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Are Title Games Worth It?

Our last article examined whether the new Big 12 championship game was “worth it” from a competitive standpoint.

The conclusion was that a championship gives a sizeable boost to an 11-1 non-champion (see TCU in 2014) and a 3% Strength of Schedule boost to other champions. However these boosts are greatly outweighed by the chance an erstwhile playoff team is upset in their conference championship.

A follow-up question is whether this net-negative is true of other conferences or if the Big 12 is uniquely disadvantaged.

Here is how the SEC would fair with and without it’s conference championship game.

Playoff Chance w/o CCG w/ CCG
Undefeated 90.46% 89.48%
1-loss Champ 44.65% 47.42%
1-loss At Large 15.94% 40.45%
2-loss Champ 3.59% 7.60%
2-loss At Large 0.42% 4.30%

Once again we see the 3% increase for 1- and 2-loss Champs. We do see a dip among Undefeated teams, but we’ll chalk this up to sample size and, really, with a human committee these chances are virtually 100%.

Also of note is the generous boost a 1-loss At Large receives when there is a Championship Game. Why the boost? Strength of Schedule. 12-1 with an extra game against top competition looks a lot better than 11-1 without the extra game.

But percentages only tell so much, as we saw in the last article. What do the raw numbers look like? We experimented on the 7 conferences with the greatest chance of making the playoff.

Big 12 (no CCG) +27.81%
Big 12 (add Divs) +13.72%
Pac-12 (no CCG) +6.41%
SEC (no CCG) +3.21%
ACC (no CCG) +2.16%
Big Ten (no CCG) +1.31%
Pac-12 (drop Divs) -0.20%
American (no CCG) -0.42%
ACC (drop Divs) -0.83%
MW (no CCG) -1.74%
SEC (drop Divs) -1.98%
American (drop Divs) -2.11%
Big Ten (drop Divs) -2.12%
MW (drop Divs) -4.23%

As can be seen, dropping the CCG has the most significant impact on the Big 12. Why?

It all comes to the number of teams in the conference. The “flaw” of the CCG, that it gives 1 more loss to a potential playoff team, is mitigated in larger conferences who have 40% more teams who could be in playoff position.

Divisions?

Of peculiar note is the impact of divisions. In all conferences, having divisions helps conferences put teams into the playoff. Why?

Same reason. If a conference has 2 playoff caliber teams in the same division, at least 1 is guaranteed to pass Championship Week ‘without’ a loss, whereas in a setup like what the Big 12 is implementing, at least 1 is guaranteed to pass Championship Week ‘with’ a loss.

The divisions used in this simulation put the former Big Eight teams in one division.

The Pac-12 and Mid-Majors

With only 12 teams, the Pac-12 is the next most affected conference of the CCG curse. Thus far they have gone 2-for-2 in having their potential playoff teams win. But, with only 12 teams, they are less likely than the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC to have an 1-loss at-large team lurking.

For Mid-Major conferences, the benefit of 1 more strong opponent outweighs the risk of losing the CCG because strength of schedule is often weak for these teams.

The Money

Despite the decreased chance of making the playoff, the financial windfall of playing a CCG is likely worth it. The revenue boost from playing in a semifinal and National Championship Game is roughly $2M for each appearance, far less than what the conference earns from a CCG.

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