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A modest proposal to fix the “SEC problem” for the College Football Playoff

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If only we could go back in time.

After Alabama and Georgia thoroughly dominated the semifinals and set up a final featuring two SEC teams for the third time in a decade, talk of playoff expansion heated up once again, which is exactly the wrong approach to fixing the parity “problem.”

Nick Saban commented on expansion during Monday’s championship teleconference:

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, who’s coached in the CFP seven of the eight years of the system, commented on the push for expansion during his teleconference on Monday.

“I don’t know that expanding — if this is the best four teams and they played each other, I don’t see the logic in it if we had more teams there would be better games,” Saban said. “I don’t know how that adds up.”

The average margin of victory in the 14 national semifinal matchups is 21 points per game, and only four of the games have been decided by 14 points or less.

The current playoff system is centered around finding the best four teams in the nation to compete for the national title. It turns out that multiple SEC teams consistently find themselves in that conversation because SEC schools recruit better than everyone else. In fact, the top three 2022 classes are all in the SEC. The proposed 12 team playoff would create some compelling matchups in opening round games, but would do little to address the blowouts in the semifinals and would likely result in even more SEC vs. SEC matchups in the final.

In any case, if the goal is inclusivity, I have a modest proposal. Understand, this is fantasy land, something that will never happen in a million years since we are discussing what is best for long term interest in the sport and not short term for the pocket books, but humor me just the same.

First off, we need to turn back the clock on all of this expansion and realignment stuff, and I don’t mean just from this last decade.

Texas and Oklahoma? Sorry, the SEC is no longer interested. Aggies, work out your differences and go back where you came from. Same for you, Mizzou. Arkansas can join that party as well, and South Carolina? I don’t know where you’ll go, but you can’t stay here. You were never going to win the SEC anyway.

So, you’re now left with a SEC consisting of charter members Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Vanderbilt. That’s a nice, neat nine game round robin schedule with no championship game required. For more conference realignment ideas, check here. Bottom line, we need more and smaller conferences, not fewer and bigger ones, so that all conference members can play one another regularly, and we don’t need the often boring conference championship games. Instead, let’s add another big non-conference game to the slate.

The next step is to set up some nice bowl tie-ins for the conference champions. These aren’t playoff games, mind you, but rewards for winning the conference. There will also be spots for the best at large teams who came up a bit short in the conference races. The current New Year’s Six will do just fine.

Sugar Bowl: SEC champ vs At large

Rose Bowl: Big 10 champ vs Pac 10 champ

Fiesta Bowl: At large vs At large

Orange Bowl: Big 8 champ vs ACC champ

Cotton Bowl: SWC champ vs At large

Peach Bowl: Big East Champ vs At large

The committee can rank the teams and set the matchups, just as they do today. All 12 participants remain in the pageant through bowl season: think of it as a final audition for all contenders. After the bowls are played, the committee will reconvene to choose the two most worthy teams to play for a national title.

So, what are the net effects?

First off, the big bowls actually mean something again. No longer will the Sugar and Rose serve as annual reminders of who didn’t make a playoff. Instead, they are restored as the end goal for teams in those conferences. Does this mean that there will never be opt outs when a two loss team with little chance at making the title game wins a conference? Of course not, but there most certainly will be fewer.

Second, more than four teams can be in contention all the way through bowl season. Fans will be inspired to watch more than two games. Imagine this season, where Big 10 champ Michigan would have played the Pac 10 champ in the Rose while Alabama faced off against an at large team, possibly Cincinnati, in the Sugar, and at large Georgia was down in the Cotton attempting to state its case against Baylor. Folks, that is some compelling football and, if we are being honest, teams from conferences outside the SEC have a much better shot at making the title game than they do actually playing against SEC teams in the semifinals.

For fans of a certain age, much of this will seem vaguely familiar. It’s almost like college football and its pristine regular season were never broken to begin with. Once it was deemed that there must be a national title game, a plus one was all that was needed. Unfortunately, at the time, schools pushed back against adding an extra game and taking bowl season deeper into January. Only a playoff and the cash that came along with it inspired them to make that leap.

If only someone had considered a step back rather than a step forward, the solution could have been beautiful.