On Championship Saturday, after all the games had concluded and the festivities died down, uneasy fans of Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State waited in angst. Three playoff spots had already been locked up, and all that was left was a single slot for three worthy contenders.
How could Georgia — a team that gave the overwhelming favorite Crimson Tide everything it could handle — possibly not be considered one of the four best teams in the country?
But what about the Sooners — a squad with the best player and most dominant offense in the sport? Surely they also deserved a chance to play for the title.
And who could ignore what the Buckeyes did in their final two games? Not a single program in the country wanted to face Urban Meyer’s explosive machine in a “win or go home” situation.
Each of these teams had compelling arguments to hear their names called on Selection Sunday, but because of the system’s structure, two of them saw their championship aspirations fall to the wayside without getting a chance to prove their worth on the field.
But that may not be the case for much longer.
Whispers of playoff expansion are growing louder. It seems inevitable at this point that we are headed towards at least an eight-team playoff, and who knows if it continues to expand beyond that?
With this in mind, consider the case of the Pac-12 — a conference that is undoubtedly at the bottom of the totem pole. How would playoff expansion impact the conference’s standing among the rest of the Power5?
On one hand, playoff expansion would assuredly give the conference more exposure and representation. Even without automatic qualifiers, the Pac-12 would have a much better shot of sending a team to the playoff if it allowed more teams. While the conference has struggled to produce dominant, championship-level teams recently, it’s a heck of a lot easier to field a team that is good enough to crack the top eight than the top four.
And with more appearances in the playoff, the conference might be able to wash away its perception as the red-headed stepchild of the Power 5 conferences. It may even help the conference’s recruiting efforts, which have also lagged behind the rest of the Power 5. More playoff appearances means more to sell recruits on. An expanded playoff may be the key to creating parity among the big boys.
On the other hand, expansion may also make the Pac-12’s perception problem even worse.
If the conference is as inferior as it appears to be, then sending an overmatched challenger to get smoked by a legitimate contender could be damaging to the conference’s reputation.
Look at how Notre Dame has struggled to gain credibility following its championship debacle against Alabama in 2013. The Fighting Irish ran the table this season, yet few gave the team the credit it deserved, despite the fact that it had similar numbers in many areas to the rest of the playoff participants.
Of course, the Irish did end up losing in a blowout, but Alabama, the presumptive favorites in the title game, lost even worse to the same opponent. Maybe Notre Dame wasn’t as bad as we thought, and Clemson was just really good. Perhaps our perception of the Irish has been tainted by how bad the team looked on a similar stage the last time it was there.
The same fate could overcome the Pac-12 if its teams aren’t up to par.
So how do you think playoff expansion would affect the Pac-12? Would it ultimately help the conference make up for its deficiencies, or would it serve as the nail in the coffin for a conference on life support? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Ernie Abrea
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester, Tennessee.