Conference Champions Only in the Playoff? NO WAY! – Hogg’s Playoff Eligibility Rules

ESPN has quoted Mark Dantonio, the head football coach at Michigan State, as saying that he doesn’t believe that non-conference champions should be in the Playoff. He argues that teams may try to scam the system by only having one loss and potentially not playing in the conference championship game but still making the playoff. Here’s his quote:

“We can’t say, ‘Hey, let’s try and go 11-1 and not be in the championship game, and then we’ll get into the playoffs.’ I don’t think it should work like that.”

Coach Dantonio’s comments inspired me to come up with some rules on who can and cannot be in the playoff. Perhaps the Committee will adopt these for the 2016 playoffs.

Playoff Eligibility Rules

  1. You must be a conference champion OR
  2. You must have lost the conference championship game to another team in the Playoff OR
  3. Your only conference loss must have come at the hands of your conference champion who is in the Playoff.

Let’s use the SEC as an example.

  1. Assuming everything goes as expected, the SEC conference champion will go to the Playoff.
  2. “But what if two teams from the top four are both in the SEC?!” If the Committee believes that two of the best four teams in the nation are in the same conference, then the team who lost the conference championship game could also be in the Playoff, if the conference champion is in the playoff.
  3. “But what if two teams from the same division are in the top four (and therefore both cannot play in the conference championship game)?!” If a team does not make the SEC championship game, but their only conference loss was to the eventual champion, they are eligible for the playoff, again, only if the conference champion earns a spot in the playoff.

Alabama and Auburn make an easy example for this. Let’s say that both of them are still undefeated going into the last game of the season. Then, let’s say that Alabama wins. Alabama is now still undefeated, is the SEC West’s representative in the conference championship game, and Auburn’s only loss (and conference loss) is to Alabama.

In the SEC East, let’s say that South Carolina runs the table for the rest of the year, wins the East and goes to the conference championship game.

According to the rules above, if Alabama were to win the SECCG, Alabama, Auburn, AND South Carolina would potentially be eligible for the Playoff. Alabama’s eligible because they won the CCG. Auburn and South Carolina would both be eligible as long as Alabama got one of the playoff spots, Auburn because it’s only conference loss was to the eventual conference champ, and South Carolina because they played in the CCG. But, if South Carolina were to win, Auburn would not be eligible for the playoff because they lost to the conference runners-up, not the champs.

These rules would also work in the Big 12 where there isn’t a conference championship game. The conference champions would be eligible along with the other team(s) whose only loss was to the champion.

Using these rules, here’s who would have been eligible for the Playoff if it had happened last year.

Conference Champion – Eligible Runner Up – Eligible if Conf Champ Is in Playoff Only Conf Loss to Champ – Eligible if Conf Champ Is in Playoff
AAC UCF n/a Louisville
ACC Florida St Duke Clemson
Big 12 Baylor n/a n/a
Big Ten Michigan St Ohio St n/a
C-USA Rice Marshall n/a
MAC Bowling Green Northern Illinois n/a
MWC Fresno St Utah St n/a
Pac-12 Stanford Arizona St n/a
SEC Auburn Missouri Alabama
Sun Belt Louisiana n/a n/a

Notably not-eligible: Oklahoma St and South Carolina both had two conference losses.

2 thoughts on “Conference Champions Only in the Playoff? NO WAY! – Hogg’s Playoff Eligibility Rules

  1. Pingback: Using Advanced Stats to Project the Playoff Top 4 | Above the Press Box

  2. Pingback: Who’s Really In? – College Football Playoff Rankings that Matter | Above the Press Box

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