College football conference championship games could very well end up following other major traditions of the sport in becoming extinct here soon.
As we prepare for an onslaught of huge title tilts this week, conference commissioners are openly debating whether these early-December games have a future in college football.
“I do think that people are going to have to look at that,” American Athletic Conference Mike Aresco said.
Aresco’s conference will see SMU go up against Tulane in its conference title game Saturday afternoon at 4:00 PM ET on ABC. Typically, a mid-major conference getting play on national television would be seen as a good thing. But it promises to be lost in the shuffle with Georgia taking on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game at the same time on CBS.
That’s the tricky part of it as conference realignment becomes the norm and super-conferences are created around the college football world.
The larger part of this equation is the College Football Playoff being expanded from four teams to 12 in time for next season. While the Big Ten has enjoyed a ton of success with its conference title game, commissioner Tony Petitti knows changes could be in order.
“The championship game is a huge part of our season,” Petitti said, via Yahoo! Sports. “Deciding a champion on the field, there is history to it. It means a lot. It’s been the right way to do things for a while. But down the road as the playoff changes, are there other ideas to consider? Yes.”
Under the format starting next season, both Georgia and Alabama would have already laid claim to a spot in the College Football Playoff. The same thing could be said for Oregon and Washington, who are slated to take on one another in the final Pac-12 Championship Game ever. That conference is set to disband after this season.
Coaches against continuing college football conference championship games
“Coaches have informed their corresponding commissioners and athletic administrators about their feelings, even suggesting benching players in a conference championship game to avoid injuries ahead of a playoff run,” Yahoo! Sports reported recently.
That’s the crux of the issue for the powers that be within the NCAA and conference commissioners. What exactly would the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs gain by playing their starters in Saturday’s SEC Championship Game under the expanded format? Heck, the Georgia might already be guaranteed a spot in the Final 4 even if they lose to Alabama.
What about Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines? Fresh off a huge win over Ohio State, they rank No. 2 in the nation. Michigan would already be guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff under next season’s expanded format. Resting their starters would make the most sense in an otherwise meaningless game.
Though, there are other factors in play here. Seeding could end up forcing teams to take these conference title games seriously. That is to say, having an easier initial opponent in the CFP. The top-four teams in the rankings also receive a first-round bye and move on to the quarterfinals.
How College Football Playoff would look under expanded format
If the expanded format were used this season, the dynamics would’ve changed dramatically heading into “championship weekend.” Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and Washington would have first-round byes with the following matchups taking place.
- 5) Florida State vs 12) Mississippi
- 6) Oregon vs 11) Penn State
- 7) Texas vs 10) Louisville
- 8) Alabama vs 9) Missouri
Championship weekend would likely change things a tad with Georgia not taking its SEC tilt with Alabama seriously. Michigan would be in a bit of a different situation in that Florida State is also taking part in the ACC Championship Game against a top-10 team in Louisville. A loss coupled with the Seminoles winning under the expanded format would likely force the Wolverines to play a first-round game.
“We are in a period of change and assessment,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said. “Conference championships should be assessed. Is it necessary to play a 13th game?”
As college football dynamics change around the nation, traditions are going to continue being thrown out. While shorter-lived than others, conference championship games could be the next to go.