Featuring national anthem protests, college basketball scandals and constant brain-numbing debates, 2017 did not need any more sports controversies. Yet that is exactly what college football fans got when the four teams that advanced to the College Football Playoff to earn a shot at a national title were revealed on Sunday afternoon. Three of the four teams chosen undoubtedly deserved the bid, as Clemson (12-1), Oklahoma (12-1) and Georgia (12-1) each convincingly won their respective conference championship games. The fourth spot, however, was not easily awarded, and the debate on who should get in raged from midnight to noon on Sunday.
It all came down to Alabama and Ohio State. Each of these teams had good arguments supporting their cause. The Crimson Tide (11-1) won every game they played this year except for their loss at Auburn (10-3), whereas the Buckeyes lost twice. Ohio State (11-2), though, boasted more impressive victories than Alabama and also sported a conference championship victory, which the Crimson Tide did not. In the end, the committee chose Alabama, citing a consistent level of high play that was enough to elevate them even over the Big Ten Champion Buckeyes.
“The selection committee favored Alabama’s full body of work over that of Ohio State,” said Kirby Hocutt, chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee. “It was consistent over the course of the year as we saw Alabama play week in and week out.”
Naturally, this decision was extremely controversial, as many experts had predicted that Ohio State would be given the nod. Citing a better strength of schedule, more quality victories and a conference championship (criteria that the committee expressly states are key factors), many believed that, although the decision was extremely tough, the final spot should not have gone to Alabama. While Ohio State does have the edge over Alabama in all of these categories, those who make this claim are missing a key part in the decision-making process that the committee undergoes. Taking this factor into account, it becomes clear why Alabama was indeed the better choice.
Since the inception of the College Football Playoff, the selection committee has stressed certain factors and metrics that they value highly in making decisions. Among these are the aforementioned conference championships and strength of schedule, as well as other factors such as head-to-head matchups and common opponents that did not apply to this particular decision. In the categories that did apply, Ohio State edged out Alabama in almost all of them. Being that this is the case, it would seem obvious that Ohio State is the right choice despite its two losses. So then why didn’t the committee choose the Buckeyes?
As it turns out, there’s a little snag in the way the committee evaluates teams. The above criteria are stressed as key factors only if the two teams being evaluated are “comparable.” If they aren’t, meaning that the committee can make the determination that one team is simply better than the other, a decision made based on careful study of the teams’ play through film study and other such methods, then that wins the day, and the other criteria are not applied. The committee, therefore, determined that Ohio State was not comparable to Alabama, and gave Alabama the fourth spot based on it being simply better.
On the outside, this qualification seems like a sneaky gimmick embedded in proverbial fine print, but when you look at the way the two teams have played this season, you can see where the committee is coming from. Ohio State has some great wins, but they also had some bad losses, including a 31-point thrashing by unranked Iowa (7-5). Alabama, on the other hand, played well on a consistent basis, like the committee said, and hit its only snag of the season playing Auburn, the Southeastern Conference runner-up, on the road, in the hostile environment of its top rivals. Ohio State has looked good, but it simply hasn’t looked as dominant as the Crimson Tide.
One cannot say that the committee made the absolute right choice because there is no correct choice in such a decision. Both teams had strong arguments to present to the committee, and asking the committee to choose between Alabama and Ohio State is like asking a chocolate lover to choose between Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers. Had Ohio State gotten in, that decision would have been just as justifiable, but considering the criteria that the committee considers and the issue of “comparable teams,” it seems to me like the committee’s choice was a valid one.