The Table Never Lies

The Top Dog Proposition

I read Eddie Dzurilla’s article at Bleacher Report, posted January 22, 2010, titled SEC, ACC, Big 12 …Get Rid of Your Playoffs. His thesis is that conference championships should be settled not by championship games, but by all of the conference teams playing each other and letting “the top dog be the champion.”

This of course isn’t a new idea. I most recently heard it presented by none other than James Carville when he was interviewed by Tony Barnhart on CBS this past Fall. Carville is passionately for the idea that the entire season should be nothing other than conference games (Carville is a passionate LSU and SEC football fan). He is opposed to all non-conference games. I especially get a chuckle when Carville would say that LSU should not be playing schools like “Ooo La La.”

Anyway, Dzurilla argues that under the idea: (1) all conference teams play all other teams in their conference; and (2) there would be no conference playoff (championship) games, and in the Big Ten, no floating byes. Thus, in the SEC, ACC, and Big 12, the conferences would not be split into divisions.

Dzurilla says that in conferences with 12 teams, the new system would simply call for 11 conference games, with one non-conference game. Eddie writes that “in the SEC, for example, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia would continue their rivalries against Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech, while the other eight schools would be free to schedule an at large opponent.” The inequity would be what teams would play the 6 road conference games and which teams the 5 conference home games. Of course the tables would turn the following season.

I would add that if you are getting rid of the conference championship game, why not add another game to the schedule for all schools, making it a 13-game season for all, giving two non-conference games to the schedule? Personally, I like non-conference games. So, keep the regional non-conference rivalries, and add a 13th game to make intersectional rivalries possible. [Gee, what would Florida do regarding the intersectional idea? More on that to come in Wednesday’s post.]

The Example of the English Premier League

Emirates Stadium, Home of Arsenal Football Club, London.

I watch English football, January through May. The top flight, called the English Premier League, is made up of 20 clubs. The league plays from mid-August into May, Each team plays 38 league games, with each club playing all of the 19 other teams twice, home and away.

There are lots of other matches involving the FA Cup and the League Cup, which are single elimination tournaments spread out over months, and then there is the European Champions League and the UEFA Cup competitions in which some of the English clubs also compete in as well.

But the English Premier League is 38 games. No wild card spots. No play-off games. No championship game. In May, the “top dog” is the champion.

Nobody, and I mean no one complains about the system. No one. Because they have a saying, a truism: “The Table Never Lies.” This means that the team atop the standings (the standings is called the “table” in England) at the end of the long season has to be the best team, otherwise they wouldn’t be there after such a grueling campaign.

All soccer fans in the British Isles believe in that saying. Never a disputed championship. Never a disputed champion.

No Solution to the NCAA Football Championship

There are 120 schools in the top rung of NCAA football. For Dzurilla’s/Carville’s/Whoever’s system to work in a fair way across the board, there would have to be 120/12=10 conferences. Ten conferences of 12 schools each. That’s going to be a tough one to work out, given problems such as the current numbers of the Pac 10 (10) and the Big 10 (11).

If those problems are solvable, then setting in motion the Top Dog principle, would give 10 conference champions, bringing a whole other can of worms to the dinner table. A tournament involving 10 teams (assuming only conference champions would participate) would necessitate byes (as opposed to 4 or 8 or 16), which would require byes, which would require a seeding system, which would require a method of ranking, and before you know it, we’re back to subjectivity which is what we’d all like to avoid somehow.

11 SEC Games Every Year? Oh Yes!

But getting back to where we started, I like, in principle, the Top Dog model based in part on the English League example. Think about it. Wouldn’t it be great for all SEC teams to play all other SEC teams every year? Wouldn’t it be great for Tennessee to play 11 SEC games every year? It would make for an unbelievable SEC football schedule every single season. It would put all other conferences to shame.

This Will Never Happen

This will never happen, at least on the watch of the SEC, if there is still the BCS system and/or a national voting system influencing the selection of the national champion or the selection of two teams to play for the national championship. The SEC is tough enough for our schools to have to play seven conference games plus a conference championship game.

Such an 11-game conference schedule would happen only if conference champions go directly to an elimination championship tournament and there are no national polls. An 11-game conference schedule would be too risky for the SEC to approve – too much of a chance for the conference champion to have won the SEC with a loss or two and thus not be one of the top two teams in the nation and therefore be out of the running for a national championship game.

I like the idea of an 11-game SEC schedule to crown the conference champion. But unless the NCAA is onboard with a pure playoff system with no national polls playing a role, the “Top Dog” model will never make it out of the back yard if the SEC has a say about it.

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