Off Season Topics: Ice Fishing Debate #1: The Data On an 8-Team Playoff
Without College Football what do we do? In much of Big Ten Country people are ice-fishing. During long hours spent on the ice they need something to argue about so here is an end of season recap of the current playoff structure.
An 8-team Playoff Is ONLY about $$$: There is no data that suggests that any team outside the top four teams would ever seriously challenge for a National Title in an 8-team college football playoff game. The main argument is that it gets more teams, creates more games and would keep guys from opting out of bowl games if they are in the playoff. The first two arguments are about money, the last one has merit, but if we are just trying to keep guys from opting out of a bowl game by creating a falsely important round of blow-outs then we depreciate the value of that round. How can we be sure that there will be a round of blowouts in the quarterfinals? Here's the data.
What The Competitive Data Says--Semifinals: Through seven years of College Football Playoff semifinals the average margin of victory in the semifinals has been 20.9 points. That is the average margin of victory, which tells you that most of these games have long been decided by the start of the fourth quarter. Only 3 of the 14 games have been one-score games. What would a 1 vs 8 seed, or 2 vs 7 seed or a 3 vs 6 seed game look like? Probably even worse.
Take it Back One Step Further: Without data for a round of eight the next best set of numbers to evaluate are the results from the Power-5 Conference Championship games, some of which have served as de facto round of 8 play-in games.
The SEC: The SEC started the Conference Championship games craze in 1992 when Alabama and Florida played at Legion Field in Birmingham. There have been 29 SEC title games and the average margin of victory has been 17.2 points with just 7 of the 29 games having been one-score games.
The Big 12: The Big 12 Championship game was played from 1996 through 2010 when the conference lost members and fell below the 12-team threshold needed to hold the game. The NCAA changed the rules by 2017 allowing the 10-team league to hold a title game. Through 19 games the average margin of victory is 18.8 points with 6 of the 19 games being one-score games. But to their credit the last two Big 12 games have been decided by 7 and 6 points respectively. The recent one-score games in a league that has the top 2 teams playing rather than Division champions suggests that may be a way to get better conference title games.
The ACC: Beginning in 2005, the ACC has played 16 conference title games. 7 of their 16 games have been one-score games with the average margin of victory being 17.5 points.
The Big Ten: The league expanded to 12 teams in 2011 (and has since added two more teams). This year marked the 10th game and the conference has seen an average margin of victory of 17.3 points with 4 one-score games.
The Pac 12: Like the Big 10, the Pac 12’s title game is also concluded its tenth year with almost identical numbers. The average margin of victory has been 17.2 points, and like the Big Ten they’ve also had 4 one-score games.
The Sum Totals: Through 84 Power-5 Conference Championship Games the average margin of victory is 17.7 points per game and only 1/3 of the games are one-score games. Combine that with the Playoff semifinal games and you have 98 games with an average margin of victory of 18.1 points and just 31.6% of the games being decided by one score.
What Does All of This Mean?: It means that there is a lack of parity in college football with the power being concentrated by one or sometimes two dominant schools in each conference. That translates to dominance in attracting talented players and coaches which perpetuates the cycle year after year. Expanding the playoff will create another round of games that ESPN will pay more money to televise. Expanding the playoff will allow more schools to claim they made the playoff. But the data certainly suggests that anyone hoping for some Cinderella to make a magical run from the 8th seed to a National Title is more than likely kidding themselves.
Tune In Next Time: The next Pigskin Stew will dissect how the Power-5 conferences have come to be dominated by one team (sometimes two). We’ll dissect the factors that create the path that got us there and how the disparity may be broken.