SEC tweaking tiebreaker rules for College Football Playoff era

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DESTIN, Fla. -- The SEC is leaning toward using cross-divisional schedule strength to break ties for teams to advance to the league’s championship game, sources told

Such a method would be at the bottom of a lengthy list of tiebreakers. But this being the SEC and football in the South, such things matter -- a lot. A change has to be made with the end of the BCS and beginning of the College Football Playoff era. The league previously used the BCS standings to break ties to decide a division.

Going forward, if a divisional tie could not be broken through that lengthy tiebreaker list, then the schedule strength of each team’s two opponents from the opposite division would be evaluated.

In the SEC’s eight-game conference schedule, each team plays a game against each of its six divisional rivals. The other two games are played against a designated rival and rotating rival from the other division.

There was no detail on how that schedule strength would be evaluated. The SEC ADs are expected to take up the subject later this week at the league's spring meetings as talks progress.

Among the other options being considered, according to a source, is a coin flip but would be considered an absolute last resort.

It’s also possible a poll -- not the selection committee’s CFP poll -- could be adopted to judge teams in a tiebreaker.

The league narrowly avoided a major controversy 11 years ago when it came within a month of athletic directors picking the winner of the SEC East (see below). A month before the 2003 season ended the BCS language was added.

It stated that in the event of a two-way tie -- if there were no head-to-head results -- the highest-ranked team went to the SEC championship game. In the event of a three-way tie, the highest-ranked team in the BCS advanced unless … the top two ranked teams were within five spots of each other. In that case the lowest ranked team was eliminated. Then head-to-head results were applied.

But because there is no more BCS, the league has to change its existing language.

The Mountain West already is expected to use the final CFP poll to determine home field for its championship game. The Big 12 reportedly will use the final CFP poll as a tiebreaker to determine its champion.

The CFP’s poll can’t be used for the SEC’s purposes because the rankings are released on Tuesday nights beginning in late October. It is impractical for the league and teams to wait three days to find out a division winner with the SEC title game then in four days. The final CFP poll -- the one that will decide playoff participants -- is expected to be released with 24 hours of the final games this year on Dec. 6.

The SEC narrowly avoided that controversy in 2003. A month before the end of the season the league changed its tiebreaker language to incorporate the BCS standings. If not, the old tiebreaker would have applied. The league’s athletic directors would have voted to break a three-way tie between Florida, Tennessee and Georgia. Each was 1-1 against the other two and 4-1 against other SEC East opponents.

That year Tennessee (at No. 9) technically forced a run-off because it was within five spots of No. 7 Georgia. The Bulldogs were both highest ranked in the East Division and beat Tennessee head-to-head. Because Tennessee was within five spots, Florida (No. 14) was eliminated from consideration.

LSU beat Georgia in that SEC title game to advance to the BCS title game where Nick Saban won his first national championship.

In 2008, Oklahoma won a controversial Big 12 South three-way tiebreaker over Texas and Texas Tech. As was the case five years earlier in the SEC, all three schools were 1-1 against the other two.

Using the BCS standings, Texas Tech was eliminated for being lowest ranked. Despite Texas having beaten Oklahoma, the Sooners advanced to the Big 12 title game because they were .0028 of a point ahead of the Horns in the BCS standings. The Big 12 at the time had no such language about being within five spots to bring head-to-head results into play.

It may be confusing that the SEC’s tiebreaker contains language involving two teams. Head-to-head results should break any tie within a division.

However, a conference source explained it this way: If some sort of natural disaster prevented Auburn and Alabama from playing the final week of the regular season for the SEC West title, there would have to be some way of breaking any tie.



CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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