College Football Playoff puts SEC champion in a bind

Nick Saban

The 2017 Alabama Crimson Tide would not have won the national championship under the current College Football Playoff schedule, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon.

By Matt Zemek

Georgia CheerleadersYes, it would be a great problem to have — a first-world problem to be sure — if we even managed to get to a playoff at this point. That would be a triumph and achievement on its own. Everything is being put in perspective during a pandemic. First things first. Get the virus under control. This is why the governor of Mississippi spoke out forcefully on the need to wear masks: Saving college football is important and ought to be pursued if at all possible.

In the bigger scheme of things, the College Football Playoff doesn’t rate in the top four of anyone’s concerns, to use an apt turn of phrase. Before we can worry about the top four teams in the country, we need to play 10 SEC games and then the SEC Championship Game on December 19.

We’re aware of how many things have to happen — and get taken care of — before we can focus a lot on the playoff. None of the following should be viewed as an indication (implied or direct) that a season is obviously going to happen and everything is going to proceed smoothly in the coming weeks. We’re merely addressing the playoff’s plan and offering an assessment of it.

That assessment: It stinks.

When college football teams end their regular seasons, they SHOULD have a break. They’ve been busting their butts for multiple months. Before their bowl game, they need to be able to step away and focus on other things. Normally, players do have to practice near or during Christmas, since a big bowl game is generally anywhere from Dec. 28 through Jan. 2, depending on the calendar. However, with the SEC Championship Game being pushed back to Dec. 19, this was an obvious instance in which players — having just gotten through the regular season — deserved to have Christmas week off with their families so that they could celebrate. We should want a country in which individuals can be given the time to worship God if there is a chance to do so.

This was a layup for the playoff. Give some time off for athletes during the holidays, since the SEC season was pushed back multiple weeks. Come back with a January 16 (Saturday) semifinal in the Sugar Bowl and then a Jan. 31 (Sunday) championship game on the open Sunday before the Super Bowl (which is scheduled for Sunday, February 7).

Instead, the playoff went ahead with a January 1 pair of semifinals at the Rose and Sugar Bowls. I get it: New Year’s Day bowl traditions are important.

Auburn cheerleader-However, the SEC champion won’t have a meaningful break. Whoever emerges from the nation’s toughest conference will be beaten up and worn down. How is that a good lead-in to a January 1 Sugar Bowl, which would lead to no real rest break for the SEC champion. That team would have to immediately turn to game preparation for the semifinal. Moreover, that semifinal could occur against an opponent whose conference title game will have been played at least a week earlier if not more.

The Big 12 hasn’t announced its precise calendar schedule (as of early Thursday afternoon), but the ACC, Pac-12, and Big Ten have all made allowances to have their title game played earlier. The ACC and Pac-12 are in an either-or situation, with the leagues allowing for a possible Dec. 19 date but also having Dec. 12 if there is not a need for multiple COVID-19 postponements of regular-season games. The Big Ten, though, has scheduled its conference title game for Dec. 5.

Imagine, then, Ohio State playing Alabama (or LSU, or Georgia) on January 1. The Buckeyes would have two more weeks of rest and would be far fresher. That is nowhere close to fair.

The College Football Playoff didn’t seem to care at all about that.

Then, if that SEC champion is somehow able to get past the semis – against the odds if we’re being honest – it would have to turn around and play a title game 10 days later on Jan. 11, again without a prolonged break. The SEC champion will have to play and win three games in three different cities in a 24-day span in order to win the national championship.

That is ridiculous.

Ole Miss football playerThe imbalance of the schedule is bad enough, but what is worse is the obvious COVID-19 threat the College Football Playoff completely brushed off and ignored: What if a key player on the SEC champion tests positive right after the SEC Championship Game? That player’s availability for the Jan. 1 semifinal under two weeks later would vanish. Sorry. Can’t play.

The playoff was supposed to have created at least a three-week gap between the SEC title game and the semifinals so that a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent 14-day isolation period would not render a key player unavailable for the semifinal.

There were zero COVID-19 guidelines or protocols mentioned on the College Football Playoff’s printed press release announcing the Jan. 1 semis and Jan. 11 championship game.

Yes, we have bigger things to worry about than the College Football Playoff, primarily because a million things have to happen for the playoff to even occur this year. Yet, the playoff certainly didn’t act in the interests of fairness or safety. People in the SEC should be raising hell about this schedule, which should not be allowed to stand.

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