College Football’s Conference Championship Week May Soon Look Very Different

April 16th, 2015 | by Jeff Troxclair
College Football’s Conference Championship Week May Soon Look Very Different
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college football

In the immediate aftermath of its men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA quietly revealed that there are steps already underway that could materially affect the way its football champion is determined in the not-too-distant future. According to numerous sources, the NCAA is expected to approve legislation by the start of the 2016 football season that would eliminate the current requirement that a conference have at least twelve teams before it is able to hold a championship game. This legislation, originally submitted by the ACC in March of 2014 and heartily endorsed by the Big 12, seeks to “deregulate” the conference championship game process and return authority for this endeavor to the individual conferences as opposed to the NCAA, where said authority currently resides.

Why Now?

Every college football fan that didn’t spend the six-week period from December to mid-January of last year in a cave with their eyes shut and their ears covered up is acutely aware of why the Big 12 is excited by this development. Since the evening of the playoff selection, when College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Jeff Long confirmed that the Big 12’s lack of a “definitive” champion hurt it in comparisons with the other four “definitive” Power Five conference champions, Big 12 supporters have been faced with an unpleasant factual scenario. That is, not only were their teams facing a decided competitive disadvantage by having one less chance to impress the Playoff Selection Committee via a thirteenth game, but that the current NCAA rules rendered the conference powerless to make any substantive changes in this regard. In one fell swoop, this legislation would obviate those fears.



More curious, then, is the case of why the ACC elected to champion this cause. According to the league itself, the reason was… well, no particular reason at all. An ACC spokesman just last week said, “The reason the concept [the legislation referred to above] was introduced two years ago was because the league believed, much like other topics, leagues should have their own ability in determining how to structure and host conference championships. Our league has been very consistent in that ever since. There’s no movement toward necessarily changing how our league manages its championship game.”  Striking a similar tone, Bob Bowlsby – the current Big 12 Commissioner and inaugural head of the newly-formed NCAA Football Oversight Committee –stated, “[r]eally, nobody cares how you determine your champion. It should be a conference-level decision.”

Weighing The Options

 

So there you have it: this potentially landmark change was not a carefully-considered, result-driven agenda item, but rather the natural by-product of some organic confluence of football “states’ rights” groupthink. Federalism is alive and well, it seems, even in college football! Of course, I don’t really believe that. While I make every attempt to avoid absolutes in the adult world, I’m convinced that practically every move each conference makes is orchestrated with one goal in mind: putting that conference in the best position possible so as not to be the one left standing when the music stops and the four teams for next year’s College Football Playoff are selected.

And there’s nothing really wrong with that, per se. As such, I don’t blame the ACC for kick-starting this movement. Most everyone likes options, especially when the last decade has shown us that college football futures can change rapidly and with little notice or immediate recourse. With fourteen teams and a relationship with Notre Dame in all other sports, it’s possible – even probable – that the ACC’s football landscape could look quite different in the coming years, so why not provide for the flexibility to gerrymander how the league selects its champions in a way that maximizes that champion’s chance to assure a place in the Playoff? It’s no doubt vexing for the ACC front office to survey the conference and note that its two traditionally strongest programs (Florida State and Clemson) are current division rivals, and thus unable to meet in a conference championship game where both would be highly-ranked and therefore all but assure the winner would be one of the chosen four (though I think it’s nevertheless dangerous to make policy based on the current competitive balance, as history shows this is a cyclical concept).

Regardless of the actual motive, I don’t think there is anything fundamentally offensive about the Big 12 being allowed to stage a championship game with only 10 members.  And the trickle-down effect may indeed be at play, too, as non-Power Five conferences with less than 12 members (such as the Sun Belt) may now also be able to bolster their coffers by utilizing this new legislation to put on a conference championship game that will almost assuredly command a decent chunk of change from some TV network. While it’s likely of little comfort to TCU and Baylor fans, the rest of us can kick back and take solace in the fact that this past December’s specific championship-game controversy will likely not be repeated again, starting with the 2016 season.

About Jeff Troxclair
Jeff Troxclair is an executive, lawyer, and life-long college sports fan. He is a graduate of both NC State University and the University of Notre Dame, and is a hopelessly optimistic Wolfpack and Irish fan. Jeff is originally from New Orleans, LA, but has lived for extended periods of time in both Raleigh, NC, and Chicago, IL. He currently resides in Oakland, CA, with his wife and daughter. Having seen the New Orleans Saints actually win a Super Bowl, he is now convinced that we live in a world where no sports-related achievement is impossible.

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