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Admittedly, this piece is probably three years or so from really being all-encompassing, so if you want to bookmark it and assume the Martians aren’t coming in the near future or Hillary Clinton isn’t going to win the 2016 election and the world will still be here … who can blame you?
But the CFB Playoff is one year deep, and nothing says “college football talk” like jumping to conclusions based on totally incomplete evidence. Actually, that can pretty much go for news/sports media, politics, dating, purposely leaving our 60 degree wedge in the woods because it doesn’t work after the first round you play with it … and the list can go on.
Either way, I believe this to be true: the playoff will force the end of the SEC dominance machine as we have come to know it.
Now, I’m not some SEC hater. I respect the conference and what it does, as much off the field as on. It was visionary work to align with ESPN, sports’ biggest gas blowing mouth piece, in a sport and time when opinion was the ultimate ally come poll votin’ time.
Their scheduling decisions are a bit sketchy, but heck, it’s smart. Gaming the system isn’t dishonorable if the system is set up allowing it to be gamed. Nor do I think it’s been as dominant as recruiting rankings and numbers would suggest.
I appreciate the passion for the SEC, but if folks think those recruiting rankings are done by 5,000 beat writers toting a gallon of coffee and an unlimited MasterCard expense to run up hanging out at high school football games and practices all day and night, I have some lakefront property in the Gobi to sell you.
But there are reasons … on and off the field … why the playoff and the landscape overall are going to be good for anti-SEC guy. Come along, and we shall discuss.
4. Elite Coaching is spreading out
If there was one “oh hell, that’s obvious” reason for the SEC’s rise that little to do with opinion (anti or for) it was the power of coaching in the conference. At one point, you had Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, Bobby Petrino, James Franklin, and Les Miles spread out over the conference. It was the place to be, especially with Saban and Meyer up there at the top. The conference had the two best coaches in college football, plus title winners in Miles and Spurrier, which carry (and still do) massive weight with recruits at a younger age than they are now. Over the last few years, talent in coaching has become more spread out. Meyer is in the Big 10. So is Jim Harbaugh, an elite college coach. Franklin is in the Big 10. Petrino is in the ACC. The Pac 12 has nabbed Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, and Gary Andersen as moderately or highly successful coaches at other schools. Not that the coaches in the SEC now are chopped liver, but the elite guys have aged (anti recruiting runs rampant against natural causes) and many of the SEC’s current guys are in “prove it, still” mode. This is a small piece of it, but the SEC at one point had a significantly massive gap in coaching acumen over the other conferences.
Pull the Big 12 for instance. Who are the top SEC coaches right now … Saban, Miles, Richt, and Spurrier, maybe? Is that a better group than Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Gary Patterson, and say, Charlie Strong?
3. The obvious answer: numbers.
Sometimes, the answers are right under our nose and we just have to scan the room to make sure no one’s looking to grab them. A playoff makes it harder for any one group to be dominant simply because you have to do more to win the title now. Think … Ohio State … who barely got in controversially last year … won the title. If this was the BCS, not only would they not have gotten in, folks probably wouldn’t have even moaned loudly about it. Because college football is set up so that you really don’t know that much about how teams TRULY compare regionally during the season, you just assume strength. The problem with that model is that it completely sucks and has no basis in fact.
Now, to win a title, you’re going to need to win two games against some other elite team from another region, whereas with the BCS, getting in was 50 percent of the battle. We’ve seen the last two champs come from conferences that were run down all season. Now, we find out if those teams really are that good and how little we might have known all along. That, mathematically, just makes it tougher.
2. ESPN’s pull is diminishing, slowly
If there’s a positive development in sports over the last year, it’s that ESPN’s pull seems to have hit its ceiling. They lost 3.2 million subscribers over the last year or so and with cable networks seeing numbers plummet to the point where they’re finally willing to explore A la Carte cable … numbers look hairy for ESPN. I’ve never jammed ESPN for hyping up the SEC. I just don’t watch. A lemming public (and media) aren’t that easily able to turn away from the television, but ESPN hyping the conference is just smart business with how they’re financially tethered together versus the other conferences (including the SEC Network).
But as more an more options make themselves available, either through league promoted networks (NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV) and as other mainstream networks overpay for sports that have enough pull to get eyeballs (golf, auto racing, hockey, soccer), it’s less live sports programming ESPN has. All of the other options, plus ESPN’s tear away from sports news to the more “E” side of it … which is just garbled, screaming, shock jock Entertainment … has caused people to tune out and realize they don’t care. With a sport predicated on influence and one network holding such powerful weight over that opinion, it only stands to reason that as they’re pull diminishes, so do the opinions card-read by their employees on their programming. The last beacon of change will be with sports media, however. Once they find other networks to give them highlights and hot takes so they don’t have to actually watch games or read the documents they’re barking about (hello, Wells Report), then you’ll really see the landscape change.
1. A glimpse into the CFB Playoff Committee’s voting thoughts
At first I was scared, afraid, I was petrified … that not demanding teams be conference champs as a qualifier was going to wreck the product. Then, I saw how the committee seems to be doing their voting process, which was abhorrent and flawed for television ratings I suspect all season … but got it right in the end even though it looked like it couldn’t happen. The message was obvious: make a statement the last game of the season, which is your conference championship game, and we’ll kick you up as many spots as needed.
That was refreshing in a sense, because we’re used to a poll voting system that seems to live and die by the ethos of “if they win, you can’t move them down.” What it means for the SEC (and anyone else) is that you’ll probably need a perfect amalgam of scheduling and events to get two teams in, which still guarantees nothing. Likely you’d need a team from the West and the East to come in with it sewn up almost before the game. Because it’s clear that the conference title holds major weight, especially when you go clubbing your opponent in the title game as was the case last year.
These four reasons above are opinion backed by fact, which is a good way to go about your opinions if you can get them. Again, this isn’t anything against the SEC, but the landscape is changing, how people consume sports and their opinions are changing, and the field is only expanding (which … that part sucks). In the end, less of the same thing every year is good for college football, which lacks the appeal of professional sports when having a villainous character team to root for or against but always bringing eyeballs in.