The Open Man countdowns to the 2018 college football season with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.
Among the more divisive works of American cinema is the 1983 gangland film Scarface. Brian De Palma’s reimagining of the Prohibition-era classic gained a cult following in the early 2000s, which sparked its own backlash from critics who pointed out its complete lack of subtlety.
Personally, I believe the absurdity — from Angel’s chainsaw death at the Sunray Motel, all the way to Tony Montana’s cartoonish end against a veritable army — is intentional. Late 1970s/early 1980s Miami was so genuinely surreal, as depicted in Billy Corben’s Cocaine Cowboys, a fictionalized interpretation of the scene necessitated outlandish excess, or be deemed mundane.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Elvira Hancock utters a line just before the climax that’s a spin on an Oscar Wilde musing, and dialogue I interpret as a tongue-in-both summation of the story.
Excess. Overkill. Too much of a good thing. The Big 12 Championship Game.
In a recent edition of 129 Things, I lamented some elements of the College Football Playoff that exhaust me, but not all of them.
Building the Playoff up as the end-all, be-all of college football fosters knee-jerk reactionary attitudes, and there may be no greater example than the Big 12 Championship.
As the first Power Five conference excluded from the Playoff, the Big 12 became the initial victim of an inevitability. Four spots for five conferences means that every single season, without fail, at least one of the leagues will not make the field.
This is a very basic concept, so easily comprehensible that my son’s preschool practices it through the game Musical Chairs. You’ve presumably heard of and probably even played musical chairs. It’s a simple concept.
And yet, Ohio State bypassing TCU and Baylor in the final Playoff committee poll of 2014 sent Big 12 Conference brass into an irrational fit worse than Tony Montana spotting his sister with Manny.
Overreactions to missing the Playoff have become a yearly tradition in the college football bantering space, but the Big 12 set a ridiculous precedent for overreacting.
Surveying the landscape through the whopping sample size of one season, and comparing the resume of its champions to the final four, discussion of resurrecting the dormant Big 12 Championship Game gained steam. And people paid money much more comparable to Tony Montana than to my son’s preschool teacher decided a title game rematch was necessary to make the Playoff.
*sigh* I shouldn’t have to explain why this is excessive and unnecessary, but I will.
The round-robin, regular-season format is the most fair determiner of a conference champion. Everyone plays each other, thus avoiding situations like the Big Ten and Pac-12 faced this season. Pundits complained Wisconsin and Washington played schedules that were much too easy, while conference counterparts Ohio State and USC — both of which missed the Playoff — drew more difficult paths.
A nine-game round robin produces symmetrical comparisons over 75 percent of each team’s resume. There’s no wild deviation based on divisional crossovers, and typically a clear-cut champion emerges. Ties occur, but every team playing head-to-head makes for simple and logic tiebreakers.
A problem with the Big 12 Championship is that if one team wins the tiebreaker, it’s victory is needlessly devalued with an excessive rematch. Beating the same opponent twice in a campaign is hard — look no further than SEC West champion Auburn, which shellacked Georgia in November.
The Tigers were ranked No. 2 in the penultimate Playoff ranking, but Georgia getting another crack bounced Auburn from the field altogether.
Now, the SEC Championship dates back to 1992, formed out of necessity when the conference expanded to 12 members. Its growth to 14 makes the title game all the more important, given how vastly different participants’ regular-season schedules are each year.
The Big 12 doesn’t have that issue, but risks its champion losing a rematch, like Auburn did, all the same. Oklahoma won its just-a-few-weeks-later rematch with TCU, but if the Sooners lost, the Big 12 would not have benefited as the SEC did.
On the contrary, a Big 12 champion TCU would have finished no better than sixth in the final Playoff poll. Oklahoma would have been removed from the picture altogether. Meanwhile, the Sooners didn’t actually gain anything from beating TCU a second time.
The Sooners went into the Big 12 Championship ranked No. 3, and left it ranked No. 2. Both spots translated to a semifinal at the Rose Bowl.
Admittedly, that’s just a single season’s sample size — but that’s all the sample needed to enact this bit of football overkill. And while basing such a monumental decision in part on one season is inherently staggering, it’s doubly so considering what an anomaly 2014 was for the Big 12.
The conference had a split championship, but as stated, the round robin settles that easily enough with a tiebreaker. However, the oddity of 2014 was that Baylor, which beat TCU head-to-head, played a comically weak nonconference schedule.
The Bears’ 2014 out-of-league slate was bereft of Power Five competition — unusual in and of itself, as the vast majority of Power Five programs play at least one such opponent out-of-conference. That was made all the worse with historic rival SMU finishing 1-11; Buffalo going 5-6; and FCS bodybag opponent Northwestern State failing to make the Playoffs.
A Playoff bid wasn’t lost due to the lack of a Big 12 Championship Game. A Playoff bid was lost as a result of circumstance. 2014 wasn’t so detrimental as to necessitated a title game.
Then again, the Big 12 Championship Game — played at a venue gaudier than Tony’s estate — presumably raked in millions for the conference. Nothing exceeds like excess.