College football’s final four and the ever-increasing meaninglessness of the conference championship

adam-and-eveCertain unanswerable questions have plagued us since the dawn of humanity.  Where did we all come from?  Did mankind start with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden or did we evolve from a “big bang” of another sort?  How can we find renewable energy sources to sustain life on this planet, why can’t we all just get along and why can’t Dwight Howard make a free throw?

These issues have had us scratching our heads forever… or at least since Dwight first picked up a basketball.

Another issue continues to confound us all with even the brightest among us unable to come up with an answer.  How do we determine our national champion?

For the longest time, bowls and polls helped us figure out the best college football team in the land.  We later revised that with the BCS, a combination of strength of schedule, rankings and other computerized statistics that would tell us the two best teams in the nation.  That system was also deemed flawed.

Finally, in an effort to make sense of it all, we expanded our playoff repertoire, inviting four teams to the party to duke it out.  That seemed fine and dandy; progress was being made.

Enter 2017.

All season long, we’ve (and by we, I mean they) rotated who we thought were the best four teams in the nation, having countless, relatively pointless conversations, having faith that when the dust settled, the four teams chosen were the most qualified by virtue of winning their conference.

Cue the loud, sharp scratch of the record.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  B.J. Emmons #21 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers with Jalen Hurts #2 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The current top four teams according to the committee are Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Washington.  Alabama has made their conference championship game and will face (and likely beat) Florida.  Clemson won the ACC and will play (and likely beat) Virginia Tech in theirs.  Washington was the best of the west and will play (and likely beat) Colorado to become Pac-10 champions.  And in the championship game of the best overall conference this year, Penn State will play Wisconsin… and neither will make college football’s final four.

That’s because those in charge of determining the four teams to make college football’s playoff extravaganza think Ohio State is more worthy.

Perhaps “worthy” is the wrong choice of words.  College football’s brain trust thinks Ohio State is one of the best four teams in the nation despite having lost to one of the teams that is playing for its conference championship.

And the Buckeyes may very well be.  They may be the best-equipped to knock off the only undefeated, major conference championship team left in the mix: Alabama.  They just weren’t on Saturday, October 22 when they lost to Penn State.


Should Ohio State get the nod, I can’t help but think that demeans the importance of a conference championship.  Colleges host football games every autumn weekend with the ultimate goal of winning their conference.  That’s what any coach and athletic director will tell you.  But conference championships are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Take a look at the SEC Championship Game.  Alabama is in the Final Four regardless of whether they win or lose to Florida.  So other than winning, what’s the purpose of winning?

So what’s the answer?  Do we expand the playoffs even further?  Do we add an extra two or four teams?  Do we come up with a more effective polling system?  Do we disband the conferences altogether?

If I had the answer to these questions, I’d be the most celebrated man in America.  Until then, we continue to stumble upon finding the truest way to determine our national champion.  This year, having six playoff teams and giving the top two teams a bye might work but which two teams would those be?  Would Ohio State still be a top seed and get a bye?  The committee likes Ohio State so much that they currently have them ranked over EVERY OTHER CONFERENCE CHAMPION other than Alabama.  We’ll see if that changes after this weekend.

If we’ve proven anything over the years, it’s that there is no easy answer.  If we’re lucky, these things tend to correct themselves.  If we’re not, the school left out in the cold has a serious beef with the system.

I’m fine with the landscape of college football evolving but something just doesn’t sit right.  If the selection committee has done their due diligence by determining the four best teams (or what this year seems like the three that have the best chance to knock off number one), then so be it.  Just don’t try to convince us that conference championships still mean something.  For in this year’s Big Ten, they’re nothing more than a participation trophy.

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12 Replies to “College football’s final four and the ever-increasing meaninglessness of the conference championship”

  1. I don’t think they are meaningless. If Florida wins it will certainly mean something to those players. The committee as it is designed now is supposed to get the 4 best teams in the playoff. I think without a doubt Ohio St. is one of the 4 best teams regardless of winning their Conference title or not. I bet at the end of the Big 10 Championship game it will seem like a big deal to either team that wins.

    Seriously, people lobbying for a team (Penn St.) that lost 49-10 and will have more losses and not as many nice wins over Ohio St are silly. It is about entire body of work as well. That said the playoff needs to be changed. Yes the SEC champ game after 24 years finally has a game where the champ game might not matter much for a year. I think people are making a bigger deal out of this then it needs to be.

    I would like 8 teams personally…5 Power conference champions (however they decide a champ is fine) and 3 at large teams. Really though, teams with 2 losses complaining about being left out I don’t have much sympathy for honestly. You would have sniffed exactly squat with 2 losses for the past 100 years. We have literally had 1 national champ with 2 losses (LSU) and they didn’t deserve it either.

  2. What I’m saying, D, is that if the eventual conference champion of the nation’s toughest conference doesn’t have a chance to play for a national title, then there’s something clearly wrong with the system.

