Among the telling messages delivered Sunday by members of the College Football Playoff’s selection committee while denying playoff berths to No. 5 Baylor and No. 6 TCU, two scream louder than the rest:
▪ Money, power, prestige, influence and television ratings always rule the day in a tug-of-war between small private schools and established blue-blood powers with huge fan bases when a gray area is involved.
▪ The Big 12 really, really, REALLY needs to stage a championship game if it wants to get full credit for its top teams’ season-long “body of work” in future deliberations by CFP committee members.
In a resounding reversal of last week’s committee treatment of TCU, the Horned Frogs (11-1) dropped three spots in Sunday’s final CFP rankings to create a playoff berth for No. 4 Ohio State (12-1).
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CFP chairman Jeff Long made it clear the Buckeyes’ 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in Saturday’s Big Ten championship game weighed far more heavily in final-day deliberations than either of the Big 12 co-champs’ Saturday victories to complete their regular-season slates.
“It was a 13th game against a highly ranked opponent,” Long said of the Buckeyes’ romp. “It had an effect. It was significant. I can’t say that it wasn’t.”
When the final tabulations were complete Sunday, the Big 12 joined the SEC in placing the most schools (three) among the top 11 teams in the final CFP rankings. Yet No. 1 Alabama (12-1), the SEC champion, is the top seed in the playoff field and the Big 12 co-champs are reduced to waiting until next year to pursue their national title dreams.
In part, because the league that boasts about producing “One True Champion” presented co-champions to committee members for playoff consideration. Bad move, apparently.
“In the other situations, we had definitive champions for those conferences. That did enter into our discussions,” Long said. “It was deliberated and it was left to individual committee members to make decisions.”
When the votes were in, Baylor and TCU were out in favor of Ohio State. And Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby was left with egg on his face for trying to maximize the merits of two playoff candidates rather than focusing on the “one true champion” his league did not produce in its final standings.
But remember this: Bowlsby, as the league commissioner, only enforces policies agreed upon by league presidents, athletic directors and other decision-makers.
League officials signed off on the co-champs issue for CFP purposes during meetings last spring. Big 12 presidents chose to stop at 10 teams, rather than recapture the league’s original 12-member configuration, during the realignment phase that landed TCU and West Virginia.
The 10-team configuration, under NCAA rules, makes it impossible for the Big 12 to hold the type of conference championship game CFP committee members cited as influential in Sunday’s verdict.
Although Bowlsby said league officials were “obviously very disappointed” to be the lone Power 5 league left out of the playoff loop, he stopped short of suggesting Sunday’s snub would lead to a blanket change of Big 12 bylaws or future expansion.
“It certainly is an impetus for soul-searching and probing some of the ways we can do some things differently,” Bowlsby said on a teleconference with reporters at the CFP news conference. “I couldn’t prejudge, in the end, if it would necessarily affect change.”
The Big 12 is in its current predicament because league officials vote with their pocket books, not their long-term vision, in addressing conference matters. The 10-team configuration is all about having fewer takers from league coffers when distributing conference revenues.
Louisville and Brigham Young were among the dismissed candidates during deliberations that landed TCU and West Virginia. An opportunity to be proactive, months later, in pursuing interest from ACC schools Florida State and Clemson went nowhere. And the Big 12’s rule about co-champions, in seasons like 2014, allows more than one football coach to trigger the conference championship bonus in his contract.
As Bowlsby explained Sunday: “Our rule says we can have co-champions and a tiebreaker is to determine who is our representative” for postseason berths. But the league presented one too many candidates Sunday to pass muster with CFP officials.
Or, to be more accurate, it presented the wrong pair of candidates to win a three-way tug of war with Ohio State for the final playoff spot. Big 12 co-champs named Texas and Oklahoma do not suffer the same fates that befell TCU and Baylor. Know that. It’s gospel.
The final verdict frustrated Baylor coach Art Briles, who said he began fretting about a lack of Southern or Southwestern voices on the committee when Archie Manning, a New Orleans resident, took a leave of absence for health reasons in October. That left former coaches Tom Osborne (Nebraska) and Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) as the most influential football voices in the room, each with ties to Big Ten schools.
“When we lost Archie Manning, I knew we were in trouble,” Briles said. Briles also understands something else.
“If we’re sitting here 12-0, we’re in the final four,” Briles said. “That’s the bottom line. I guess that’s what we needed to do to be in.”
It is if you are Baylor and TCU, locked in a three-way battle with an Ohio State team with comparable credentials.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760