College Football is changing, and changing quickly, and I don’t quite know how to feel about it. It should have been obvious that conference expansion and the 4 team playoff would change things, but I don’t know if we all realized quite how much things would change. What has changed the most? That is an easy question; it’s the value of a conference championship. We are about to find out the value of a conference championship in a few days. If Ohio State makes the playoff, we know they are being devalued.
Before Ohio State fans get all up in arms, I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing. First though, let’s talk about why it may be a bad thing. It is a bad thing because of history. For decades, winning your conference has meant a great deal. It meant a Rose Bowl berth, a Sugar Bowl berth, a banner being hung, and bragging rights. It meant you truly were the best in your conference. Why did it mean you were the best in your conference? It meant you were the best in your conference because you played everyone in your conference. Conference championships were still valued in the BCS, because there were only 2 teams. Make no mistake, in BCS days, this would be Bama against Clemson.
As the power 5 have expanded, this is no longer the case. Most conferences now have divisions, and in most seasons, at least one of the division winners has won their division because of unbalanced scheduling. For example, you can win your division in the Big 10 without having to beat Ohio State or Michigan; you can win the SEC without beating Bama or LSU. In the Big 10 this season Ohio State played both Wisconsin and Nebraska in the other division, the top 2 teams. Penn State played neither. This is one reason why conference championships aren’t the end all they once were, teams don’t play the same schedule within their conference. Compare the cross conference games Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State played this year, and it’s clear that Penn State got the easiest draw. This isn’t meant to put down Penn State, but it’s a fact.
The other reason that conference championships aren’t the end all anymore is the out of conference schedule. Should we completely ignore who people play out of conference? If a conference championship is all that matters, the good teams should all play directional schools. Don’t risk a loss out of conference. Though I would be really interested to see how the committee would’ve responded to Penn State being 11-1 and beating Youngstown State instead of losing to Pitt. Ohio State went on the road and beat the likely Big 12 champ Oklahoma on the road. Again, that has to count for something. If you only care about conference championships, say good bye to every competitive non-conference game you can think of. It’s the non-conference games that are most impacting the playoff standings right now. Michigan beat Colorado and Ohio State beat Oklahoma. This is why the committee values Ohio State and Michigan so much, despite finishing 2 and 3 in their own division.
Look, I was brought up in a day where nothing (except winning a NC) was as good as winning your conference. Now, it’s playoffs or bust, and conference championships mean little. If you don’t believe me, go to stubhub or seatgeek right now and look how cheap you can get in every title game not being played in Atlanta this weekend. It will take some adjusting, but due to in conference schedule imbalance, and out of conference scheduling; conference titles aren’t nearly as meaningful as they historically have been. If you don’t believe me, wait until Sunday when Ohio State is in the playoff and Penn State is at home (assuming Clemson and Washington win) and if I’m being honest, I think the committee will be correct.