Should a team with only six wins get to play for the college football national championship?
Ohio State, which plays Clemson tonight at the Superdome in a semifinal, was awarded a spot in the big game despite a thin record that includes fewer wins than more deserving contenders. Texas A&M won eight regular season games in the tough-as-nails SEC. Cincinnati won nine regular season contests. The Ragin' Cajuns won nine and even Tulane won six games.
The pandemic upended much of American life, including college athletics, but allowing a six-win team to compete for the national football championship makes a mockery of the tournament.
Ohio State was victimized by weak leadership from the members and commissioner of its conference, the Big 10. Over the summer, college football conferences had to decide whether to go forward with fall sports.
By then, major league baseball and the NBA had demonstrated that athletes could be kept safe despite the pandemic. Many conferences, like the SEC and the ACC, pushed forward, often juggling schedules on the fly to make it work. Notre Dame joined the ACC for a year so its athletes could play.
The Big 10 and the Pac 12 chose to sit it out.
But students and taxpayers and politicians and, most critically, athletes fought back. Ohio State’s star quarterback, Justin Fields, led the charge to get the conference to reverse its stand.
Still, league commissioner Kevin Warren said in August that the decision would not be "revisited."
So athletes in the Big 10 and Pac 12 watched forlornly while other conferences sorted through the difficulties and played their games. Soon, both conferences made an embarrassing retreat.
But by the time they kicked off, other schools had played half a season. Ohio State began its schedule Oct. 24. On the same day, Alabama played its fifth game and the Tide lost its most explosive player, Jaylen Waddle. The Tide proved their worthiness by winning the rest of their ten games without him.
What passed for a season in the Big 10 and Pac 12 was tepid by comparison. The Big 10 changed its rules to let Ohio State play in the championship game with only five wins. Oregon captured the Pac 12 championship with four wins.
The SEC, juggling its schedule on the fly, completed 69 of its 71 planned games.
Ohio State has a fine team and a great leader in Fields, who took on his own conference and prevailed.
It’s not fair that they should be penalized for the Big 10’s blunder. But they should not be rewarded for it either, not when other schools made greater sacrifices and played a complete season.