Expand the SEC Championship Playoffs to Four Teams
It looks like it may be close to a done deal that the NCAA College Football's Bowl Subdivision will expand the college football playoffs from four teams to 12. It is time to consider opening the SEC Championship to a four-team playoff.
It is easy to see the excitement (and revenue) that can be generated by expanding the NCAA Playoffs to the proposed 12-team format. The SEC could enjoy the same boost by changing the SEC Championship to a two-week extravaganza.
Imagine the excitement on the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving when the top team in the SEC East faces of against the second place finisher from the SEC West, followed by the prime time match-up of the SEC West Champ versus the Number Two from the East for a trip to the 'ship.
You probably have a number of questions. Let's see if we can answer a few:
Is it even possible? The primary issues are the NCAA rules and the sheer logistics of the semifinal games. If the past year has taught us nothing, teams can be quite nimble when necessary, taking on unknown opponents a location named only days in advance of the event. Electronic ticketing is here the stay. The NCAA limits only the dates of the games and the number of games. The semifinal games would replace the last game of the regular season for the participants with only 11 games scheduled prior to Thanksgiving.
Where would the game be played? An argument can be made for neutral sites, either the same as the championship site or two separate host cities, but college football is at its best in its natural habitat. Play the games on campus.
Who gets to be the home team? While my first thought was to have the division champs host, I prefer to alternate with the East hosting in the odd years and the West hosting on the even years. This is less disruptive and more easily planned in advance. We all know that the number two team in the West has frequently been better than the East champs. Giving a home field advantage to division champs is arbitrary. Also arbitrary, but more equitable in the long-run, and more likely to engage more host campuses, alternating home and home is predictable and not subject to the whims of unequal schedules.
If this is the 12th game, won't that leave the teams that don't make the playoff a game short? It will, unless they play each other. With the expansion of the NCAA playoffs, this could be the make the Thanksgiving weekend the biggest weekend of the regular season. Start on Thanksgiving night with a game that only the SEC will scrupulously avoid calling the "Turkey Bowl," matching the last place team in the East with the cellar-dweller from the West. This would give the TV folks four additional matchups with playoff and bowl implications to spread over Friday and Saturday and promote the semi games while showing #3 vs. #3, #4 vs.#4, and so on. These games should alternate East and West as well. This means all teams will know in advance whether they are hosting or travelling.
Will this mean expanding the SEC schedule to nine games? Not necessarily. Just eliminate the silly "floating" opponent who seems to change with little explanation and seeming favoritism. That would leave only the "traditional" cross-division opponent, to which I would make some minor adjustments. Auburn-Georgia and Alabama-Tennessee are part of the fabric of the Southeastern Conference. Vandy-Ole Miss, as the smallest schools, makes sense. Mississippi State and Kentucky seem a good match, but Florida and LSU have been wanting a divorce since Day One. And, if you are going to put Missouri in the East, for God's sake make their "natural rival" Arkansas. After all, they share a border. This would leave, LSU with South Carolina and Florida with Texas A&M. That works for me. Count only division games in the standings; if you want to make the interdivisional games more meaningful, use them as tie-breakers, ahead of a coin toss.