Jacksonville Sports Day

MILLER: Penn State Deserves Spot in CFP

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s right there, in bold type, on the College Football Playoff website.

“Every Game Counts.”

Well, and sorry if this seems a little weird, truth is that maybe not quite every game counts. And, strangely, maybe the game that does not count is a conference championship game, like Penn State’s remarkable, 38-31 comeback victory over Wisconsin on Saturday night for the Big 10 title.

Strange, because the playoff website’s criteria go on to proclaim, “The selection committee ranks the teams based on conference championships won …”

In other words, a conference championship is the key factor.

Except when it isn’t. Like, almost surely, now.

Penn State, the Big Ten champion, is expected to be on the outside when the final four are announced Sunday, but a Big Ten team that did not even qualify for the title game, Ohio State, is expected to be included. Oh, and by the way, Penn State, which won its past nine in a row in an 11-2 season after starting 2-2, defeated Ohio State in their October game.

Critics used to mock the people who run the bowl games because they paraded around looking like peacocks in all those brightly colored blazers with their oversize logos, spending fall weekends wining and dining athletic directors.

Those guys look like Einstein compared to the clowns now in charge of the college playoff.

“We just won the toughest conference in college football,” said James Franklin, the Penn State coach. “We won nine straight. They say you’re allowed to overcome early setbacks. We’ve done that. It’s on you now, the committee.”

But the committee already gave a huge clue to its leanings when its chairman, Kirby Hocutt, the athletic director at Texas Tech, said Penn State’s regular-season victory over Ohio State “is not the distinguishing metric in the evaluation of these two teams.”

What the heck is a distinguishing metric?

And whatever became of the alleged plan to settle the championship on the field, not in a smoke-filled room or on a secret vote? I don’t know what a “distinguishing metric” is, but I do know what a 24-21 victory is, which is what Penn State got against the Buckeyes.

Alabama, Clemson and Washington, all of them conference champions, are expected to be the other three teams in the playoff field with Ohio State.

But whatever happens in Sunday’s meeting, the asinine thought of passing over a conference champ for a team it beat already had a negative effect, holding down the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big 10 title game.

Attendance was several thousand shy of capacity and, as game time approached, sideline tickets could be had for as little as $6 on StubHub.

Penn State got a nice trophy, quarterback Trace McSorley received one as the game’s MVP, and the Nittany Lions will finish the season with a high place in the national rankings and a boost in their recruiting. Four years after their football program was torn apart following the Sandusky sex scandal, the Lions just will not be given a chance to play for the national championship, not be allowed a shot at a Cinderella championship like Texas Western in 1966 or

Villanova in 1985 in the NCAA basketball tournament.

The consolation prize will be a trip to the Rose Bowl.

And, really, that’s not bad.

Sure, an argument can be made that Ohio State was the best team in the Big Ten this year, anyway, and maybe it was, but it did not prove it on the field, supposedly the point of the exercise. The Buckeyes did not even win their division championship, let alone the conference, and yet they are going to get a chance to play for the national championship, and the team(s) that finished ahead of them in the conference are not.

You have to wonder what the geniuses who dreamed up the playoff were thinking when, by design, they guaranteed controversy by setting up a four-team playoff among five major conferences. In other words, you knew you were starting out by leaving out one of the conference champions. Period.

It’s a small step from there to leaving out another.

The playoff, of course, was supposedly designed to eliminate the controversy that occurred in the past when the national champion was decided by a vote instead of, oh, say, an actual game. Which is how an undefeated Nebraska was selected over an undefeated Penn State in 1994 or several years when two groups of voters selected different teams as national champions, giving a little for everybody.

A word, “supposedly,” appears in the previous paragraph because it would never pass a lie-detector test. Let’s face it, the playoff was set up to give a small group power and a bigger group money, because nothing much happens in college sports that does not really involve power and money.

The five major conferences brought six bowls into their playoff orbit and only under pressure allowed one of the dozen spots to go to a school not a member of their cartel. But they certainly did not want one of the outliers getting super rich on the playoff, which is why they limited the playoff field to four teams and put the rest into a so-called “Group of 6” bowl lineup which they controlled — and, of course, sold for a huge sum to television.

So, Penn State will get its money. And it will have the satisfaction of knowing it won the championship of what this year was clearly the toughest conference in college football, just a couple years after people were writing obituaries about the league’s weakness. It’s just not a good enough conference, apparently, to allow its champion to play for the national title.

Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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