This weekend, when conference championship games kick off, exactly two of the 10 FBS conferences—the SEC and the Mountain West—will field games between their two best teams. Apart from Alabama–Georgia and Boise State–Fresno State, the rest of the slate will feature such nail-biters as Ohio State (the Big Ten’s second-best team, per Sports-Reference’s simple rating system of all 130 teams) vs. Northwestern (the Big Ten’s No. 6 team, by SRS) and Clemson (the best team in the ACC) vs. Pitt (SRS’s No. 5 ACC team). Most games will be meaningless barring an upset, and of all the potential outcomes, I’m most curious to see how much the Buckeyes will run up the score to try to prove they deserve a playoff bid.
That is to say, I’m bored. The phrase “conference championship” implies something altogether different than the product college football is giving us—although the conferences must prefer this reality. For those with teams in playoff contention, it would be disadvantageous, actually, to get a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup the first weekend in December. All those games do—except in this year's SEC, as two of its teams are among the game’s top four—is weaken the league’s chances at getting a team among the final four.
Friday’s and Saturday’s slates are made all the more ridiculous by the contrast with rivalry weekend just a week earlier; the days after Thanksgiving this year featured games between several conferences’ best teams—and it’s no outlier; this is often the case—de facto championships that instead work as selectors: Which of these two great teams will get to play a lesser cross-division foe next week? We got Ohio State–Michigan and West Virginia–Oklahoma, and the Apple Cup sure had the feel of a conference title game.
This is nonsense—and it’s unnecessary. It seems like an eternity ago that the Big 12 was bemoaning its lack of a title game, quickly reinstituting it to give its teams a bump in playoff consideration. Back then, a wider field seemed like something the game needed to build toward, but in 2018, we’re there. As college football winds up for a playoff field that’s going to look eerily similar to last year’s, why not think bigger to combat the boredom?
The solution is simple: Cancel conference title games, and give this extra week to the playoff committee so that it can put together an eight-team field—which would cheapen the regular season no more than this weekend’s slate of bargain-basement matchups. Sure, slates as bad as this year’s are hardly the norm—last year, a team in each Power 5 title game was playing for something—but a lineup like this is a good reminder for how extraneous these games can be, especially in a sport that would benefit from an expanded playoff field and is short, it seems, only on the time to schedule those games.
As for conference titles themselves: they were awarded in the many decades before championship games, and they can still exist after. Regular-season records are enough to declare champions—yet another way to assign value to September through November if the playoff bracket were to grow. The CFP committee can still consider champions in their selection metric, although to what level that criteria matters still seems unclear after four years of the playoff.
In this new world, it would be much more difficult for a conference to get completely boxed out of the playoff, as two or maybe even three of the Power 5 leagues are poised to this year. If this system were in place in 2018, Alabama and Georgia, opponents in the only true Power 5 title game this season, would both get in. So would Ohio State, without an unnecessary drubbing of Northwestern, and Oklahoma, the other bubble team. Clemson wouldn’t have to go through the motions against Pitt, and UCF—the best Group of Five team—would get a CFP crack. And the Pac-12, whose top team in this week’s CFP rankings is No. 11, wouldn’t have to put on a meaningless game.
There’s little upside for the teams with no playoff shots this weekend; the best that can happen, better even than an upset, is that players come through without any serious injuries. And for those with real hopes, well, in this world, they’re already prepping for the quarterfinal bowls. — By Joan Niesen
• This week's cover story: The notion of Drew Brees as the plucky everyman is wrong.He’s just like Brady, Rodgers and Manning—a psycho-cyborg QB and one of the greatest players in NFL history. (By Greg Bishop)
• Luka Dončić may have been born to play basketball, but he lives to put on a show. (By Rob Mahoney)
• From dancing on the Cowboys star, to skipping his own HOF ceremony and dreaming about a comeback,Terrell Owens opens up about his NFL career. (By Greg Bishop)
• The sixth episode of Fall of a Titan: The Steve McNair Story is out.Give a listen to our serialized SI True Crime podcast here.
• Baseball has seen prolific turnover in hitting coachesover the last 14 months. Why? (By Tom Verducci)
• We ranked the 30 best NBA jerseys of all time. Surely you won't have any disagreements with us.
• A unique franchise, years of conservative roster-building, and friction between the legendary QB and the head coach. This is how it all went wrong in Packerland. (By Kalyn Kahler)
Vault Photo of the Week: Happy Birthday, Vin
A very happy 91st birthday to broadcasting legend Vin Scully. The narrator of countless historical moments and the soundtrack to so many summers, Scully set an unreachable standard in sports broadcasting. He'll forever be one of the most iconic voices in history. It was only a mere 54 years ago SI published a piece introducing readers to the Voice of Los Angeles.
Photograph above taken by SI's Neil Leifer at the 1975 Masters.
Best of the Rest
• You may have read about the genetically modified babies in China. Well, it turns out the scientist behind the procedurewent against his own ethics policy. Megan Molteni of WIRED has the story.
• Here's a follow-up on Loyola, last season's Final Four surprise, and the iconic Sister Jean via ESPN's Adam Rittenberg.
• If you have a half-hour or so,dive into this in-depth look at China's economy from Philip P. Pan of the New York Times.
• Via Politico's James Kirchick: Hillary Clinton spoke out about immigration recently—and what she said surprised some people.
• Washington D.C.'s football team is infuriating. Read this Barry Svrluga column in the Washington Post.
• Remember Montee Ball?Here's a look at his lifeafter hitting rock bottom, via Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Gift Guide Season
With the holiday season officially kicking off, your wallet's about to get a little thinner. Over the next handful of newsletters we'll highlight one of our gift guides to make that year-end shopping a little bit easier.
This week head over to our list of Best Tech Gifts for Everyone on Your List.
An old-school upgrade: Polaroid Originals OneStep 2
Based on the original Polaroid OneStep from 1977, the OneStep2 is a major update on the classic camera, with features like a built-in flash, a self-timer function and a built-in battery that can last for 60 days with one, USB-powered charge.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.