The College Football Playoff Selection Committee announced its top four mid-season favorites for the first postseason playoffs for the National Championship today. It indicated that they believe football is only played at a high level in three states. They selected Mississippi State, University of Mississippi, Auburn University, and Florida State University as the leaders in the hunt for the title. Once again, it is as if the Southeastern Conference has been exalted to a level of worship far beyond the whole rest of college football.
A committee of 13 members, mostly retired athletic directors, with the notable exception of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made the selections without specific rationale for the picks. They previously announced that strength of schedule, conference championships, team records and head-to-head competition were criteria they would consider. Since there is no statistical or weighted formula for judging, at the end it simply comes down to the "gut" feeling of the committee as to who they think are the four best teams. That is where the danger comes in. The playoffs were established because of complaints that the BCS method, or the AP poll vote for crowning a national champion were flawed. How is this any better?
There are two undefeated major football powers, Mississippi State and Florida State. There can be no argument that they belong as the top two mid-season picks. Fourteen schools have one loss. Mississippi, Oregon, Alabama, and Michigan State all have seven wins and one loss. So why pick 6-1 Auburn and Mississippi? Here is where the presumption that SEC football is superior to the rest of the country comes into play. There is no question that Alabama and Auburn have been dominating programs and that the quality of football in the conference is outstanding. But, is it so superior that three of the four teams come from that conference? Since SEC teams primarily play each other, the only way to test their strength relative to the other conferences is in match-ups with out-of-conference opponents.
Start with the reality that Florida State, an ACC school is reigning National Champion, having defeated SEC's Auburn in the game played last January in the Rose Bowl. Arguments about strength of schedule can go on endlessly, but look at Ole Miss, which beat Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis and plays Presbyterian soon. Auburn beat San Jose State and Louisiana Tech and has Stanford yet to come. Mississippi State beat Southern Mississippi, U of Alabama, Birmingham, South Alabama and has UT Martin on its schedule. Alabama beat Florida Atlantic, Southern Mississippi and has Western Carolina scheduled. Meanwhile, Michigan State has its loss because it played top-ranked Oregon. Notre Dame has few "cupcakes."
And then there is the Pac 12. Teams like Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona St, Utah, USC, and Washington are all talented, tough and they play each other. Rarely do Pac 12 teams play SEC teams in the regular season. Downgrading that conference minimizes the strength of schedule and level of competition.
The Committee has a challenging job that few would envy. Any system that attempts to limit teams competing for the national championship will face outrage from those schools who are left out. The NCAA basketball tournament has 64+ teams included and there are still arguments from those who are not selected. Arguing the relative merits of teams is part of the fun surrounding college football.
Based on the first four teams selected for inclusion, it does appear that instead of including multiple conferences, the committee went with SEC.
Original post on Forbes.com, October 29, 2014