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College Football Playoff System Blows Up The Big 12

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The new College Football Playoff will puts emphasis on strength of schedule when ranking teams. The Big 12 will have to look for stronger non-conference match-ups if they want to contend with top teams. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
The new College Football Playoff will puts emphasis on strength of schedule when ranking teams. The Big 12 will have to look for stronger non-conference match-ups if they want to contend with top teams. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

With the inaugural College Football Playoff (CFP) starting this season, we bid a dubiously fond farewell to the BCS. 

The BCS was a flawed system. It was the kind of mathematical formula that ranked teams based on a number of factors, but couldn’t always get it right. The 2003 and 2004 seasons ended in controversy as five teams finished with one loss or were undefeated.

Thankfully, we now have a 13-person selection committee. The committee is comprised of current athletic directors, one from each of the Big Five conferences, former executives, former coaches and journalists.

On the surface, the process seems pretty straightforward. Starting Oct. 28 and ending Dec. 2, the committee will produce a Top 25. Every Tuesday the rankings will be released, and each week committee chairman Jeff Long will go on ESPN and explain the decision behind each pick.

The recusal process (i.e. not participating in an official action due to conflict of interest) will be similar to the NCAA basketball committee’s. From the official CFP press release: “Committee members will be recused from participating in votes involving a school’s team if they or an immediate family member receives compensation from the school or has a professional relationship with that school.”

The most important part of the CFP is the human element. They will still be able to vote for other schools in the same conference, but there shouldn’t be any question of integrity surrounding the committee’s decisions. Could this lead to an interesting (and finally fair) ranking system?

Before I get into the Big 12, I’d like to relay a point about the CFP I read in Sports Illustrated. Take Texas, for example. With two games to play, the Longhorns are 9-1. That week they are ranked No. 6 in the new CFP rankings. That weekend they beat Oklahoma State, but their three non-conference opponents lose. Due to those losses, their strength of schedule has dropped significantly. This means they could drop a few spots in the CFP rankings. 

“While possibly frustrating for fans," wrote Stewart Mandel at SI. "[This] would actually be an example of the committee functioning as designed.”

Teams will need to beef up their non-conference games and focus on strength of schedule instead of solely on wins. Basically, to stay atop the new rankings you have to win consistently against other competent teams.

The SEC has upped its non-conference competition. According to USA Today, “Starting in 2016, all SEC teams will be required to play at least one game against a team from one of the other Big 5 conferences.” 

The Big 12 needs to institute a similar rule to increase its schedule strength. For example, this season West Virginia faces Alabama on Aug. 30. Now imagine the Big 12 building yearly rivalries with SEC teams — think Alabama-Oklahoma or Texas-Texas A&M.

Once these yearly games are established, the Big 12 can focus on another foe outside of the SEC. Oklahoma has games against Ohio State planned for 2016 and 2017.  With non-conference games against SEC schools and one other team from a Big Five conference, Big 12 teams would be setting themselves up for success.

The Big 12 has a disadvantage in conference scheduling aside from non-conference issues. With only 10 teams in the conference, they play nine conference games. That means they play every conference team every year. It would benefit the Big 12 to add two strong teams to create leeway in scheduling conference games. For the record, I have stated that BYU and Cincinnati would be solid additions.

In time, these kinks will work themselves out. With aggressive scheduling, the Big 12 can worry about things besides strength of schedule — like winning those difficult games.

According to an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it is clear Big 12 athletic directors are aware of these needs. 

“I've sat through the [committee] meetings," said West Virginia's athletic director. "And I think it's pretty clear that strength of schedule is going to become very important."

The jury is still out on how well the CFP is going to work, but if anything, it is going to provide us more exciting games with stronger teams pitted against each other. This season, dissenters of the BCS finally have the College Football Playoff system to rally behind. Let’s hope we got it right.