Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Conference Championship Games Fail

A question posed in a comment on an earlier post regarded why I was realigning the conferences based on a 10 team setup with a round robin as opposed to a 12 team setup with a conference championship game. The reason why is that the ultimate goal of my conference setup is to send the best team on to the post season. The round robin method is proven to do that, while the championship game method has failed to do so on many occasions.

The first conference to switch to a championship game was the SEC in 1992. In 1994, sixth ranked Florida edged out third ranked Alabama for the championship. Alabama went on to the Citrus Bowl, where they defeated Ohio State 24-17, and finished the season ranked 5th. Florida went on to the Sugar Bowl, where they lost to Florida State 23-17, and finished the season ranked 7th. In 2001, 21st ranked LSU knocked off 2nd ranked Tennessee. In the bowls, LSU defeated Illinois by 13 points, while Tennessee obliterated Michigan by 28. LSU finished ranked 13th, Tennessee finished 6th. In 2005 the tables were turned as 13th ranked Georgia slipped past 3rd ranked LSU. Georgia went on to lose to West Virginia while LSU blasted Miami 40-3.

The next conference to adopt a conference championship game was the Big XII in 1996. That very year, unranked Texas upset 3rd ranked Nebraska. While Nebraska crushed Virginia Tech, Texas got run over by Penn State. Nebraska finished the season ranked sixth, while "champion" Texas finished 23rd. In 1998, 10th ranked Texas A&M upset 2nd ranked Kansas State in overtime. Both teams went on to lose their bowls, and finished ranked 10th and 11th, Kansas State on top. In 2001, 9th ranked Colorado upset 3rd ranked Texas. Colorado went on to be murdered by Oregon, while Texas beat Washington. Washington and Oregon were co champs of the Pac 10 that season. In 2003, Kansas State upset 1st ranked Oklahoma. While most people remember Oklahoma rolling over for LSU, few remember that Kansas State got crushed by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. 2007 featured Oklahoma knocking off top ranked Missouri. Oklahoma proceeded to get embarrassed by West Virginia, while Missouri blew out Arkansas.

The most recent conference to jump on the band wagon was the ACC in the wake of their rape of the Big East. They got things started quick, in the inaugural game in 2005, where the 22nd ranked Seminoles of Florida State upset the 5th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. FSU promptly lost to Penn State, while VT defeated Louisville. VT ended the season ranked 10th, FSU was still 22nd.

These are examples from every conference where an inferior team got hot for one game and walked off with the conference championship. Most of these cases ended with the "champion" badly embarrassing their conference, usually on national television. Imagine if the Big 10 had a better team in their conference, and still decided to send Ohio State to the slaughter in the last two BCS Title Games. That does not happen in the Pac 10, or even the Big 10. Almost always, their champion might not win, but they are the best team in the conference, without a doubt. In a playoff situation, not sending the best team would cost the conference millions, and look really bad too.

Why then, do the SEC, ACC, and Big XII, willfully risk such embarrassment? The answer is the almighty dollar. An extra game, particularly one that single handedly determines the champion of a major football conference, produces millions of dollars in income for the conferences. Merchandise, gate proceeds, television rights, it's all very lucrative. However, by limiting the competition from a ten team conference to a six team division, you increase the weight placed on each game. There's really only 5 games that matter in a 12 team conference, as opposed to 9 in a 10 team conference. Football, being a fairly unpredictable sport by nature, will wreak havoc on records due to this. One off game, one fluke play, and you're likely never to recover in a 12 team conference, even if you are the superior team in the long run. By maximizing the number of games that matter, in time, the cream will rise to the top. If you follow the example of the 12 team conferences, all you'll learn is that, in the short term, shit can float.

1 comment:

TOPolk said...

I wrote a response to this post a few days ago but my computer ate it. So here I am again...

Originally I disagreed with your viewpoint on conference championship games. Probably because I'm from an ACC school and we have a championship. But looking back your post, you bring up very valid points. I find it hard to disagree with you. Now would I give up our conference championship game? No. Because in the ACC, it may actually work out best for every school invovled that way -- but that's more a result of our "parity" than anything else.