  3. A conference Champion was being left out regardless the minute the system was setup with 4 teams. I didn’t hear this complaining last year to this extent. I don’t disagree that it needs change and it will be expanded within a year or two IMO. Being conference champ was not part of the requirements this year. I think under the 4 team playoff it is fine to not have a conference champ represented if the other team is better. I just don’t think it is a travesty if Penn St. is left out. They could have beat 8-4 Pitt too if they were worried about being left out.

    Ohio St. beat the #5, 6 and 9 teams this year while losing 1 game to #7. I think that is worthy of top 4 and they have a better record than the other teams being considered.

    For the record I like your blog and the opportunity to share my thoughts and even disagree with you on stuff.

  4. Alabama , still likely to remain unbeaten as the season winds down College Football season winds down. As to determining the present system , it is almost as idiotic and painstakingly asinine as this most recent election.

  5. I continue to maintain my initial bashing years back of the ol’ BCS was quite ill-mannered. Let a computer pick TWO teams and have at it. Every time you up the number of teams in any playoff format you will up the “noise” and simultaneously increase the chances of a less-deserving team ultimately winning…unless one has no issue with someone getting “playoff hot” for two games…or three…or four. The regular season’s meaning also seems to fade in the rear-view mirror once you reach a certain number of teams. College football seems to love the concept of a regular season where EVERY game matters. The more you let into a playoff the more that glow dims also. As for a conference champion…when mega-conferences were created it was deemed divisions were needed. We all have seen in pro sports what happens then. One division is massively strong…one weak. Oops. Someone gets left out. Someone ALWAYS gets left out. Let Siri pick two teams and tee it up!

  6. D….

    The talking heads at ESPN are discussing it now, putting Penn State at number five as if that’s some sort of reward. That’s like being the first loser.

    I’m not buying that entire body of work bullshit. In the only two things that have traditionally mattered, and have been the most important, Penn State beat Ohio State head to head AND won their conference championship. Early losses matter less than late losses.

    Voters included Ohio State because they think they’re the better team, have the better shot at beating Bama and because they have a more recognizable head coach.

    It’s a crock of shit, D. It’s a god damned beauty contest.

  7. Burnsy…

    This year, the committee proved that every game doesn’t matter or rather only the ones they deem important.

    The committee weighed HEAVILY on Ohio State beating Oklahoma more so than any other game on anyone’s schedule.

    Penn State could not overcome their 2-2 start.

  8. Early losses matter less than late ones?.Oh yeah. A time-honored “tradition” marches on. Beauty contest? No doubt. It’s a TV show first and foremost. Coaches’ importance? Look no further than that promo in the bottom of the screen for the announcement show this week…pictures of the coaches. ESPN markets college football like college basketball…coaches the (only) face of the sport.

  9. I don’t really care where Penn St. winds up. To me they are not one of the 4 best teams. You and everybody keep arguing between Penn St. and Ohio St. when that is not even the argument. Except you guys keep bringing it up. Earlier in the week the committee chairperson said the gap was not even close and Ohio St was clear-cut number two. I agree with them completely. Have you actually watched OSU play? They destroy teams, good teams. They lose 1 game on a blocked punt to a good team (Penn St is a good team btw) and all of a sudden they are not worthy? LOL

    I agree the system is flawed but not for the reasons you state. Also why are you not lobbying for Oklahoma to be in?

  10. Burnsy…

    On an only slightly related note, the ESPN Game Day crew had Chris Petersen on this morning when it was announced that Washington had made it in.

    Rece Davis asked him that if one of the reasons he left Boise State included joining a Power Five conference and a better chance at such opportunities.

    Of course, Petersen said all the right things, that it had nothing at all to do with it… but we know better.

  11. D…

    We’re not ever going to agree on this.

    Even if I were to give you the fact that Ohio State is the better team, they weren’t when they played Penn State head to head. And they weren’t good enough to win their conference, which again, most people agree was the best conference in college football.

    You’re forgetting in the final month of play, Ohio State beat Northwestern by 4, Michigan State by 1 and Michigan by 3 on a questionable spot. Those were by no means blowouts. Penn State was the hotter team down the stretch, winners of nine straight.

    The argument here IS between Ohio State and Penn State by virtue of the conference championship and head to head match-up. PSU won their conference. Ohio State did not. I have no problem with Washington and Clemson being in. They did what they needed to do.

    My problem with the whole thing is that your “entire body of work” argument still diminishes winning your conference, which used to mean something.

    To suggest it doesn’t… or doesn’t mean as much as beating the crap out of all opponents, except for the one you needed to, belittles conference play. Because OSU beat Oklahoma out of conference early in the season, and it’s a team that didn’t even make the playoff, means more than head to head?

    Eh. Not so sure I’m buying it.

    Just admit it’s political and I’ll feel much better.

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