Sorry, Cincinnati. You will not be invited to the College Football Playoff.
Go ahead and win out against the remainder of your schedule (at South Florida, vs. SMU, and at East Carolina), and dare the committee to ignore your unblemished resume’. You still won’t play for the National Championship.
There are some legitimate reasons – like the win against Indiana, a winless Big 10 team. It was facilitated by the ejection of the Hoosiers best defensive player. Until that point, Indiana was the better team. No team that required officiating help to beat Indiana should ever be viewed as one of the best four teams in college football.
Cincinnati is a member of the American Athletic Conference, a group of schools who have bounced around from one conference to another without ever truly belonging to any. The American is the land of misfit programs. One team within this woebegone collection is ranked inside the Top 25, which means Cincinnati – that one ranked team – will have played six fewer ranked opponents than the aforementioned Hoosiers.
The Bearcats will hang their candidacy on a win against Notre Dame in South Bend. That’s impressive, but nothing compared to what Purdue has done in beating two top five teams. Purdue has a chance this weekend to beat a third top five team, but the Boilermakers also have three losses against teams that would likely win the American if suddenly displaced from the Big 10.
Luke Fickell might be the best coach in America. He will very likely move on to a program where his talents are better exposed – and compensated. Desmond Ridder is a quarterback worthy of national exposure. Sadly, Cincinnati will never be able to provide it. He deserves a statue on campus for his work over the last four seasons. Sadly, 99% of college football fans would walk past it and ask, “Who’s that guy?”
The reason Cincinnati is on the outside of the rankings and will remain there is greed. The College Football Playoff was instituted for one reason – cash. No one outside southwestern Ohio cares about Cincinnati Football. Need proof? The Bearcats big game this Saturday against South Florida will not be broadcast on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, or ESPN. It has been assigned to ESPN2, an outpost for teams from conferences that do not move the audience meter.
The teams currently ranked ahead of Cincinnati are Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, and Ohio State. That is a nice group for TV. Georgia and Bama have huge fanbases throughout the southeast, where college football is easily the most possible sport. Oregon is fun to watch with cool uniforms and is also Nike’s home school. Ohio State is far and away the most relevant program in the Big 10, college sports richest conference.
Unless you have a degree from Cincinnati – and maybe even if you do – you would much rather watch Ohio State play Georgia and Bama play Oregon for the right to play for the National Championship. Cincinnati is a nice team with a good quarterback, but no one wants to see them get disemboweled by Georgia.
Because undefeated Cincinnati will seemingly be excluded from the playoff, people will whine about how a good team from a mediocre conference can’t squeeze its way in. There will be calls for expansion to eight or 12 teams, with Cincinnati’s absence as justification. The real reason for the expansion we ironically be the same as why Cincinnati isn’t invited – cash. Mo’ games = mo’ money!
That’s the world we live in – greed rules. More money is better than less money. That very basic axiom of business will keep Cincinnati out this year, but it will eventually allow Cincinnati in – or at least that will be the promise made to provide the smokescreen needed to answer charges that student-athletes are being exploited when expansion is approved.
When trying to figure out why things are the way they are – always follow the money. We can hope considerations other than greed drive decisions made by smart people, but it’s money that matters – always.