Should a team have to win its conference to qualify for the College Football Playoff?

Since its inception, college football has been based on regionalism. Schools within an area form a conference and compete against one another. At season’s end, various polls would crown a national champion, but there would be no doubt who was king locally. Winning the region mattered almost more than winning the nation. With that regional title, perhaps most importantly, came bragging rights for fans and players throughout the year.

 

As the game has expanded, and particularly under the umbrella of the BCS, college football ballooned into a much more national game. Now folks in Tuscaloosa worry nearly as much about a game in Eugene as they do one played in Baton Rouge. However, since a majority of games are played within the conference, college football’s regional roots have remained. Coaches, players and fans all worry about winning the conference before considering the national conversation.

 

Now, I’m certainly not revealing anything new. But this history must be remembered with regards to the new College Football Playoffs, and how exactly the selection committee will pick the four teams to play in the postseason. As of right now, nobody’s quite sure.

 

With the new College Football Playoff designed to include a broader and fairer set of teams, and a way to ensure this is through teams having to win their conference championship (or divisional championship in the Big 12).

 

College football currently has the most exciting regular season of any sport, kind of indisputably. In no other sport does every game truly matter. Each week a team could make or break its season, catapulting toward the top or plummeting to the depths. It’s this perpetual nail-biting, couch cushion-clutching experience that we all love as fans.

 

I agree that this new playoff system could improve the sport, but only if it doesn’t cripple college football’s foundation in the process. Including multiple teams from one conference in the four-team field subconsciously admits that the regular season and winning the regional conference doesn’t matter as much.

 

Why -- as coaches, players, fans -- should we take each game seriously if a team gets another shot at it down the road? College football isn’t about second chances, it’s about consistency of success. If a team has to win a conference title, it’ll crown an honest champion, one where each team from every conference has an equal shot, eliminating any possible voter bias toward a conference, while preserving college football’s foundation. Then, we might live in the best of all possible college football worlds. 

 

-- Brendan Bures, NCAA.com

 

The beauty of the new College Football Playoff is having the four best teams take to the gridiron to settle the debate over which team is the best in the sport, a problem that arose with the outdated BCS format. With that, it should be in the hands of the selection committee to pick the indisputable four best teams to vie for the national championship, regardless of whether or not a team won its respective conference.

 

The point of the entire system is to stack the best against the best, and if that means a conference champion with a less-than-stellar resume gets snubbed in favor of a more-deserving runner-up, it’s because it’s in the best interest of the tournament. The selection committee should have the right to reward a runner-up in the SEC if the team’s resume is more impressive than an ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 or Big 12 team that won its conference by default in the event of a weak year.

 

Take the 2011 season as an example. LSU and Alabama came into its November meeting undefeated and No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, with the Tigers narrowly squeaking out a 9-6 win on the road. Then the two sides met again in the BCS Championship Game, with Alabama rolling to a 21-0 rout -- and then the Crimson Tide jumping Big 12 champion and No. 3 Oklahoma State in the polls.

 

Most can agree it’s less than ideal to have a rematch decide the national champion and it’s a position the selection committee should do its best to avoid. But if that situation were to unfold this season, there’s no reason a team like Alabama should be left out of the tournament as a result of a three-point loss to the No. 1 team in the country.

 

A case could also arise where a powerhouse runs the table, has its star quarterback go down with an injury that sidelines him for a crucial conference matchup that ultimately leads to a loss. Is it fair to punish that team for an unfortunate injury, when the eye test would show it’s the consensus No. 1?

 

That’s not to say that there should be a bias toward any one conference, like the SEC, and continue to snub other conferences. But if the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country happen to be in the same conference, the selection committee should have the freedom to accept both into the four-team playoff.

 

College football finally has the ability to adopt the eye test in its playoff determinations, and now's not the time to hinder that benefit. Let the selection committee choose the best teams and the best matchups to allow the sport to continue to flourish.

 

-- Stephen Sellner, NCAA.com

Related:
• College Football Playoff selection committee criteria