Duck fans in Oregon and Buckeye backers in Ohio are united. Seminoles in the Florida panhandle and Sooners in the Oklahoma panhandle are rallying around a common cause.
As the Southeastern Conference was trending last weekend after becoming the first league to hold four of the top five spots in the AP Top 25, fans of other conferences had an angry response: #SECBias.
The conference that won seven of the last eight BCS championships has many fans exasperated with media coverage they feel has created an unbeatable-SEC narrative. The fear is it will lead to the first College Football Playoff being overrun by one conference.
“AP hard at work to make sure first playoff has 4 SEC teams. #SECbias,” posted to Twitter by @jAwhatley2.
The AP Top 25 panel consists of 60 media members from all over the country. Voters are mostly chosen by state, with the number of voters from each state determined by the number of FBS teams there. Texas has the most voters with four. California, Ohio and Florida each have three.
Regional favoritism doesn’t seem to be an issue. All Ohio voters have at least three SEC teams in the top five. Two of them have four. California voters all have at least three SEC teams in the top five, including one with four.
Jerry Palm of CBS.com, who spent years analyzing the college football polls while breaking down the Bowl Championship Series standings, said he hasn’t noticed an SEC bias.
“Right now the name programs are in the SEC because they’ve been on a really good roll the last 10 years,” he said Monday. “Preseason is where I see the bias. By the time you get to the middle part of the season, most of that stuff has worked itself out.”
Another common complaint is SEC teams get an extra boost in the rankings when they beat other SEC teams and don’t fall as far when they lose in the conference.
Mississippi State rose to No. 1 by beating three top-10 SEC teams. One of those teams, LSU, is now ranked 24th. Another is Texas A&M, which shot up the rankings after an opening-night romp at South Carolina, but is now unranked and on a three-game losing streak.
The Aggies were beaten soundly by the Bulldogs and Ole Miss before losing 59-0 to Alabama on Saturday. The victory nudged the Crimson Tide up to No. 4.
“I know how to become a top-five team,” former UCLA coach and Pac-12 analyst Rick Neuheisel said. “Just play Texas A&M.”
According to research done by STATS, SEC teams have risen an average of 2.8 places in the rankings after winning conference games this season.
By comparison, Big 12 teams rose an average of 3.1 places, and Pac-12 teams have moved up 2.3 spots. Big Ten teams have moved up 1.7 spots after conference wins. For ACC teams, the gain is less than half spot (0.4) mostly because the league has had few teams ranked this season and Florida State, the preseason No. 1, had nowhere to go but down.
The average drop for ranked SEC teams after conference losses is 7.5 spots, tied for the most with the Pac-12. The Big 12’s average poll drop after a conference loss is 7.0 spots, followed by the Big Ten (5.5) and the ACC (4.3).
A look back at the last five years shows a similar pattern, with the SEC seemingly getting no advantage over the other conferences.
In the latest Sagarin Ratings, one of the computer rankings used in the old BCS formula, the top six teams are from the SEC. Florida State is 10th.
In the four of the five other computer rating systems the BCS used, those four SEC West teams are in the top five.
The Football Outsiders website uses a measure called F/+ that analyzes play-by-play data and the results of each series in a game to rate teams. The formula also takes into account level of competition. So as Texas A&M sinks, the Aggies drag down the grades of the teams they have played. In those ratings, the SEC West teams occupy four of the top six spots.
ESPN’s advance metric, Football Power Index, has six SEC teams among the top seven, with Mississippi State tied for sixth with Ohio State.
No organization gets hit with #SECBias charges as hard as ESPN. The network holds media rights agreements with all the Big Five conferences, though it partners with the SEC on the conference’s newly launched network.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” sets the agenda for college football discussion and debate. Many fans feel the SEC always seems to get the benefit of the doubt from the network’s army of talking heads.
“Does ESPN forget that Tennessee is one of the worst CFB teams in the country? Of course they do because #SECBias.” posted by @matthewcermak, a Florida State fan.
In a sport that still subjectively determines its champion — this year with a selection committee picking the final four — it’s not just fans who are worried about the power ESPN could have in shaping opinions.
“When you have that type of strong partnership with somebody, human nature can set in,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said of the relationship between ESPN and the SEC. “You want to be as neutral as you can. I’m sure they say that they are. We’re all human. Being a member of a different conference than that, would that worry me if it came down to two teams and a decision? Yeah, it would worry me a little bit.”
Lee Fitting, senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s “College GameDay,” said he hears the criticism.
“But like all feedback, we don’t overreact to it,” he said. “We like to pride ourselves on giving the college football fan what they want in order to get ready to watch a full day’s and nights’ worth of football.”
“The show has a good track record of working under no agendas and no biases.”