ESPN's Chris Fowler weighed in last week to express his disappointment with the SEC's decision to keep its conference schedule at eight games. Naturally, Fowler's employer also had to be disappointed by the decision to not add more attractive conference games to its live TV inventory, especially in light of the launch of its SEC Network in August.
If the last four years of conference realignment and TV negotiations have taught us anything, it's that ESPN usually gets what it wants. The details that came out this week regarding the new playoff should make getting that ninth game pretty simple for the Worldwide Leader.
Despite playing just eight conference games, the SEC schools are banking on the league's reputation and the perceived difficulty of playing an SEC schedule to be good enough to earn the benefit of the doubt from the selection committee. ESPN just needs to make it not good enough.
If past history is any indication, the SEC will likely have two teams jockeying against the other power conferences for the four playoff bids every year. In the last eight seasons, the league finished the regular season with two teams in the top five of the BCS rankings seven times. In five of eight years, two SEC teams finished in the top four. In other words, the trends in the BCS rankings suggest there's no reason to stop doing what they're doing if placing two teams in the postseason tournament is the goal.
However, while we can assume that the SEC champion will almost certainly get a bid every year as things currently stand, you could put together a pretty convincing argument against a second SEC team more often than not using the criteria defined by the selection committee this week.
For example, take the 2013 Alabama team, which finished third in the BCS standings at the end of the season. The Crimson Tide:
- Didn't win the conference;
- Only played 12 total games;
- Only played eight league games;
- Drew the two worst teams from the SEC East; and
- Played an out-of-conference slate that included an FCS team and a transitional FBS team.
Now imagine a panel of ESPN talking heads hammering viewers and selection committee members with those talking points on Tuesday nights when the committee's rankings are unveiled. (Great part about Tuesday night: No NFL game to go up against.) Now imagine Kirk Herbstreit doing that on a Saturday night broadcast from Norman. Now imagine Damon Huard talking that noise on a Wednesday afternoon edition of College Football Live. And on and on...
Does the committee snubbing 'Bama in favor of one of the power conference champs really seem so unrealistic in that scenario? In fact, how many of the "second" SEC candidates since 2006 actually seem immune to that kind of politicking by the debate embracers?
And since we're dealing in backstabbing hypotheticals, think of the outcry in SEC country if that went down. If it happened multiple times, Mike Slive would need an armed militia to get around Birmingham. Unless the other conferences agreed to expand the playoff before the term of the four-team joint is up, try to find a better solution than adding another conference game.
Seeing as ESPN already owns the SEC media rights for the next 85 years or something, Mickey might even get those extra conference games for free.