“You just can’t call people up and schedule a game.”

I mentioned in passing in this morning’s buffet that even though the SEC has locked down its conference schedule for the next decade, there was still a debate in Destin yesterday about football scheduling.  It’s worth understanding what that signifies.

In discussing the national title hunt, Mark Richt used to insist that all he focused on was winning the SEC.  That’s all he could control and he’d let matters take care of themselves after that.  The last eight years of the BCS title game bore that wisdom out.

But that’s not the world Richt and his conference peers operate in any more.  With a four-team playoff that doesn’t restrict the number of teams from a single conference, there’s more than one way to skin a national title cat now.  Enter scheduling debate.

Something that is making coaches jittery is the new College Football Playoff that starts this upcoming season. A 13-member selection committee chooses four teams to play for the national championship and eight other teams to play in the four non-playoff New Year’s Day bowls.

But unlike the BCS that used computers and polls to ultimately determine who played in the national championship game, the CFP is subjective. Coaches around the nation want to know what it will take for their teams to get in the final four.

“Coaches all over are interested in the criteria and I don’t blame them,” said CFP executive director Bill Hancock, who spoke to the SEC coaches Tuesday afternoon. “The core criteria is very much common sense – strength of schedule, head-to-head, common opponents.”

Notice what’s missing from that list of criteria?

Now the reality is that, barring an upset of ginormous proportions in the SECCG, the conference champ will make it into the national semi-finals.  But if you’re a coach or athletic director of a powerhouse, you also have to think seriously about plotting a narrow course that will make your program attractive enough for the selection committee to choose in the event you don’t win the conference championship.  In other words, for the first time, Mark Richt has to entertain the notion that he needs to factor a Plan B into the equation for achieving a shot at a national title.

That’s a subtle distinction at the moment, I’ll grant you.  Nobody knows how the process is going to play out and won’t until the first postseason pool is filled.  And that’s reflected in the SEC’s conservative approach to scheduling, skipping the ninth conference game in favor of a Big 5 opponent mandate.  Will that be the case down the road?  Who knows?  But because of the nature of the selection process, it will always be a factor in scheduling from now on.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that winning the conference isn’t the be all, end all goal anymore for that national title chance.  And it’ll never be again as long as subjective criteria are used to pick the national semi-finalists.  If you’re asking me to point to something about the new playoffs that affects the regular season, there you go.

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42 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, SEC Football

42 responses to ““You just can’t call people up and schedule a game.”

  1. Bulldog Joe

    They’re saying all the right things, but it’s a head fake.

    Alabama lost their division, played OOC juggernauts Kent State, North Texas, GSU, and a scandal-plagued Penn State and still made the two-team playoff in 2011.

    I don’t see many legitimate OOC games being scheduled by SEC programs any time soon.

    • stoopnagle

      In 2014, SEC teams will play Florida State, Clemson (twice), Georgia Tech, Louisville, Indiana (? Seriously, Mizzou?), Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Wisconsin, & Boise State.

      Vandy, Miss St (and Mizzou, really) have OOC cupcakes across the board. Everybody else is playing at least one team from the big boy leagues (or Boise). Most of those above are pretty legit games.

    • Cosmic Dawg

      Hmmm…you sort of left some things out of their resume, including actually beating the #1 team in the country to win the NC, suggesting they really did belong in that game.

      For what it’s worth, I’m for an 8 game playoff of conf. champs or let the AP decide after some terrific bowl games…this middle ground is not so compelling to me. Let the conf. championship games and the playoffs be the bowl games, even.

    • Cosmic Dawg

      But agree with your main point, btw.

  2. Gravidy

    I hear what you’re saying, Senator, but winning the SEC is the surest route by far, of course. Will the SEC get a second team in the playoff with any regularity? Maybe, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I believe SEC fatigue is real, and getting those 13 panelists to overlook it long enough to place a second SEC team in the playoff ahead of multiple other big conference champions may be a bridge too far.

    • If that’s the case, then they’ll stop worrying about OOC scheduling, right?

      • Mayor

        The first thing that needs to happen is the idiot strategy of scheduling a tough opponent, often on the road, as the first game has got to stop. Play a tune-up game, at home, as the first game every year to get the kinks worked out. Then play tougher OOC teams later in the season.

        • Or at least time the drug testing better. ;)

        • Macallanlover

          Could not disagree more about the opening game every season, it should be the toughest, best OOC game we play all year. I would like to see us get the SC game moved back in the schedule and/or I would like to see us play that great opening game on Thursday to give us the extra practice time before a conference game the following week. Not so important this year because we have the off week before SC but we are helping SC recruiting by giving them the spotlight every season in their opening game.

      • Gravidy

        Once again, I hear you. I’m not saying you’re wrong. Their sudden concern with the OOC schedule is proof that the SEC brass are trying to create a world where multiple SEC teams can get into the playoff with some regularity.

