SEC's football tiebreaker gets thumbs-up from coaches

With college football national championship process under constant scrutiny, Mississippi’s SEC coaches agree that the league has found the tie-breaking method that is fair to teams and gives the conference a chance to reach the big game.
Conference tie-breakers were in the spotlight last November when Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were all equal atop the Big 12 South standings at the conclusion of the regular season.
The tie was further complicated by the fact that all three teams were 1-1 within the triangle. Eventually, Oklahoma was named division champion by virtue of a tie-breaker that never considered head-to-head competition. The Sooners advanced to the Big 12 championship game and ultimately to the BCS championship game.
At their spring meeting earlier this month, Big 12 football coaches voted against changing the tie-breaker. The vote was not unanimous, and the proposed new policy would have mirrored those used by the SEC and the ACC.
“The Big 12 just had the perfect storm last year,” said SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom, who says no system is perfect or safe from backlash from schools and fans who end up short of the big game.
The Big 12 policy names the league’s team ranked highest in the final BCS standings as the division champion. End of sentence. Last year that champion was Oklahoma, even though Texas had beaten OU in the regular season.
“All three had an argument. Texas Tech had just as much an argument,” said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. He was the offensive coordinator for Florida last year when the Gators beat the Sooners 24-14 in the BCS title game. In another marquee SEC-Big 12 matchup Ole Miss defeated Texas Tech 47-34 in the Cotton Bowl.
How the SEC differs
The SEC policy is different in that it includes head-to-head competition even in a three-way finish. The tied team that is second SEC team in the BCS standings advances to the league championship game if it is ranked within five spots of the first tied team – and if it defeated the first tied team in the regular season.
The SEC policy would have put Texas in the conference championship game. In the final BCS standings Oklahoma was first, Florida second and Texas third.
“Head to head is the best way, cut and dry,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “To me, the way it’s set up right now is the best measure. Everybody has put so much more time into this the last few years, the coaches voting … everybody.”
BCS rankings are determined by a compilation of points from the USA Today coaches poll, the Harris poll – which is comprised of former players, coaches and administrators and current and former media – and rankings from six computer analysts.
“Everybody is working to get to the BCS game, and you have to use the BCS to decide it,” Mullen said. “I have no problem with the coaches poll, they make you disclose your vote and all that stuff. I like the fact that they use the coaches, they see these teams every week and have a pretty good say on what’s going on.”
Coaches voting
As a head coach Mullen is now eligible to vote in the coaches poll. Panelists for 2009 have not been announced. Nutt did not vote last year, ending a string of five or six seasons, he said, in which he did vote.
Nutt was involved in a divisional tie twice while at Arkansas. His first Razorbacks team finished the 1998 season 6-2 in the league, along with Mississippi State, but lost to the Bulldogs in Starkville. In 2002, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU were all 5-3 in the league, but Arkansas defeated both in the regular season.
“The philosophy of our three-team tie-breaker is to get the tie to two teams, and more often than not, when you do that, it becomes head-to-head,” Bloom said.

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

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