Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The first playoff rankings and the "SEC Myth"

Every conference that isn't the SEC has what might be described as an inferiority complex about that region and its football teams. When the playoff selection committee released their first ranking and it looked like this...

1. Clemson (8-0)
2. LSU (7-0)
3. Ohio State (8-0)
4. Alabama (7-1)
5. Notre Dame (7-1)
6. Baylor (7-0)
7. Michigan State (8-0)
8. TCU (8-0)
9. Iowa (8-0)
10. Florida (7-1)

...the outrage was predictable.

There are two truths that everyone needs to accept about the current system and college football today in order to accurately peel back the onion and see all the layers to this debate.

Truth 1: The purpose of the college football playoffs is to appease the masses who wanted a better system while still restricting access to the big dogs.

Truth 2: The SEC schools, and other blueblood programs, generally are actually better.

Truth 2 provides some excellent political cover for truth 1.

Last year the committee egregiously had Ohio State leapfrog the, uh, the Frogs and the Bears in the final poll after the Buckeyes smashed Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game with their back-up QB.

Comparing the resumes of the three teams it was absurd that Ohio State be recognized over TCU or Baylor. They played but one really good team (Michigan State) and though they won that game on the road in impressive fashion, their resume just didn't compare to the two teams who'd navigated the tougher Big 12.

Ohio State was always going to get the benefit of the doubt there because they are the big dog, they draw in the TV sets, and they are much more connected in the political process.

As it turned out, Ohio State was unquestionably the best team in the country and proved it over the next two games while smacking down Alabama and Oregon.

The main outrage from this new poll is over the fact that Alabama is ranked over undefeated TCU and Baylor under the political cover of "those teams haven't played anyone that strong yet." Strength of schedule is going to be the consistent trump card that the committee uses every year to protect the big dogs.

Here's the thing though, having watched all of these teams in multiple games I have little doubt that Alabama would beat either TCU or Baylor.

Baylor's defense still needs to be tested, but the bigger issue is that their QB broke his freaking neck. Bear fans keep coming back with all kinds of arguments about how great their team is this season, using results from this season to back up their points. All of these arguments ignore the fact that the QB who played in all of those games broke his freaking neck.

Sorry Baylor, until your freshman QB wins on the road in Stillwater and Ft. Worth you aren't going to get any benefit of the doubt for how badly you beat up the little sisters of the poor with a different QB running the show.

Meanwhile TCU is a defense that is relying on excellent fundamentals combined with smoke and mirrors to overcome the simple fact that they are too beat up and too small at linebacker to hang with the likes of Alabama. Does anyone doubt that Derrick Henry would run roughshod over the Frogs? He's probably bigger and faster than anyone in their defensive backfield.

Here's the underlying truth of the matter that is rarely discussed directly and yet dictates much of the whole proceeding and why the big dogs do regularly get the benefit of the doubt besides the fact that they are more popular programs. The sport of football is largely dominated by African-American athletes and these athletes reside in far greater numbers in states with SEC schools.

Observe! The power five conferences ranked by how many African-Americans live within their states:

Let me start by debunking an easy counter, which is that if this chart revealed the most powerful factor in which regions play the best football you'd expect the ACC to be the premier conference in the land.

Well, the ACC's geographic borders includes 8.23 million black people who live in New York, North Carolina, and Georgia, states which are devoid of powerful ACC football programs. Meanwhile the SEC boasts programs like Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Florida in the states with the largest populations of black athletes while also regularly snatching up recruits from other areas like Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Texas.

You'll also notice from the state by state breakdown the tremendous advantage that comes to schools like Ohio State and LSU, big time powers that are the only major college programs within states with large African-American populations. Take a gander at which SEC schools are stronger and which are traditionally weaker and you'll see more overlapping correlations.

Guess why the Big 10 East is so much stronger than the Big 10 West?

Also, I have to note that the Pac-12's small population of African Americans is largely mitigated by the presence of about 1 million Pacific Islanders who live along the West Coast or in Utah. I'd venture a guess that the percentage of Pacific Islander young men who get Div 1 scholarships to play football is several times that of any other ethnic group.

Football is all about big, fast, and powerful men executing athletic movements in short bursts, which requires lots of fast-twitch muscle fiber. Well, men of Western-African descent tend to excel here beyond any other ethnic group on this planet, save perhaps for the Islanders.

The major programs in the southeast who have major resources and access to large populations of black athletes tend to be able to field more talented football teams than anyone else. That's one of the underlying (and rather logical) assumptions being made by everyone who subjectively believes that Alabama is better than most everyone else even when they have a loss.

That's the rub and why the SEC gets so much benefit of the doubt. Their conference includes multiple major programs with big time resources and literally millions more athletes within their geographic borders. 

The big lie of the selection process is that this is somehow objective when in reality it is totally subjective.

However, the assumptions that guide the subjective arguments are actually very solid. So when the small private school in Texas that has been putting up wins over schools without the resources of teams in the SEC doesn't get the benefit of the doubt in a subjective ranking, don't be surprised. And don't be surprised if the underlying assumptions guiding these arguments aren't what's openly debated.

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