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BTN Mailbag Question Shines Light on College Football's Perpetual Flaw


As you might expect from a guy who covers and blogs about the Big Ten, is a site that I frequent regularly. I'm a guy who is fascinated by the fan. I always like to know what the mood is and what they are feeling. As a result, one of my favorite weekly reads is the Big Ten Mailbag, where senior writer Tom Dienhart answers questions about the conference from the fans.

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In the most recent mailbag, an interesting question was asked: "If Iowa wins out in the regular season, will it be playoff contenders, or is the Hawkeyes' schedule too weak?"

In reality, it shouldn't be an interesting question — it should be a no-brainer. The fact that it was asked speaks volumes about college football's process of deciding a champion.

There are no ties in college football. Because of the overtime rules, every game has a definitive winner and loser. The scores are recorded, kept and available for all of us to retrieve whenever we want to. The wins and losses are the only concrete, black-and-white, pure knowns we have in the sport. You'd think they would mean more than anything else when voting on who gets to play for a title.

And there's that "V'" word.

American college football at the FBS level is the only organized team sport on the planet where the results on the field are not the be-all, end-all when it comes to deciding which teams get to play for the game's ultimate prize. Instead, throughout the course of college football history, we've allowed journalists, opposing coaches and computers to decide who the best teams are. Today, we basically sequester a jury and make them vote. I've said it before, but it's essentially scored like figure skating, as if the competitors are out there performing alone.

I can't be the only one who sees the idiocy in this.

Every year after conference championship games are completed, I publish an article containing a bracket of what a 16-team college football playoff would look like during that particular season. I give 10 automatic bids to the 10 conference champions. Then and only then, voting would occur — as you would fill in the six remaining at-large teams via their ranking in whatever is deemed the decisive poll.

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The result? Winning is rewarded. If you win all of your games, you'll win your conference. If you don't belong to a conference, there's a pretty good chance you'll be one of the six at-large teams. The last time an independent team went undefeated was 1988, when Notre Dame won the national championship.

Back to 2015, we have a process that still causes fans to ask questions like the one in the BTN Mailbag. That's inexcusable and it's an issue that college football has never fixed.

It wasn't long ago when we were reading about how the five power conferences had voted to basically separate themselves from the rest of FBS — essentially establishing autonomy as a superior entity. I wasn't a fan of it, but if those are the rules everyone wants to play by, I guess I'm OK with it.

The issue with establishing a Power 5 is whether or not every team in those conferences is on equal footing. By definition, they should be. The names, histories, traditions and prestige of each school should no longer matter. But they do.

How do I know this?

Because we live in a world where that BTN Mailbag question was asked. College football fans cannot watch a team run the table against a schedule it was given and just simply know that the team will be rewarded with a chance to play for a national title — regardless of the fact that a team that did not go undefeated the previous year came out of the same conference to win the national championship.

I don't think it was a stupid question. I think it was a reflection of college football's perpetual flaw — the inability to simply reward teams for winning games. I think — as Dienhart answered — that Iowa would get into the College Football Playoff if the Hawkeyes ran the table and won their conference title game. But I'm not sure.

Last season, only one Power 5 team came out of the conference championship games unbeaten. That'll likely be the case this year as well. If that is indeed the case — whether it's Iowa, Utah or Oklahoma State — that unbeaten team should get a shot at the national title. And I think they will — but again — I'm not sure.

The fact that I'm both not sure and not alone is a problem that college football needs to figure out.

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.