Scooter Hobbs column: I’m going to miss conference title games
Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2022
At the risk of going all grumpy-old-man on you here, some of us still like the idea of conference divisions and some of us just love, love, love and cherish their offspring, the conference championship games.
But I’m afraid both may be on the endangered species list.
So enjoy LSU in Atlanta this weekend for the Southeastern Conference championship game, no matter how futile the trip may appear with No. 1 Georgia waiting and licking is Dawg chops in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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You never know how many more of these galas there will be as the playoff-centric crowd continues its complete takeover of college football’s talking points.
Combined with the conferences swallowing each other up like Pac-Man, we may be seeing the last of divisions, which you really need for these title games. Some conferences have already eliminated them, probably out of desperation, and it makes for a cheap substitute when merely letting the top two teams square off for the trophy.
Take the SEC, for instance. Six teams per division was the sweet spot, seven is a bit bulky and soon-to-be eight is … well, they’re working on it.
When Texas and Oklahoma join the conference, most likely the SEC will end up with some form of a “pod” system to divide its far-reaching conglomerate into four parts and they’ll all play each other when they can get around to it.
Good luck with that. All it does is move you closer to the NFL model … with lesser talent.
But if expanding to a 12-team playoff is just an entry-level postseason drug, it will continue apace, with gluttony and forethought, and one day surely the playoff will need to scarf up that first weekend in December’s playing date for its own use.
At that point, when conference championship games become a nuisance to the playoff, they will be gone. And that’s a shame.
All I can tell you is that the pomp and atmosphere at the SEC Championship game — the electricity — tops anything you’ll find in the postseason shy of the national championship game.
Those games are worth keeping around — even if it was the Southeastern Conference that invented and perfected them.
It was the brainchild of then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, who in 1992 added Arkansas and South Carolina to the league, then split his brood into divisions just to have a title game at the end.
He had probably figured out that it would be profitable. He was really smart. Even spent time at Vanderbilt. Maybe he even knew it would turn the SEC into the most powerful football juggernaut the world has ever seen.
Other conferences slapped themselves in the forehead and exclaimed, Why didn’t we think of that? And gradually followed suit.
Yet, in the days leading up to the first championship game, Gene Stallings, then the Alabama coach, was an outspoken critic of the newfangled thing. He declared that it was sheer lunacy and made the dire prediction that the SEC would never win another national championship, not with such an added obstacle.
Stallings was a very good coach and is even a better humanitarian. But he was dead wrong on that prophecy.
A few weeks later Alabama won the national championship over big, bad Miami — the SEC’s first in a dozen years since Georgia had done it in 1980. Before that you had to go all the way back 22 years, LSU in 1958, to find an SEC team not named Alabama that had won it all.
But since adding the “extra obstacle,” the SEC has won 16 of the last 30 national championships — and 13 of the last 21, for that matter — with six teams getting in on the fun. There was a streak from 2006 to 2012 when four SEC teams combined to win seven in a row.
The cash flowed in.
Maybe the on-field success was just an unintentional consequence for the SEC. Probably not a one-size-fits-all solution for every conference.
Better yet, for the most part the “right” team has usually won the SEC’s game rather than knocking a team out of the BCS or the CFP.
When the playoff expands, it’s likely to be more of an exhibition with a trophy with both pretty well set for the playoffs.
So these title games probably don’t figure into the long-range plans as college football looks to the future, whatever that entails.
But, if you’ve ever been in downtown Atlanta on Friday and Saturday for the SEC’s version, you’ll know why some of us will mourn their passing.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com