So the dust has settled and the participants in the Half of Division 1A, err, College Football Playoff. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t really care, you know that Alabama will be facing off against Oklahoma and Clemson will be facing off against Notre Dame. The winners of those two games will face off to determine a National Champion. It’s a pretty impressive line up with the undefeated Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame facing off against one loss Oklahoma. And at the end of the second game a “champion” will be crowned.
But you know who is missing? The other undefeated team in Division 1A football, the UCF Knights. In fact, they are going on their second year of being undefeated. They’ll get to go to a good bowl in the form of the Fiesta Bowl where they will face off against LSU but they wont get a chance to be called Champions.
So why is that? They are part of the same Division as the other four schools I mentioned but they are in a subset called the Group of Five. Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma all belong to the Power Five Conferences because at one time their conferences did something. Notre Dame is also considered as part of the Power Five because of Knute Rockne, I guess. They don’t belong in a conference though. The Power Five get the lions’ share of the bowl money (They are looking to rake in at least 150 million dollars of the 160 million dollars for the New Years’ bowls). And because the way revenue is shared, only one conference out of five will get to share the over 10 million dollars that UCF will bring home.
Again, why is that? Well according to many fans and pundits and other people, UCF doesn’t play anybody. That may come as a shock to the teams they do play. I think they are somebody. UCF certainly thinks they are somebody but because they weren’t coach by Bear Bryant, they are nobodies.
So how can they play somebody? Well according to many folks, they could just schedule them. Well considering that most of their schedule is consumed by their conference, that leaves them with a handful of at large games. Typically these schedules are set years in advance, so it’s not like they can pick up a game against somebody. Look at this year, Akron was supposed to play Nebraska but their game was cancelled and they couldn’t re-schedule. Nebraska ended up scheduling Bethune-Cook (who apparently is somebody) and Akron ended up scheduling South Carolina (Who is also somebody by virtue of being in the SEC).
Also, many of the teams from the Group Five are at a disadvantage when they do play somebody. Typically the teams that are considered as somebody don’t want to travel to some small stadium so they force the Group Five teams to play at their home. It seems like the only Power Five team that schedules Home and Home games with Group Five teams is Michigan State.
Despite all that, sometimes the Group Five do beat teams that are considered as somebody. For instance, UCF beat Auburn in their bowl game last year. As a side note, Auburn beat the team that would eventually be crowned the “champion”. However, that wasn’t enough for the punditry because Auburn was disappointed that they couldn’t play in the big game so they didn’t play as hard in their bowl game. So even when a Group Five team does beat somebody, they don’t get credit for doing so.
So how can this be fixed? UCF could establish themselves and go the Boise State and Utah route and join a Power Five conference. But sometimes that is not an easy path. It’s not like the Power Five conferences are out their seeking new teams. Plus there are the penalty clauses for leaving your current conference. The playoffs could be expanded. That might work but typically the upstart teams find themselves ranked around 8 or worse. So the playoff would have to be expanded to 16 teams. That would expand the season and we are nominally talking about students and this is typically finals time. Which probably means that wouldn’t work.
Another solution floated a couple of years ago was that the Group Five could form it’s own Championship. I would only accept that idea if it were used as a springboard to an expanded (but not to 16) playoff.
Or we could just acknowledge that we will never crown a true championship and just go back to the polls and bowls.