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SIZE MATTERS: College Football Playoff Selections

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Your routine reminder that NCAA Football is indeed a Big Business.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The standard narrative about the CFP Committee is this:

Today they had to choose which teams would make the playoff.  Alabama and Oregon are the consensus 1 and 2 so they're in; Florida State is defending champs and undefeated, so they're in. The last spot came down to Ohio State, Baylor, or TCU. And since Ohio State won their conference championship resoundingly and TCU/Baylor split their championship due to lack of a CCG, Ohio State got the nod.

That's an awfully convenient explanation but IMHO it's wrong.

Still, let's pretend that it's correct for a moment: the CFP Committee chose Ohio State in a careful, rational, unbiased way. Can we reproduce that logic? How does one rationally compare three one-loss teams?

What about strength of schedule?

  • TCU: 10
  • Baylor: 13
  • Ohio State: 26

What about comparing their only loss?

  • TCU: on the road vs #6 Baylor, 58-61
  • Baylor: on the road vs unranked (now 7-5) West Virginia, 27-41
  • Ohio State: at home vs unranked (now 6-6) Virginia Tech, 21-35

What about conference strength (via in-conference strength of schedule)?

  • TCU: 8
  • Baylor: 12
  • Ohio State: 32

What about by the adjusted stats rankings (SagarinFEIS&P+TeamRankings.comAdjustedStats.com)?

  • TCU: 2+10+7+3+3 = 25
  • Baylor: 7+14+8+4+4 = 37
  • Ohio State: 5+8+2+5+11 = 31

Clearly the committee didn't consider any of these factors or TCU would've been the runaway selection, with Baylor edging Ohio State as runners-up.

The fact that Ohio State is a conference champion while TCU and Baylor are only co-champions shouldn't be the difference-maker either; the Big 12 was a tougher conference this year from top to bottom. Being the sole champion of a lesser conference where the second-best team is capable of being blown out by 59 on a neutral field is not a legitimate claim to superiority.

So, what are the areas where TCU and Baylor failed to measure up?

There are a handful - final-day performance (i.e., recency bias) and playing a 13th game being two of them. But I humbly submit that in the absence of this factor, we'd be having a very different conversation:

NCAA Fan Map

It's all about the fanbase. The CFP committee does not exist to promote fairness. It exists to maximize the number of eyes on the championship playoff. If they can justify handing a spot to a more popular team, they will.

I predict this scenario will be borne out again and again over the coming years. And that reality will make life in a conference with lots of excellent small-market teams a real drag.

Discuss.