The Athletic has live coverage of the College Football Playoff rankings selection show.
The four-team College Football Playoff era has received a fair bit of eulogizing in its final year of existence. It got the college game away from the BCS and opened the door for the 12-team bracket, which will be closer to a real playoff, like those in other sports and at all other levels of football. I will remember this period fondly.
But the excessive and embarrassing politicking around the four-team field will be the part I will miss the least. The grandstanding will continue in some form — someone will have to argue about the seeding of Penn State and Ole Miss, of course — but it can’t possibly be as ugly as it’s been to date.
I get that there’s a lot at stake: With five power conferences and just four spots, there was always going to be angst on conference championship weekend. The varying perceptions of leagues were always going to cause problems. One of the big reasons that commissioners in the Big Ten and Big 12 pushed for CFP expansion as far back as December 2018 was that they felt repeated exclusion from the four-team field was far too damaging to consider palatable. You could even argue that the Pac-12 missing the Playoff from 2017 to 2022 directly led to the league’s eventual downfall.
College football has always had a pretty dumb way of crowning its champions. For a while, you could just claim national titles yourself. Then they were determined by media polls, followed by computers and now a group of 13 people holed up in a hotel in Grapevine, Texas. This weekend will be the last gasp of politicking, with one last clean look at how lame it is to do.
Ubben: The CFP committee has to do the unpopular thing and exclude the SEC
For as much talk as there is each March about NCAA Tournament bubble teams, no one carries pitchforks into the streets if their favorite team gets sent to Dayton or lands in the first four out of the field. The cut-off line is less important to the postseason’s final outcome the further down the line you go, which is why debates for the 12-team field figure to be less time-consuming. We’ll spend this time next year talking about potential first-round matchups and byes, not arguments made through the media.
Every league has had to deal with the consequences of agreeing to participate in a four-team field — except the Southeastern Conference. And this week, the SEC realized it could be on the outside looking in for the first time, depending on the results of a number of conference championship games, including its own. A very real possibility emerged: Alabama upsets Georgia but gets boxed out from the four-team field by fellow one-loss conference champion Texas, which beat the Crimson Tide 34-24 in Tuscaloosa in September.
That very real possibility led SEC commissioner Greg Sankey to join ESPN’s “College GameDay” on Saturday morning to make an array of flawed arguments meant to declare and solidify SEC supremacy. Instead of a scenario in which the conference could be excluded from the CFP, he argued that it was essentially impossible.
“That’s not the real world of college football,” Sankey said. “Let’s go back to ‘Sesame Street.’ So we’re really basic: One of these things is not like the other. And that’s the Southeastern Conference. … We have five of the top 15 (teams), so a third. And our teams are playing everyone in the conference. And they’re all attached. They have to overcome a ton of adversity, intense environments. They’re going to be close games.
“But the reality is, there’s been no one that’s experienced the success in the postseason — the College Football Playoff — that we have. So when you put us up actually against the teams, rather than committee rooms, we stand alone.”
“Let’s go back to like Sesame Street … one of these things is not like the other, and that’s the Southeastern Conference.”
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) December 2, 2023
The SEC has dominated the CFP era, winning six of the nine trophies handed out so far. There’s no arguing with that. But there’s also no reason that past postseason success should impact this season’s selection process. Let’s look at what we actually know this year: The SEC went 7-9 against other Power 5 conference teams this season. Its best nonconference wins are, probably, Kentucky knocking off Louisville and Missouri beating Kansas State. After that, it’s probably Georgia’s eight-point win over Georgia Tech or Ole Miss beating Tulane without Green Wave starting quarterback Michael Pratt. The SEC did not do its typical thing of crushing everyone it played out-of-conference, so it does not deserve us defaulting to deference. (The ACC went 10-9, by the way.)
The CFP committee has no easy way out. So will it make some history?
The SEC’s FOMO is pretty funny, to be honest. We’ve never seen this type of panic out of this conference and its partners before because its CFP inclusion was never this much in doubt. We can only enjoy this frantic energy and the spin campaign that began well before the actual championship games took place because it’ll all be going away in 2024.
Next year, I don’t want to hear anyone threatening to play softer schedules to avoid losses. I don’t want to hear about educational daytime children’s programming. Give me the games and the Playoff games they’ll set up. Leave the grandstanding in the past.
(Photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)