An All-SEC Title Game Means it’s Time to Expand the CFP
With two SEC teams playing in the College Football Playoff National Championship game Monday night, it may be time to expand the playoff field.
Updated: Jan. 9, 2018 • 5:30 PM ET
Alabama is back on top of the college football world.
Monday night in Atlanta, the Alabama Crimson Tide pulled off a stunning overtime victory over conference rival Georgia to win their fifth college football national title under head coach Nick Saban. It was a game for the ages, where Saban benched starting quarterback Jalen Hurts for unknown backup Tua Tagovailoa after going into the locker room down 13-0 at halftime. Tagovailoa proceeded to be the spark the Crimson Tide needed to complete the comeback, while also throwing the game-winning touchdown.
Monday night in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, viewers witnessed what was undoubtedly a modern classic that will go down in the archives of sports history. Yet, like many of the greatest games from years past, it wasn’t without controversy. However, not on-the-field controversy, but the controversy surrounding the two participants.
There has been plenty of backlash and debate surrounding a title game that features two teams from the same conference, although, it’s not the first time we’ve seen an all-SEC title game. The last time to SEC teams played in the national championship game was in 2012 when (surprise) Alabama defeated LSU.
And just like in 2012, Alabama was the best team at the end of the season despite not being their own conference's champion. Not only was Alabama not the SEC champion this year, they didn’t even play in the conference title game. And in 2012, they lost in the regular season to LSU, which wound up being SEC champions.
In fact, it was the 2012 all-SEC title game that pushed the demand for a College Football Playoff in the first place. Now that there’s been another all-SEC title game, does this mean that the Playoff should expand?
Well, that’s where the controversy comes in and the debate starts.
Is it really that terrible to have an all-SEC title game if the two best teams in the country happen to be from the same conference? Shouldn’t the national title game feature the two best teams in the country? Georgia and Alabama hadn’t played one another since 2015, but that hasn’t stopped the controversy.
Then there’s UCF. After defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, (an Auburn team that defeated both Alabama and Georgia this season), the Knights finished the season with a perfect 13-0 record and have declared themselves the unofficial national champions of 2017.
UCF isn’t the only program to get snubbed by the College Football Playoff Committee. Wisconsin went undefeated in the regular season, but lost in their conference title game to Ohio State by six points. That lone six-point loss knocked the Badgers out of playoff contention, giving Alabama (which again, didn’t play in a conference title game) the last spot in the Playoff.
So, what does that mean? Well, for one, snubbed teams is a valid reason for extending the College Football Playoff to more teams. After Monday night’s game, those defending the Committee’s decision to include the Crimson Tide in the Playoff argue that Alabama’s victories over Clemson and Georgia proved that they belonged in the Playoff.
But how can we know for certain? How do we know that Wisconsin couldn’t have beaten Clemson and Georgia if the Badgers had gotten the No. 4 seed? How do we know UCF couldn’t have done the same?
That argument always falls back on ‘strength of schedule’, that Alabama being in the SEC had a stronger schedule than Wisconsin or UCF. Really? Alabama only played three teams in the regular season ranked in the final AP Top 25 Poll (Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State). Auburn was the only top 10 team Alabama played all season, and they lost to the Tigers.
Granted, Alabama did play Florida State, a team that finished the season 7-6 after losing their starting quarterback in the opening game against the Tide. But who else did Alabama play that proves that their strength of schedule warranted them over Wisconsin or UCF?
Alabama was given the nod over Wisconsin and UCF because they’re in the SEC, and the Committee sees the SEC as a more valuable label than the other conferences — even during years when the SEC is no stronger or better than other conferences.
By expanding the Playoff, the NCAA would put a lot of the controversy to bed. If the Playoff featured eight teams, we could have seen Wisconsin, UCF or Ohio State in the title game instead of the Crimson Tide. But that’s just a “what if” that we’ll never know.
Expanding the Playoff might also end the controversy of the obvious biases that exist within the Committee. This year, it was UCF getting snubbed because they weren’t in a conference that the Committee deemed worthy of acknowledgement. In 2015, it was Houston. Before that, it was Boise State. Programs are punished for not being in the right conferences, and by expanding the Playoff, those teams could be given a shot. Maybe that’s all they need.
Until then and as long as the Playoff system remains the way it is, there will always be controversy.