        My skepticism is not regarding the attempt. It is regarding its chances of success. When those 13 people retire to their smoke-filled chamber to make their final decision, I simply find it hard to believe they will regularly reject multiple big conference champions in favor of a second team from any conference. Time will tell, of course.

  3. Derek

    I’ll believe that they’ll pick the third team in the sec or the conference championship game loser for the playoff when I see it. You’ll have six conference champs to pick from plus nd. To think that they’ll pass on three conf. Champs and nd to get to a second sec team is more than I think we can expect from these playoffs. My bet has been that you won’t get two sec teams in the final four unless an 11-1 sec team loses a tie break to get to atlanta OR you have 2012 like classic AND you have three conf champs with 10-3 or worse records. The chances are that you’ll always have four “deserving” conference champs.

    • Macallanlover

      I agree Derek, the SEC will not land two teams in the 4 team format, nor should they. The committee doesn’t have it’s hands tied like the BCS formula did under the previous system of finding a MNC. Bama-LSU should never have happened. Until every conference champ in the power five conferences get am invite, there should be no room for the back-up and that is impossible in the restricted four team playoff.

      SEC should schedule quality games, starting with the 9th conference opponent then a minimum of one quality opponent each year OOC. Give the fans better football, stop trying to manipulate a cheap way into the playoff. If you are a deserving team, you shouldn’t be afraid to prove it on Saturdays. Fans should not be subjected to mismatches against lesser opponents more than once or twice per season.

      • Until every conference champ in the power five conferences get am invite, there should be no room for the back-up…

        But that’s not the rule under which the selection committee operates, Mac.

        • Lrgk9

          The most important criteria for picking teams 3 & 4 will be supplied Sub Rosa by the ESPN Demi-gods of program viewer revenue… Any other discussion by bloggers, talking heads, conference presidents, coaches or lowly fans is a granfallon.

        • Macallanlover

          Yes, huge mistake but the BCS formula and other teams’ failures allowed it. Bama should never have gotten that bid.

          • Macallanlover

            That was meant as a reply to Magnus below.

            I know Senator but I think the Committee will use better judgment than the polls and computers did. Will be glad to take bets on there not being two teams from the same conference selected under the current set up, and I whole heartedly agree there should not be.

            • Honestly, Mac, this habit of yours of assuming that the folks running the postseason share your exact beliefs cracks me up.

              It’s a purely subjective call now. If they wanted the selection committee to stick to conference champs only, don’t you think they would have made that explicit?

              • Macallanlover

                Honestly Senator, if you cannot see that this committee will do a better job than computer nerds and SIDs in determining the contestants, that is your problem. And that has nothing to do with what my “exact beliefs” are, where the hell did that come from? I strongly believe the SEC will not get 2 teams in under this process and will bet you a $1000 to $100 every single year this set-up remains in existence.

                You may not have noticed but anti playoff folks are the minority among CFB fans and you hammer your spiel repeatedly. I get that it is your blog, but I only post my opinion as an offset to things I feel are misguided. And I think manipulating schedules based on getting two SEC teams into a four team playoff is pretty dumb, actually really dumb.

                They don’t need to draw boxes about who can or cannot get in. Why limit themselves with rules that hamper their autonomy? But two SEC teams are less likely than it happening to another conference, imo.

                • For what must be the thousandth time here, I’m not anti-playoffs. I’m against playoff expansion. I’d be fine if things stopped where they are right now. But they won’t, for that is the nature of playoffs in American sports.

                  • Macallanlover

                    That is true, that has been your mantra. And I am also against excessive expansion, we just disagree on where that line is drawn. Which is fine, it is all just opinions anyway, and no one here have a vote.

          • Dawgoholic

            Bama deserved the bid more than anyone else if you look at records.. Their loss was to the number one team in overtime. Okie State lost to an unranked team. The fact of the matter though is that LSU deserved not to have to face Bama again. Everyone should consider the rematch from the perspective of the winner of the first game and not the loser. One of the great things about college football is that typically there is no chance to redeem yourself against a certain team if you lose the first time you play.

            The part about this system that sucks is that you could play a Bama-UGA type game for your conference championship, win it, and have to play that team again in your next game because they are then number 4. When picking #3 and #4, the committee should favor teams that have not already lost to teams #1, #2, and in the case of #4, #3. Last, this approach gives teams an opportunity to prove they belong instead of focusing overly on one conference or region.

            I’m not saying a clear 3 or 4 should be left out but that if there is any doubt it should go to the team that has not lost yet to one of the other playoff teams.

      • reipar

        If only the conference champ is going to get invited why should the SEC go to a 9 game schedule and a quality OOC game every year?

    • Gravidy

      I agree. I tried to express similar sentiments above, but you said it better than I did.

  4. Keese

    How often has the SEC championship game loser been in the BCS NC?

    • ‘Bama won a national title without winning the SEC, no?

      • Bama has been good, tut also incredibly lucky. Two years in a row they lost home games in November in which they were the favorites (against aTm, a 17 point favorite), yet still got to play for the BCS Title. How many other times has that happened?

