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Participation Trophies: The Big 10 and Big 12’s whiny push for playoff expansion

Guess who doesn’t care? Conferences that have more than one dominant team.

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ED. NOTE: We’re opening this back up with renewed commenting, and pinning it to the front today because the Big 10 is on high on their own fart-sniffing again. See today’s JP.

Not much going on in ‘Bama land, so today we’re going to talk about Playoff expansion.

For the third straight year, the Big 10 champion was left out of the CFP (Yes, OSU made the field in 2016, but as a team that didn’t win its division. Deja vu.) The PAC 12 has been represented twice, once each by Washington and Oregon. The Big 12 has fielded a team three times — but all the same team. Only two teams have made it in from the B1G — Ohio State (twice) and Michigan State (once). Two teams have represented the ACC, and the league has had a rep all five years — Clemson (four times), Florida State (once). Likewise. the SEC has fielded two teams and has been represented all five years — Alabama (five), Georgia (once). And Notre Dame makes their first appearance this year.

In terms of all-time winningest clubs, all but two of these programs are in the Top 25 (Oregon was awful for about 80 years, but still clocks in in the upper 50s. FSU didn’t even start playing until 1950, but has nevertheless won 539 games.) Six of the teams are in the Top 15 in winning percentage.

The blue blood tilt of the CFP shouldn’t be an impediment, nor should the geography. Recall, the committee’s mission is to find the four best teams in college football and then let that quartet decide it on the field.

But, the decidedly Southern nature of the participants has increasingly left a bad taste in the mouths of other leagues, and there has been increasing clamor for an expansion of the field to eight teams.

Is it the best six teams the committee wants? The best eight teams? HA!

Yesterday, Barry Alvarez said the quiet part out loud, regarding playoff expansion:

“Everyone has the same feeling; expansion is inevitable,” Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told The Athletic. “When you can do it, and I think we need to serve more people. I think four was the right way to get started. In my opinion, we need to take a look of adding more teams into the playoff, giving more opportunities.”

Alvarez, who sat on the CFP’s selection committee from 2014 to ’16, expressed his concern that the SEC is getting a regular spot in the playoff while other leagues spend multiple years on the outside looking in.

”I don’t know whether we’re serving all of our people now, when you have some leagues—our league (the Big Ten) as an example,” Alvarez said. “Two years in a row, we don’t have anyone represented. The Big 12’s been the same way. The Pac-12’s been the same way.”

There it is. The inevitable playoff creep we both warned of and warned against, the march towards NCAA basketball nuttiness, all because other conferences aren’t fielding the best programs.

And, it’s just as myopic as it can be. College football moves in cycles. Teams become ascendant and remain so, sometimes for long stretches of time. But, in the end, dynasties crumble as others take their place. Still, despite panicking over the SEC’s representation in the BCS and pulling the trigger on the present playoff, the expansionist crowd forgets that same lesson all over again...and wants to press the panic button all over again...for the exact same reason.

West Virginia president Gordon Gee and Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez told The Athletic they think college leaders should discuss expanding the playoff format to eight teams now rather than waiting six years for the current playoff contract to expire.

“I also want to be very clear: I think that there’s arrogance of us not taking a look at someone like the University of Central Florida, just saying, ‘Well, they’re not worthy of it,’ ” Gee told The Athletic. “Maybe they are worthy of it based upon a number of considerations that need to be taken into account.”

Alvarez said, “UCF should have that opportunity.”

Bob Bowlsby said the other quiet part out loud: We’re tired of the SEC getting in and winning:

“It’s an appropriate thing to begin thinking about,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Athletic this week.

There have been a number of informal conversations involving college football’s most important power brokers in recent weeks and months. The growing concern is that a system designed to nationalize the sport of college football — including a championship game that is played at different venues and will be held in the Bay Area for the first time this season — is being undermined and regionalized with teams from the Southeast regularly playing each other.

Wait, now the goal is to nationalize the sport? When did that goal post get moved? The Committee has a responsibility to consider geography, but that’s not the goal of the playoff:

The selection committee ranks the teams based on the members’ evaluation of the teams’ performance on the field, using conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and comparison of results against common opponents to decide among teams that are comparable.

One Goal:

The two teams winning the playoff semifinals compete for the College Football Playoff National Championship. That game is in a different city each year, always on a Monday night.

No where in that stated mission does “nationalize the sport appear.” To the contrary the CFP does state: Universal Access: Every FBS team has equal access to the College Football Playoff based on its performance. No team automatically qualifies.

Bowlsby, Gee, and Alvarez are directly advocating against the stated criteria of the playoffs. And, what’s particularly galling (and hypocritical), is that now the Committee allegedly gives two shits about Power 5 programs.

Three weeks ago, UCF was told that there is a way to the playoffs — and it involves a better schedule. This isn’t a double standard: it’s the same thing that was told to Baylor and TCU in 2014 — Big 12 teams, you will recall, that were dropped to 5th and 6th because the competitor above them had far better schedules, including a 13th conference title game. Look at the link above — those are the criteria. Meet them, UCF.

But, lo and behold, who are the three paragons of suddenly caring about the equities of the Group of Five, and UCF in particular? Take a look above: Gordon Gee was a two-time President at Ohio State (Big 10) — and now the President at WVU (B12). Bob Bowlsby, chair of the CFP, is the commissioner of the Big 12 and former AD at Iowa (Big 10). Barry Alvarez is former coach and present AD of Wisconsin (Big 10).

In every instance, it has been persons from the two conferences cited above who are advancing expansion. And both want more bites at the apple by dint of mere geography — that’s it. No other reason has been advanced besides “teams from my conference aren’t getting in.”

This was always our fear, and it appears to be coming to fruition. With so much money at stake and so many hurt feelings because of their inadequacies, expansion becomes a fait accompli. Because now, it’s not about about picking the best teams, it’s about picking their teams. To use a trope, it’s truly a participation trophy. And, if you think for one second that the AD of Wisconsin or the president of West Virginia or the Commissioner of the B12 give one whit about UCF, do I have some Kansas seafood to sell you.

It’s insulting to our intelligence, it’s hypocritical to UCF, and the attitude underlying the entirety of it is whiny as hell.