SEC's CFP domination is a reminder of what's missing in college football

·6 min read

The chants that have become the soundtrack of college football will be heard on repeat in the upcoming weeks. In Indianapolis, the inexplicable site of the College Football Playoff title game on Jan. 10, the vocal flex of Southern football superiority will reverberate in the heart of Big Ten country.

With No. 3 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama set to square off in an SEC title game rematch, we’re left wondering if there’s a way for the sport to provide a surprise ending — both in result and, in the bigger picture, how we get here in the future.

With Alabama vs. Georgia, we’ve gotten the most predictable result from what’s widely regarded as one of America’s most unpredictable sports. And that includes the CFP semifinals again unfolding like a seven-hour Nyquil chug, as the average margin in these games historically is essentially three touchdowns.

Let's not let the slog of a day diminish the CFP title game, which should be as competitive as it is parochial. No one can debate that Alabama and Georgia shouldn’t be here. There aren’t any valid arguments about more deserving teams.

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 31: Georgia Bulldogs fans hold a sign in the second half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Bulldogs fans are ready for a trip north after Georgia's blowout of Big Ten champion Michigan in the Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

It'll be amazing that there’s not more momentum for an expanded College Football Playoff as the SEC chants fill Lucas Oil Stadium next Monday. The snoozer Friday — again doomed for low weekday ratings —isn’t necessarily a fan's argument for an expanded CFP. It’s a reminder that more leaders in the sport should be arguing for an expanded playoff. How can clear-thinking officials let the sport wheeze on like this at the highest levels? And why are the leagues who need access the most still resisting 12 teams? Are they comfortable being relegated to the sport’s second tier?

This is the second time in the eight-year history of the CFP that Georgia and Alabama will square off for the title. It’s the third time in the past 11 years that two SEC teams are playing each other for the national title. The first of those was an LSU-Alabama rock fight that annoyed the other commissioners so much that they acquiesced to a playoff.

The current version of the four-team playoff appears in its twilight, and it will be remembered as a positive incremental evolution that bested its predecessor but ultimately became stale. The question looms whether some filibusters will delay the inevitable lurch to 12 teams to the end of the current contract in 2025. Or, perhaps, some type of common-sense harmony — hopefully that doesn’t allow workday afternoon semifinals — can be reached sooner.

Some of Friday's awkwardness is a system born of compromise and backroom deals, as I’m sure there will be chuckles at NFL and NBA headquarters today that two of the three most valuable games of the season — properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars — played out on a day many Americans work. (The games started when the West Coast was on lunch break. Pity the hard-working folks who burnt a day off to watch those lemons.)

Can you imagine the AFC title game playing out in a similar time slot? How about a Game 7 of the NBA's Western Conference finals? In college football, everyone sacrifices for a diminished product that fails to maximize its value, a tired song and dance that’s in need of cough drops and a foot massage.

Change doesn’t come easy when there’s no one in charge, and that has long been the refrain of a glorious sport that thrives despite leadership, not because of it.

The current CFP contract ends in 2025. The momentum for an expanded playoff before then has slowed from this summer, when changing the format for the final two or three years of the current deal seemed likely. The 12-team playoff coming for 2026 is a near certainty, as that doesn’t require unanimity on reworking a current contract.

Is the SEC as far ahead as it appears? It sure looks that way. The last Pac-12 team in the CFP was Washington, six years and three coaches ago. The last non-Clemson ACC team was Florida State in the 2014 season. The last Big Ten team to win was Ohio State in the 2014 season. The Big 12 has never appeared in the CFP final and is losing its only team, Oklahoma, to reach the playoff.

What Friday served was a seven-hour infomercial for common sense. Wouldn’t Utah, surging at the end of its season, want a crack at the title? Would Ohio State have held up better against one of the SEC teams? Could Baylor have withstood punches? We’ll never know, as those teams are playing in second-tier bowls that decrease in meaning every year. Wouldn’t the sport be better off with Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker playing with high stakes instead of bowing out?

So here we are again. Two Southern interlopers chanting through Indianapolis. It’s a great game with plenty of juicy storylines. Can Kirby Smart finally topple Nick Saban? Can Georgia shake off a dud of an SEC title game and finally end all the 1980 jokes?

It’d be stunning if Alabama wins as decisively as it did in the SEC title game, 41-24, as Georgia should bring a more disruptive defensive game plan. (Alabama should be easier to stop without star receiver John Metchie, who got injured in the SEC title game.)

The game will bring reasonable buzz and good ratings. The last title game between the two programs was the best of the CFP era, and people tune in to see the elite. But the issues highlighted Friday can mostly be summed up by why the games were played on a non-holiday Friday in the first place.

Competing agendas and lack of centralized decision-making got us here. So did bowing to tradition, as the bowl system still gets disproportionate sway even as players duck out of it.

Perhaps some commissioners are comfortable with more juiceless days like Friday. And more juiceless seasons, which have become familiar.

But as leaders tread water on expansion, we need to remember how we got here in the first place. A lot of old songs, off key and tired. Maybe the SEC chants will change the tune.