The Spread, Week Two: Jumping to Conclusions

Look, I’m as excited as anybody for the new playoff in college football. Yes, there will still be controversy and we’re not where we need to be yet, but it will be nice to see things settled on the field more than ever before.

But would it be possible to not talk about who’s going to make the playoff until at least October?

I made the mistake of turning on ESPNU yesterday, and almost immediately there was a lengthy segment about which four teams would make the playoff if the season ended right now. Yes, really. Actual human beings collecting paychecks for talking about sports were having a serious discussion about a hypothetical college football season that only lasts one week, long enough for most teams to play a single game and for some to play even fewer than that.

Of course these brilliant college football philosophers (I don’t remember who they all were, but Tom Luginbill was one of them) put their heads together and came up with an answer that no one saw coming: Lots of SEC teams! Despite what was by most accounts a fairly lackluster showing for the conference last weekend, ESPN still can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet SEC. I can’t imagine why.

Each of the four or five panelists included at least two SEC teams in their groups, usually mixed in with Florida State and Oregon. Luginbill (there’s a reason I remembered him) actually slotted his top three with SEC teams. I know ESPN has long since given themselves over to the almighty dollar, but would it kill them to sometimes pretend to have the slightest shred of professional integrity?

From time to time, ESPN also likes to pretend their not just a collection of desperate newspaper writers, bitter ex-athletes and -coaches, and Syracuse grads. So they come up with nonsensical new “stats” like QBR or FPI. The FPI, simply, is just a number ESPN plans to hype the crap out of in an effort to influence the playoff committee. Unsurprisingly, FPI is also remarkably kind to the SEC.

Two SEC teams (Alabama and Auburn) are currently in the FPI top four, and seven more make appearances by the time you get to #21. But don’t worry, they also went ahead and put together a conference-based version of the number and sure enough, the SEC came out on top.

Interestingly, the article touting the conference’s dominance in these rankings even points out that SEC teams didn’t play as well as people expected and that the Big Ten dropped in the rankings even though they had a “strong week.”

Now I’m not one for conspiracy theories (although we’ve seen examples of ESPN’s misleading rhetoric before) and I would never deny anyone their right to try to hype up the assets that are going to make them money. But when the hype becomes a blatant attempt to influence a selection committee, that’s something I have a problem with.


  1. I have a few takeaways:
    1. Are you seriously going to complain that ESPN’s ranking system having a lot of SEC teams in it? The AP poll has 7 SEC teams in their top 21 too. Newsflash: the SEC has been the best conference for the last decade or so and it’s not close.Their 4th or 5th best team just beat the potential Big Ten champ, with players suspended. The SEC is better, get over it, or make an actual case as to why some other conference deserves to be talked about. By the way, ESPN’s FPI is actually really good – and they have Bama (4th) lower than anybody else does, and no SEC team in the top 2.

    2. Complaining about ESPN’s talking heads is getting really old, you don’t have to watch it, let alone ESPN U on a Wednesday afternoon. If you’re gonna watch it, fine, but if you’re going to make a fuss about some analysts that’s a you problem. It’s bad enough when Ohio State fans complain, but when Ohio State “writers” do this as well it makes our fan base look like a bunch of clowns.

    3. The ESPN $$$ conspiracy theory you more or less admit to having is ridiculous. IF ESPN wanted to influence the Final 4 selection committee, they wouldn’t prop up 3 or 4 SEC teams. The perfect final 4 would be something along the lines of Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida State. ESPN doesn’t get any additional money for SEC teams making the playoffs, they get money for more people watching the playoff. More people care about Ohio State and Notre Dame than your mid-level SEC team. Don’t mistake some “analyst” – on ESPN’s 5th most watched channel – dumb opinion for the agenda of the company.

    4. Who Cares? At the end of the day, ESPN will have very little influence on the playoff committee. And, by the way, if you listen to any of ESPN’s real talking heads, you know – the guys that people actually listen to (Herd, SVP, Reece Davis, Herbie etc.) you’d know that all of them say there is no chance that 2 teams from the same conference get in. If they want to talk up their SEC product week-to-week to get better SEC network ratings so be it – you talking about it shows they are being effective. And again, if ESPN is as terrible as you say it is, go watch BTN, FOX1, NBC Sports, or something else. Oh, but ESPN is better than all of those? Then stop blabbering about how ESPN is the devil and they are out to get Ohio State, because it makes you – and all of us – look like clowns.

    – OSU Class of 2017

    • 1. Alabama and Auburn both struggled to beat teams they were supposed beat easily. South Carolina got slaughtered. Florida didn’t even play. What exactly is this ranking based on? (And the FPI has 9 SEC teams in the top 21, two more than the AP poll.)

      2. I am also getting really old which makes me more prone to complain about things. You are just a young whipper-snapper with health and dreams and metabolism. And here’s a news flash for you: Our fan base is a bunch of clowns. Every fan base is. But that’s okay, because clowns are awesome!

      3. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a fact of life. Corporations would like to continue to make money, preferably more money than they were previously making. Ultimately, the specific teams in the playoff will have very little impact on its ratings. People will watch no matter what. What benefits ESPN is people watching the SEC Network.

      (Did you ever notice that ESPN won’t tell you what channel a game is on unless it’s a channel they own? I wonder why…)

      4. I hope you’re right. Right now, we have no idea what the committee is going to do. But the fact is that most people’s opinions on sports are influenced in some way by ESPN. It’s the primary source for games, highlights, information and commentary. If CFB had a proper playoff with automatic bids for conference champions, then it wouldn’t matter at all. But that’s not what we have, so influencing opinion is a concern, and I believe ESPN is abusing their responsibility.

      As it happens, I just heard RIGHT NOW an ESPN anchor say that the Big Ten only had two ranked teams, because he wasn’t “counting” Wisconsin and Nebraska, who are both ranked in the Top 20. I’m sure he had a good reason for saying that. (And I’m not watching those other channels because they aren’t talking about college football right now.)

      – Clown

  2. We talkin’ ’bout clowns, man? Clowns? Clowns.

    I will say that I think this is a chicken and egg situation with the SEC and EPSN, because it was actually SEC coaches (Tuberville in ’04, our beloved Meyer in ’06) that went on ESPN to plead (beg, grovel, supplicate) that their team should be considered for the National Championship because of the “power” of their conference (even though, if memory serves me, the SEC had only won ONE (undisputed) national championship before 2004 (Tennessee in 1998). So which came first? ESPN slobbering over the SEC? Or the SEC screaming “look over here! look over here!”?

    • I think the Big Ten Network is actually the most important factor here, and not because it is a competitor for viewers. The Big Ten showed other conferences that they could make a lot of money by starting their own networks and did it in a way that didn’t involve ESPN. Imagine a world where all five major conferences have TV networks that ESPN makes 0 dollars off of. ESPN imagined that, and got scared.

      The SEC had been talking about a network for a long time, probably even longer than the Big Ten. Maybe it’s a coincidence that ESPN started sucking up to the SEC right around the time everyone realized conference networks were the way to go.



  1. […] Jason cautioned against Jumping To Conclusions regarding possible college football playoff […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: