This past weekend, the sports world engaged in their annual debate on which 4 (or 2, depending on the year) college football teams are most deserving of playing for the national title. Yes, we all know that a nice playoff bracket would be fitting, but also as we all know, college football loves their debates. It keeps them relevant during the NFL season.
Anyway, as it happens each and every year, the ‘last team out’ fanbase is completely taken aback that they were not selected and scream conspiracy. What also doesn’t help in the matter is that much of the media is echoing these sentiments and are crying for heads to roll.
All of this sudden surprise by both fans and media is completely unfounded. Each year the NCAA committee in charge of selecting these 4 teams lay out their standards very clearly and without apology: ‘We are picking the best 4 teams’.
So what does that mean…..best 4 teams?
Well, the top teams are easy to pick out, but the last team selected is the one where controversy arises. So let’s look at this through the lens of how the committee chooses the 4th team over the 5th or 6th team over the years:
- 2014: Ohio St vs TCU vs Baylor
All teams have 1 loss. Ohio St is 12-1, TCU and Baylor are 11-1. Ohio St lost their first game to an unranked (and later 6-6) Virginia Tech team at home 27-0. TCU lost a circus game at the end to Baylor on the road. Baylor lost a close game at West Virginia. Baylor and Ohio St win their respective conferences. So who goes?
Why? Well, despite having by far the worst loss of the three and playing in a far inferior conference that season (Big 12 > Big 10 in 2014), the media speculated that TCU was out because they didn’t win their conference (despite having by far the strongest loss), Baylor was out (along with TCU) because they played one less game (or as the committee calls it, the ‘13th’ data point), and Ohio St looked really good their last few games against those bad Big 10 teams. Oh yeah, and a first week loss, even at home, is forgivable. An end of the season loss is far worse.
- 2016: Ohio St vs Penn St
Both teams are in the Big 10. Both teams even played each other. Penn St won. But Penn St lost 2 games to Ohio St 1. So who goes?
Why? Well, despite not having that ‘13th data point’ and not winning their conference, the media speculated that having one fewer loss made the difference, even though that loss was late in the season as compared to both Penn St losses that occurred earlier in the season. Also Ohio St beat a bunch of teams in the top 25, so apparently that is really important.
- 2017: Ohio St vs Alabama
Ohio St went 11-2 and won the Big 10. Alabama was #1 for most of the season, but lost their final game on the road to #7 Auburn to freeze them out of the SEC championship and finished 11-1. Ohio St lost at home to start the season and got blown out on the road to an unranked Iowa team. Ohio St has more top 25 wins due to the fact the SEC had a down season, but Alabama does have one fewer loss, and that loss was not as ugly as the Iowa one. So who goes?
Why? This situation is similar to the Penn St/Ohio St issue in 2016. The media speculates one fewer loss did it. Or a conspiracy. It depends who you ask. And I am not even kidding about that.
So, the ultimate question is: what factor(s) decide the 4 best teams. Or more importantly, what is the tiebreaker that decides the #4 team to the #5 team?
It is not conference title. See 2016 and 2017.
It is not the ‘13th data point’. See 2016 and 2017.
It is not quality wins. See 2014 and 2016.
It is not quality loss. See 2014.
It is not even 1 loss vs 2 losses. If Auburn won, they would have made the final 4 with 2 losses. But obviously winning percentage matters.
There is one consistent factor in all of this. It is one that the media fails to report, however it does exist.
In each of the years, the team that is chosen in the tie-breaker had a higher preseason rank.
Preseason rank is based on four important factors: prestige of school, coach, returning starters, and NFL talent.
Now obviously the preseason 1-4 teams don’t make it by default; you still have to win games. But when hairs need to be split and the committee needs to decide between #4 and #5, they have always gone to the preconceived notion on who is supposed to be better.
Ohio St a a blue blood. They get all the talent they need. Their coach is a Hall of Famer. Baylor is no a blue blood. TCU has far less NFL talent. Penn St was preseason out of the top 15 in 2016. So Ohio St would beat any team in a tie-breaker situation. Hell, they already have. They did NOT have better seasons than TCU or Baylor in 2014, and they didn’t even win their conference in 2016. But they have a name, a perception that outdoes everyone else. Well, except one program. Only one program is more exalted in 2017 than Ohio St.
So it was obvious from the start of the conference championships that Ohio St needed a bunch of weird things to happen to get in the top 4. Why? Because Alabama already iced their position over the course of their recruiting from 2-3 years ago and the overall success they have had in the past 5 years. This top 4 is not about earning a reward for having 1 of the 4 best seasons. It is about perception of who is the best after 12-13 games. Yes, that includes the actual results of the games. But it also includes how players rank in Mel Kiper’s NFL mock draft and how many of those players play on said team.
So to hear the public outcry and utter surprise about who is in and who is out this season from the media is such naivete on their part, it sickens me. These are guys that get paid tons of money to follow college football and comment about the state of things, yet they miss the point so often. Maybe they are too blinded by their own biases (I mean half of the media attended these schools in question) or maybe they are not smart and lazy about their research. But the fact that a simple-minded guy from Seattle who does NOT work in the industry sniffed this one out well before they did…….well that is so pathetic I can’t even begin to criticize them.