      • Senator, they weren’t the SEC championship game loser in 2011. Alas, that was Georgia. I think it’s going to take a lot of strange things to happen on championship weekend for any conference to get 2 teams into the playoff.

        • If you read my post, I didn’t say SECCG loser. I said team that doesn’t win the conference title.

          There is a difference.

          • Agree – I read your comment in context with Keese’s previous comment. I guess my point is that the SECCG loser will not make the play-off. I think it’s going to be very hard for any conference especially the SEC to get 2 teams into the playoff after the backlash from 2011.

  5. Interesting debate from both sides on the likelihood of the committee putting in two from the same conference. If the number of losses on the season are even, I agree that a conference champ gets in over a 2nd SEC team. For example, an 11-2 Stanford that just won the PAC 12 probably gets in over an 11-2 or 10-2 SEC team that didn’t win the conference. But I have no idea how I feel about, say an 11-2 Stanford team that won the title compared to a one loss SEC team who’s one loss kept them out of the SECCG, like Bama did. Especially if Stanford’s losses were to lower quality teams, and the SEC team’s loss is to a top 10/15 team. Scenarios like that will create quite the unenviable task for the committee……..and of course provide all the necessary fodder for playoff expansion.

    • I think that’s pretty accurate. My guess is that the committee will give deference to a conference champ, if only because that’s the best way to make sure the playoff loot gets spread around. After all, that’s the real point to the playoff.

      But it won’t be a mandate.

    • Cosmic Dawg

      Yep, but to be fair all those scenarios are basically what the BCS had to deal with – lots of subjective guesswork with 1-loss teams or undefeated teams with light schedules like Boise State. One advantage of the 4-game playoff, I guess, is it guards against screwing a third or fourth ranked team who goes undefeated against a reasonably strong schedule and did everything expected of them to vie for the NC, but still gets left out. I’m not sure if that’s ever happened, but it could.

      A deserving one-loss team could get left out, of course, but the loss should prevent you from crying foul, I think – at least you must admit some culpability in your exclusion.

      It’s a mess under either system unless you codify the whole thing as an eight game playoff with only conference champs and force ND into a conference. No whining, no subjectivity, win your conference and play for the title.

      I prefer the uniqueness and historicity of the polls and the bowl games, but that was getting diminished by the number of Kwik Cash Rust Belt Bowls anyway, so let’s get on with it and go to the 8-game playoff of conference champs and draw a line in the sand there.

      • Big Ears Tuberville raises his hands – Auburn ’04. Undefeated and on the outside looking in.

        • Macallanlover

          Best Auburn team in history, imo. They were probably the best team in the country that season and may have won a title if we had a decent playoff back then.

  6. Ubiquitous GA Alum

    So TAMU, Bama or LSU playing an extra east team of say Vandy, KY or UT will help their strength of schedule? Will the real USC playing CU or Utah help them?

    My point is everyone assumes that going to 9 conf games is going to give us a TAMU,LSU or Bama vs UGA every year. However, in some years it will give you MS St and FL/UGA

  7. uglydawg

    The thought occurs that this system isn’t good news for the SEC. Before, if you won the SEC, you were one win away from the MNC..Now you’re two wins away. This whole thing will diminish the SEC’s dominance over college football. The only good thing that can happen is for the conference to keep posting championships anyway.
    The first time the SEC gets eliminated, all the talk will be how the SEC has peaked and is in decline-no longer dominate-etc. You’ll see.
    That will be the springboard to leaving the SEC champs out or at least certainly making sure a second SEC team is never again considered.
    Also, look for some entity to come up with their own alternate crown…there’s no law that says USA today or one of the prominate sports mags can’t name the team they think deserving as champs.
    This system will have to expand or face the wrath of a bunch of pissed off College football fans.
    I’m still predicting a Charley Foxtrot.

  8. uglydawg

    Consider this.
    What if, instead of a conference championship game where the SEC E winner meets the SEC W winner…And the ACC Coastal winner meets the ACC Atlantic winner…
    The SEC E winner would meet one of the ACC division champs
    And the SEC W would meet the champs from the other ACC division..

    The same thing could be happening between the other conferences.

    Then the winners would make the brackets for the MNC.

    Whichever team in the SEC went the deepest in the playoffs would be named SEC champs,etc..

    This would be fair and give all the conference division winners their shot and leave it open for any conference to get two teams in if they’re good enough.

    Of course this would require more than a four team playoff…but it wouldn’t add anymore games.

  9. Mark

    Looks to me like the 4 team play off is impacting the season in a positive way. It’s forcing all the conferences to a 9 game schedule of former BCS teams. I guess we’ll still have to put up with the occasional patsy but overall, it’s an improvement.

    I think the big loser in all this will wind up being the loser of the conference championship games. Unless that loser was undefeated coming into the game, chances are that if a team that didn’t win a conference title is selected, it will be a 1 loss team that didn’t play in the title game over a 2 loss team that lost the title game.