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Conference Championship Games: Why They Are Pointless

conference championship

conference championship

I sometimes wonder, what would have happened if conference title games had never been a thing? The SEC was the first to do it, and its inaugural effort almost turned out disastrous. In 2022, conference title games make little sense. They've served their purpose in getting us to a playoff. But now that we're there, is it time to let them go? Besides, there are less destructive ways to crown a conference champion.

The SEC Tried It First

In 1992, the SEC was the first to separate its conference into divisions and schedule a regular season-ending conference championship game. #2 Alabama played themselves into the inaugural title game by winning the SEC West; the East champion was three-loss, #12 Florida. What could go wrong? Consequently, if Florida had won this game, it would have knocked the SEC out of Bowl Coalition title contention. It almost happened.

That Was A Close One

They were tied at 21. Florida had the ball with 3 minutes to go in the fourth. It could have been a catastrophe for Alabama and the SEC, but instead, it was an Antonio Langham pick-six to seal the Alabama victory. As a result, second-ranked undefeated Alabama advanced to the Sugar Bowl, as mandated by the Bowl Coalition, to play #1 Miami for the national championship.

So What?

But what if Florida had won? The SEC would have been knocked out of the mandated one vs. two games. #1 Miami would have played either Texas A&M in the Cotton or rematched FSU in the Fiesta. So, It would have been fine for college football, but it would have been a severe blow to the SEC. But the real question is, how would this have affected future conference championship games?

As a result, it might have forced the SEC to take a hard look at the situation. It may have even convinced them to do away with the divisions and the title game. And maybe that would have been best for college football as a whole. For every classic conference title game with two teams of equal record and common opportunity, there are nine unbalanced matchups where only one team has a significant national title shot or a legitimate chance at the CFP. This is not beneficial to the conferences. It's a nothing to gain/everything to lose scenario, much like in the inaugural SECCG for Alabama.

Here Are Some Examples

2001 Tennessee had risen to #2 in the BCS poll; they needed to beat #21 LSU in the SECCG to advance to the BCS title game. A team with three conference losses, a team they had already defeated. In other words, a pointless game. So what happened? Tennessee was one game away from a Rose Bowl berth. Instead, all was shot to hell in one pointless game, as LSU upset the Vols. I have a lot of examples of these meaningless conference title games, but this one shows you exactly how it can go wrong.

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Another great example is the 1998 Big Xll title game. Number two, undefeated Kansas State walks into the BCS national championship game with a win over 10th ranked, two-loss Texas A&M, but A&M upset them. This single-handedly knocked the Big Xll out of the first BCS title game. It doesn't take a genius to realize that the Xll would have been better off not playing the game.

Some Interesting Facts

Conference championship games that meant something to both teams, regarding a CFP seed or a BCS title game berth, are rare.

  • The SEC has had five.
  • The B1G Ten has had one.
  •  The ACC has had one
  •  The Big Xll has had none
  • The PAC 12 has had none

That's only seven times out of 88 Power Five conference title games. A rare event indeed.

What We Need

Instead of the conference title games, we should do a CFP qualifier weekend. Not a playoff, just neutral site/ regional matchups between the top 8 teams. You could do it by ranking, or maybe you could do it by a ranking/region mixture. I'll give an example based on 2021. Additionally, in situations like Alabama-Georgia, where a conference title game would have been beneficial, we should match these teams up in a qualifier. This reduces the chance of multiple teams from a single conference showing up in the CFP seeding. Here's what I propose:

  • #3 Alabama vs #1 Georgia (Atlanta)
  • #2 Michigan vs. #8 Ole Miss (Indianapolis)
  • #4 Cincinnati vs. #7 Ohio State (Dallas)
  • #5 Notre Dame vs. #6 Oklahoma State (New Orleans)

Some people will not like the #3 Alabama vs. #1 Georgia matchup because they'll feel like it's the CFP shooting; it's wad right out of the gate. But this is not the first round; it's a qualifier. Above all, going ahead and taking care of those games that could have been settled in a conference championship is essential to stopping one conference from dominating the seeding of the ACTUAL playoff. There is no need for this to look exactly like the first round of the CFP.

After these games are played, the committee will re-seed the winners into the 4-team CFP. Plus, the losers will still be eligible to play in bowl games. Equally important, you could adjust the number of qualifier games according to the number of playoff spots. So it would easily adapt to playoff expansion.