SEC commissioner Greg Sankey made a strong College Football Playoff case for his conference on Wednesday, in part by citing that his conference plans to play all if its scheduled regular-season games. This after the ACC this week canceled games for its two best teams in order to make it easier for them to advance to the league title game, and by extension, earn playoff bids.
The ACC’s move Tuesday raised eyebrows around the sport when the conference eliminated Dec. 12 games for its CFP contenders, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson. The ACC said it made the move to «preserve the integrity» of the league’s championship on Dec. 19.
Sankey had another view.
«I was surprised to see the announcement [Tuesday],» the SEC commissioner told CBS Sports. «It begs one question: If their two most highly ranked teams were, for instance, [ranked] five and six in the CFP Rankings, would this decision have been made?»
There is no doubt the ACC’s decision removes resistance for both the Fighting Irish and Tigers to meet in the ACC Championship Game and for the conference to potentially get two teams in the CFP.
With the move, Notre Dame (9-0) clinched a spot in the ACC title game by sitting on the couch. Its Dec. 12 game against Wake Forest was eliminated. It ends the season Saturday against Syracuse. Clemson (8-1) ends the regular season having to win as a 22-point favorite at Virginia Tech this weekend to clinch a spot in Charlotte.
That means both schools will head into the ACC title having played nine of their originally rescheduled 10 conference games. That means those ACC teams will have one less game for which it needs to worry about COVID-19.
Sankey said the SEC, which is the only conference in CFP history to receive multiple bids in the same playoffs, has no such plan to streamline the paths of No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Florida.
«We committed to playing a 10-game schedule, which is certainly unique to see some other decisions this week,» said Sankey, obviously referring to the ACC «where they indicated one direction and they changed at the last minute.»
He continued: «We’re still moving forward with the opportunity for all 14 of our teams to play 10 games.»
All those are SEC conference games. Sankey was asked whether conferences that played fewer games than his league this season should be viewed differently.
«Decisions have outcomes, right?» he said rhetorically.
As this weird, truncated college football season rushes to a finish, the usual playoff politicking has not abated. Sankey brought up the subject of extra «data points» first raised by former CFP Selection Committee chairman Jeff Long in 2014.
That first season of the CFP, Ohio State got in over Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor because, Long said, the Buckeyes played and won that extra contest in the Big Ten Championship Game.
«The CFP Selection Committee has been clear that every data point is important in their consideration,» Sankey said. «We’ve reminded our teams of that [Wednesday]. We reminded of them of that reality [Tuesday] and last week. As far as I know, that’s still an element of the selection committee’s thinking. That’s why we continue to work so hard to play all our games.»
Is the committee listening? The SEC remains the only conference in the BCS era (since 1998) to have two teams in the BCS Championship Game or CFP National Championship. The league has a strong case this year as well if Florida beats Alabama in the SEC title game. The Gators can clinch a spot in that game by beating Tennessee this week. The Crimson Tide have to beat LSU. Both teams still have rescheduled game for Dec. 12 against LSU and Arkansas, respectively.
If Clemson wins a rematch with Notre Dame on Dec. 19, that strengthens the ACC’s position to have two teams in the CFP. Both would be 9-1 with a win over a top five team and the one loss being to each other.
«I watched as they moved their championship from the 12th to the 19th to make that date available,» Sankey said of the ACC. «I’m certain they’ll speak to that decision making. We’ve had teams that clinched division championships in the past with three weeks remaining in the season, and they still continue to play games.
«That’s an important part of the competitive spirit.»
The Power Five leagues have rarely been on the same page when it comes to scheduling during the pandemic. The Pac-12 and Big Ten at first cancelled their seasons in August, while the ACC, Big 12 and SEC each made plans for a September start.
The Pac-12 and Big Ten reconsidered and started later in the fall after daily testing became more available. The downside was at that point they had waited so long neither conference was able to schedule bye weeks in case games were impacted.
The Big Ten’s best team, No. 4 Ohio State, has played only four games and could be ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game. A national debate has emerged over the Buckeyes’ playoff worthiness the scenario it plays only four or five games.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told the Detroit Free Press Wednesday that the league may have to consider changing its rules to allow Ohio State to play in the league title game if it plays fewer than six games.
Meanwhile, though it’s been a tough slog, the SEC hasn’t had any game cancelations to date — only postponements. The league is on track to play all 70 of its games.
«We could have played an eight-game conference schedule,» Sankey said, «but we understood looking at the season we would assist ourselves in this postseason evaluation by adding quality games. SEC games are quality games. We’re still on that path.
«We felt that others were on that path, too. We understood back in August and September people made decisions to not play, yet made decisions based on clear understandings of the expectations. One of those expectations is about the number of games played.»
The Big 12 is also playing a 10-game schedule. The ACC scheduled 11 games with one nonconference game.
«That data point discussion from a few years ago before the Big 12 had a championship game, I think that still resonates today,» Sankey said. «That’s why we made a decision to play. That’s why we’re still playing games on the 12th because that’s been the expectation.»