All teams are equal, but some teams are more equal than others

Seeking clarification on the Committee’s opinion of Auburn, Florida State, and Louisville

For those of you who didn’t pay attention in school, that title is from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It speaks of the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but actually reserve power and privilege for a select few. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Every year we college football fans talk ourselves into the narrative that the regular season matters. Every team gets 12 (or occasionally 13) games to state their case for post-season opportunities. It’s supposed to be an unbiased, objective way to ensure that every game matters, and that the best teams are rewarded for their body of work by playing in the best bowls with the best payouts. And it works too, so long as your school has enough tradition or plays in the right conference. However, if you’re lowly West Virginia playing in the lowly Big 12? Better luck next time.

It’s bad enough that West Virginia is the only two-loss P5 team ranked outside the CFP Top 10 (we’re 16th), but it’s even worse that the consolation prize for our first 10-win season in 5 years is unranked 8-4 Miami in a de-facto road game. Don’t get me wrong, I love having the chance to beat The U to get to 11 wins for just the 6th time in school history, but from a national narrative point-of-view this is a no-win situation: if we win, well shit, it was 8-4 unranked Miami, we were supposed to, but if we lose, it will in many eyes validate the narrative that the Big 12 is overrated. This is not me knocking Miami by the way; quite the contrary, they’ve looked good in the couple games I’ve watched this year. This is me bitching about how West Virginia has been rewarded for their season relative to some of their “peers”, and wondering how the people in charge arrived at some of those conclusions.

Consider, for example, the fates bestowed upon 8-4 Auburn, 9-3 Florida State, and 9-3 Louisville. NY6 Bowls for two of the three, and higher rankings all around. Seriously? How is this a thing, and how can the CFP even start to defend it?

Let’s start with Auburn and their 4 losses heading to the Sugar Bowl with a #14 ranking. I understand conference bowl ties and know that as the 2nd place team in the SEC they were guaranteed that bid, but what exactly did the Tigers do to warrant that ranking? Was it playing Clemson tough? Because 6-6 NC State and 9-3 Troy did that too. Losing to Alabama? Literally the easiest thing in the world. Beating the worst LSU team in a decade? Pounding 7-5 Arkansas? Beating 5-7, bottom-of-the-SEC West Ole Miss?

How do they deserve to be ranked higher than West Virginia? Why is beating a down LSU in the midst of a tumultuous season any more impressive than WVU beating a down Baylor in the midst of a tumultuous season? The Bears and Tigers have the same 50-15 record over the past 5 years and both returned many of the same talented players that earned them those wins. Why is beating 5-7 Ole Miss more impressive than beating 6-6 TCU or 5-7 Texas? And regardless, how does any of that make up for losing two extra games against two of the worst teams that Texas A&M and Georgia have put on the field in a decade?

Louisville’s resume is even worse: 9-3 against the 64th ranked schedule in the country. A CFP spokesman literally used the “they don’t have enough signature wins” argument to justify West Virginia’s ranking, and that narrative spread across the country like wildfire. Well, what about Louisville? Their best win (Florida State) is also their only win against a team with a winning record. Even the lowly Mountaineers have two. That lone win is good enough to completely ignore that 3rd loss to a Kentucky team that went 7-5 in the worst P5 division in the country? Give me a break.

Florida State’s case is easily the best of the three, but it still falls short, I think. Miami, USF, and Florida are all nice wins, but are they really that much better than WVU beating BYU and Kansas State when considering anything other than the names? I don’t care where Florida is ranked, they’re another one of those teams that lost to every good team they played this year, they went 8-4 in the abysmal SEC East, and they have one of the 10 or 15 worst offenses in the country by just about any metric you can find. Are those wins so much better than ours that they justify the Noles being ranked 5 spots ahead of us and playing Michigan in the Orange Bowl, despite losing an extra game to 8-4 UNC? WVU only lost to Top 10 ranked, 10-2 Oklahoma and Top 15 ranked, should be 10-2 Oklahoma State; apparently quality losses don’t exist in the Big 12? To me, our resumes look fairly similar, only we didn’t lose to a Kansas State or TCU.

So what’s the deal? Do losses not matter anymore? Don’t tell me it’s about wins and losses when we’re ranked below 7 teams with more L’s. Don’t tell me it’s Strength of Schedule when Louisville is ranked ahead of us with 3 losses against worse competition (WVU’s schedule is ranked 32nd, only marginally worse than FSU’s 7 and Auburn’s 18). And don’t tell me it’s about Strength of Record when ours is better than all three.

All anybody wants with these rankings is consistency, fairness, and objectivity. Losing games should have the same effect on everybody, regardless of the conference they play in or the name on the front of the jersey. Unfortunately it seems like that’s just not the case: narrative, revenue, and TV ratings are now much more important. How else can you explain USC and Florida State moving up in the polls without playing this week when WVU beats a talented Baylor squad playing with nothing to lose and stays put? How else do you explain Joel Klatt accurately pointing out that if you switched the names at the top of Penn State’s and Ohio State’s resumes, the same team would’ve still gone to the Playoffs? And Penn State is a legitimate blueblood in their own right; if they can’t fight the powers that be, what chance do the rest of us have?

In a bastardized way, it’s the sporting world’s version of institutional discrimination. I know that sounds a bit extreme coming from a 28-year old white dude talking about sports, but it’s not entirely off-base. The fact is that there are haves and have-nots in college football, and despite the NCAA’s insistence of the contrary, being a member of the former comes with certain advantages that are denied to members of the latter.

I don’t know how you fix it, either. An 8-team playoff would help ensure that conference champions aren’t discriminated against. Blind resumes might be beneficial. Beyond that though, what do you do? How do you remove inherent bias? Your guess is as good as mine. Right now though, we have a system that far too frequently rewards teams based on name first and merit second. That’s bullshit.

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