The ACC and Big 12 have a desire to change the way conference championships can be determined, but is it wise for all conferences to hop on board?
College football may fly under the NCAA banner for a number of general rules and guidelines, but there is still no way to satisfy everybody from coast to coast. We have seen plenty of debates about whether or not power conferences should be playing eight or nine-game conference schedules, and it is an argument that may never see an end. The latest hot topic appears to be how conferences should be crowning a conference champion. Nowhere is this more an issue than within the Big 12, and perhaps the ACC.
Both the ACC and Big 12 have been at the forefront of possible changes to the NCAA legislation related to conference championship games. After seeing Baylor and TCU each left out of the first College Football Playoff due in large part to the lack of a 13th showcase game on the Big 12 schedule, the Big 12 has a collective desire to ensure the conference champion does not have the same dilemma in the future. Adding a conference championship game, even with just 10 members, would help the Big 12’s cause, but it is far from a guarantee the conference champion would be a lock for a future playoff bid.
The ACC has a different issue with conference championship games. The ACC has 14 members, seven in each division, and the division champions are given a chance to play in the ACC championship game. The issue is the division champions are not always considered the best teams in the conference. The last few years would suggest Florida State and Clemson have clearly been the dominant programs in the ACC, but each play in the Atlantic Division, which has left one spot in the ACC championship game for Duke and Georgia Tech. Good teams, for sure, but quite of the caliber of the Seminoles or Tigers. Heck, you might even throw Louisville into the conversation before almost anyone that comes out of the Coastal Division. From a marketing perspective, a 13th game between Florida State and Clemson might be more attractive than Florida State vs. Duke or Clemson vs. Pittsburgh.
The idea is to give the conference champion one last significant push for playoff consideration by the College Football Playoff selection committee. Are these the best solutions, or are these ideas inspired more by recent history than looking into the future? How often is a one-loss Big 12 champion going to be left out of a four-team playoff field? The odds are what happened last season will be the exception to the rule. The Big 12’s biggest problem was a lacking overall body of work, and if Oklahoma or Texas ended the season with one loss we may not be having this discussion. The same holds true in the ACC. An undefeated or one-loss champion is going to have a pretty good shot at playing in the playoff regardless of who it defeats in the conference championship game?
Now we are seeing the Mountain West Conference start to explore the possibility of shaking up how its conference championship game is played. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports writes the conference will discuss potentially having the top two teams in the conference play for the conference championship regardless of division affiliation, if divisions even remain. This may be over thinking the situation for the MWC, but you can understand why the conference might be more interested to change its championship model. Conference champions from the power conferences are guaranteed to play in a New Years Six bowl game, but there is just one spot available for a conference champion from the Group of Five. Last year Boise State claimed that spot. When it comes to the Group of Five, any opportunity to pad the overall body of work is important, which is why the MWC might benefit from putting together one final game between its best teams.
But what if Boise State had lost under this format last year? The Broncos would have (very likely) been thrown out of the New Years Six running, costing the school and conference big bowl money. Maybe Marshall sneaks in then, if not Memphis. Under the new postseason format, the Mountain West Conference may actually hurt itself more by changing its postseason format than it would be sticking to a traditional two-division champion model. This is why Josh Webb writes for BarkBoard, a Fresno State site on the Scout network, the Mountain West Conference is misguided in this area. I agree. The Mountain West Conference, and other Group of Five conferences, would like to play with the big boys in college football, but that does not necessarily mean it should play like the big boys.
What works best in one conference does not necessarily mean it will work best in another conference. This holds true for conference schedules, non-conference scheduling philosophies and championship crowning methods. A nine-game conference schedule may be well-suited in the Pac-12, and it works (close to) perfectly in the Big 12, but that does not mean the SEC or ACC has to go with it. Each conference wants everyone to play by the same rules, and I get it. But I just cannot envision what the Pac-12 does is the best for the SEC, and vice versa.
The College Football Playoff has caused some mass hysteria over some things that may not necessarily need to change. Making any rash decisions based on one year of the enw system, in my opinion, is inadvisable.