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Big Ten, SEC Championship games in final year of relevancy with 12-team College Football Playoff looming

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Roy Kramer and the Southeastern Conference grabbed college football by the throat and drug it into a new era with the SEC Championship game in 1992. The first matchup ever, which saw the Alabama Crimson Tide face the Florida Gators in Birmingham, featured one team, Alabama, playing with a shot at the national title on the line.

Bama won and then beat the Miami Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl to win it all, Gene Stallings’ only title. Since then, the game has been a hallmark of the national title race. Of the 30 games since that inaugural year, 24 more have had similar title implications for at least one team, including the past 17 matchups.

That dates back to eight years before the College Football Playoff even existed. When Alabama faces the Georgia Bulldogs in Saturday’s SEC Championship game, it will once again have title implications, as both teams will be vying for a CFP spot. It will also be the last time this matters.

When the CFP expands to 12 teams next year, you can forget caring about the SEC or Big Ten titles. Those leagues are expanding to 16 and 18 teams respectively, and there will be no divisions. As a result, there is a 100 percent chance the two teams playing for the title will already be in the playoff.

Think about it. The CFP format, as it stands right now, will move to six automatic bids for the highest ranked conference champions and then the top six at-large teams. There is no way those two conferences won’t have a top six champion and at least two more at-large teams each year.

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Just look at the current CFP rankings. Of the top 13 teams, 12 will be in one of those two conferences next year. Alabama, Georgia and the Texas Longhorns, all in the race, would be in it, and all are in the SEC. Sure, the Iowa Hawkeyes would have to play to get in, but they wouldn’t play in the title game in next year’s B1G format.

The other side to this argument will be that there is a top four bid to play for since teams get a first-round bye. However, the advantage to the bye is a week of not playing to get rest. If you reach the conference championship game, you can just rest your starters then. It’ll effectively be a bye anyway.

If a team tries to win the conference title game just to get the bye, they will have to win three games to win the CFP. That league title game plus those three equals four games. Well, why not just rest your starters in the conference championship and have to win four games anyway? What’s the point of trying and risking your energy for a potential loss?

We can even take this a step further. The 12-team playoff with the new conference formats will kill rivalry week. Consider last week’s game between the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes. What if there’s another undefeated Big Ten team, which is highly possible with 18 teams playing nine league games?

Well, in that scenario, Michigan and Ohio State, both undefeated, know for a fact they’re going to the playoff. They might rest their starters for the rivalry game, lose, and not have to compete in the conference championship game. Then they get two byes, one more than the two playing in the game trying to win get.

Simply put, you take away the incentive to compete in these games, even with the bye. Of course, people will compare it to the NFL, noting that NFL teams still fight hard for the bye. However, there is a giant flaw in that argument that nobody seems to be bringing up with the CFP: neutral site games.

In the NFL, the bye is coupled with getting home-field advantage, a huge part of the game. We’re still not sure if teams in the first round will get home field advantage in the CFP, but they will definitely rotate among the bowls in the second round, so that effectively takes away the advantage.

Taking all this into account, conference championship week will have nowhere near the same luster anymore. Remember the epic 2009 SEC Championship clash between Alabama and Florida that stopped the college football world? What about the memorable 2012 finish between Georgia and Alabama?

None of that will matter unless teams actually try to play, but it’ll become very clear very soon that the incentive just isn’t there. As a result, the expanded playoff will turn this week into little more than the men’s basketball major conference tournaments: a complete circus with no bearing on the postseason.

So say goodbye to one of the greatest spectacles added to the sport after Saturday. Less than a quarter century after the SEC Championship began, every FBS league had a conference title. It made for a thrilling weekend AFTER Thanksgiving. Just as it found its footing, though, casual fans had to call for a 12-team playoff. As a result, it’s dead once agin.

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