From UF President Bernie Machen and Urban Meyer last year to UGA President Michael Adams this year, the most vocal proponents of having a playoff in college football have come from the SEC. I find that quite ironic.
You see, back in 2004 Auburn was shut out of the national championship game in favor of USC and Oklahoma. OU had just won a national championship in 2000 and had been to the title game the previous year, and Oklahoma had former Heisman Trophy winner Jason White at quarterback. USC won the AP national title the previous year and had then-current Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart. In the court of public opinion, and in the AP and Coaches’ opinion polls, those were the two best teams. Tough luck, Auburn.
Once that happened, SEC fans unleashed a public relations onslaught. The only way to prevent one of their own from getting shafted again was to indoctrinate everyone with the perception that the SEC is the best conference in the country (which was debatable then, but is not now). Once the country believes that 11 wins in the SEC are worth more than 11 wins from anywhere else, there shouldn’t be any more SEC teams left out in the cold.
In a bit of providence, this was also around the time that the SEC got a whole lot tougher. Urban Meyer and Les Miles came in, Steve Spurrier and David Cutcliffe came back, and eventually even Nick Saban would come back into the fold. Rich Brooks would get Kentucky turned around, Bobby Johnson would get Vanderbilt turned into a decent team, and Sylvester Croom began his rebuilding job that culminated in a bowl win this year. Now, you have Bobby Petrino finally coming to the conference, something he’s been trying to do for years. So while the braggadocio of the SEC fans waxed, the conference itself became a lot more difficult of a place to play.
Now, it’s mission accomplished. The SEC is perceived to be the best conference in the country, and 11 wins in it actually do count more than 11 wins elsewhere. You can see that through the selections of Florida over Michigan last year and LSU over USC, Oklahoma, and others this year for the BCS championship game. It basically guarantees that if the SEC champ finishes undefeated or with one loss, that team will make the championship game (provided that it doesn’t finish with one loss while two other BCS conference champs go undefeated, though not necessarily). The SEC beat the system and won the poll game.
That’s the irony. No conference is set up nearly as well to win in the current system than the SEC is. Single teams from other conferences (USC, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State, etc) have national power auras to them under the right circumstances, but no other conference can produce a champion that will automatically be seen as one of the nation’s top two or three teams. That’s why it’s ironic, that the conference that is so uniquely suited to winning under the current system would be the loudest complainers to see it overthrown.