clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Playoff Gets Its Desired Result

The game is not any more rigged than usual

Alabama v Auburn
Yup. I won the argument again.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

About midway through the season, I stopped doing my weekly review of the national scene. First, it was because of family reasons, but once life cleared up again, I never got the taste for it again, as the world didn’t need one more voice yelling about the same damn thing.

It’s not that there’s always a rankings controversy, its that it is, by and large, the same rankings controversy. And frankly, it is not all that interesting and the end result is always the same: the bluer blood wins the beauty pageant.

Admittedly, this year threw the additional wrinkle of having two of the bluest bloods competing against one another for the same slot in the playoffs. I would be lying if I didn’t enjoy Ohio St. fans being forced to champion the importance of conference championships as if last year never happened.

But in the end, these were flawed teams with flawed resumes and whoever got left out would have a good case for inclusion. Just be thankful we’re not in the BCS days and we’re talking about Georgia getting left out of the title game.

However, the choice of Bama was fairly obvious given the history of college football. It was a confluence of all of the things the powers that be have valued, rightly or wrongly. I mean, more than the Helmet Test.

Conference Titles. I don’t want to go so extreme as to say they do not matter because they still do, they just don’t matter as much. We’re a long way from SMU going for a game-tying extra point to secure the conference title, forgoing a two-point conversion and a shot at the national title. But the national title selection apparatus has been more than willing to include non-conference champions for over a decade now. 2001 Nebraska didn’t even make the Big 12 title game, but made the BCS title game. 2003 Oklahoma lost the Big 12 title game yet still got the title game bid. This isn’t a new development.

2011 Alabama became the first team to fail to win their own conference title but win the national title since World War II, helping usher in the playoff era. In forming the playoff criteria, the powers that be made sure to not close the loophole and explicitly left open the possibility of at-large non-conference champions. The playoff was designed to have non-conference champions, you can’t complain when it happens.

Quality Losses. While the conference champion thing can be attributed to a lot of schools, this one lays almost entirely at Alabama’s feet. During the Nick Saban era, Alabama does not lose bad games. It’s not that they never lose, but Bama rarely loses to teams outside the top 25, and they almost never lose by a large margin. Which has lead to their constant campaigning on quality losses.

That argument has won the day. The media and fans almost always argue losses before we argue wins. It’s just how we’ve been conditioned to talk about playoff teams. Ohio St. was behind the eight ball, trying to overturn a decade of momentum on the topic. No one wanted to compare beating two top ten teams versus Bama’s best win of LSU. Instead, it was all about Ohio St. getting crushed by Iowa and losing convincingly to Oklahoma, while Bama lost on the road to their blood rival.

Non-conference games. You have to at least make the attempt to schedule a tough game, but it doesn’t really matter who. Alabama still gets credit for a non-conference schedule by virtue of playing Florida St, even as the Noles limp to one of their worst seasons in years. It’s the thought that counts. Meanwhile, Wisconsin can’t get in the conversation as a one-loss team because they lack any non-conference skins.

But you still have to win. Or at least play it close. Ohio St lost at home by 15 points to Oklahoma. Yes, it’s great they played a tough OOC game, but you have to keep it close, and it’s made worse by being at home. USC similarly couldn’t get in the conversation because Notre Dame blew their doors off, and they went to OT against Texas.

Record still matters most. At the end of the day, the committee doesn’t want to take a two-loss team. Ohio St. had a good argument and got close because, well, they are Ohio St. The Buckeyes also won the Big Ten, beat two top ten teams, and played a tough schedule. Usually, that would be enough to get in. The problem is that the team on the other side of the ledger was Alabama.

Let’s be honest, if this was a contest between two-loss Ohio St and one-loss TCU, then Ohio St is in the playoffs. These datapoints still only matter if we’re comparing blue blood to blue blood. But the committee has traditionally favored a resume like Bama’s than one like Ohio St’s.

At least we avoided both Auburn and Bama making the playoffs. But it’s hard to be up in arms about Alabama winning this beauty contest. The game is rigged in their favor by virtue of who they are, but they also had a profile that the committee has traditionally favored. The game is rigged, just ask UCF, but it wasn’t rigged against Ohio St.