”