Cincinnati aims to prove she’s more than a Cinderella by entering exclusive college football playoffs


College football has never kissed Cinderella. You know, the brave little underdog who takes on the Giants – that lifeblood that is, in basketball, the lifeblood of the NCAA tournament.

Whatever you want to call it – tradition, snobbery, whatever – college football has been an exclusive gated community for a century and a half. Only the privileged have the password.

Why, however? This country loves its outsiders. This country was once an outsider. He just doesn’t like them that much in college football.

“That’s the $ 64 million question,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said this week. “You have to earn that respect, of course. I think there’s a feeling somehow that we’re not playing at a particular level. I’ve never bought this.”

It’s his No.4 Cincinnati who will try to break what has so far been a cement ceiling when he plays the AAC Championship game against No.21 Houston on Saturday. Defeating the undefeated Cougars and Bearcats have a very good chance of making the college football playoffs.

They may not know it, but they will carry on their back the hopes and dreams of dozens of programs that have been judged – because of sports discrimination or even ratings – not good enough. What were once perceptions are now well established labels: Power Five and Group of Five. These labels are mostly multimedia shortcuts, but the definitions are well known to those who follow the game.

The Power Five are the legacy conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC. The Group of Five is made up of the less wealthy leagues: American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.

“There is a difference in funding,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said of the Group of Five. “There is a difference in the national coverage. There is a difference in what the CFP considers good football and bad football. I don’t know how to change that.”

That could change this week. The inclusion of Cincinnati would be a window into what an expanded playoff series would look like. In a 12-team slice, at least one team from the group of five would be guaranteed each year with room for more.

A television consultant once said that ratings would drop with such programs in the four-team area. This would avoid being prosecuted by the Group of Five for monopolistic exclusionary practices. This is how much the barrier has been raised for the poor.

The story of this struggle once reached the floor of the United States Senate in hearings on the subject. Turns out even Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a Cinderella guy.

“The basic message is, ‘If David wants to kill Goliath, he better do it during basketball season,’” McConnell said. “College football has no place for Cinderella stories. College football has no place for underdogs.”

It was 25 years ago.

The struggle continues today. Cincinnati has survived the slingshots and arrows to be relegated as something less than deserving. The same team it played off the Sugar Bowl in Georgia is the only other undefeated team in the country. How’s that for a measuring stick?

The Bearcats have beaten two Power Five teams on the road in back-to-back games. One of them was classified in the top 10 (Notre Dame). Those who think Cincinnati doesn’t deserve it are running out of excuses. Coach Luke Fickell is taking no chances of rat poison infiltrating the program.

“We locked everyone in our facility,” he said. “We don’t let them go home. We don’t let them go out. We’ve shut down all internet access. We’ve created our own little bubble here so no one can leave.”

He was joking (obviously). But you get the point.

In a famous exchange from 10 years ago, former WAC commissioner Karl Benson said his teams deserved access because they had “been on the big stage”.

Powerful Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany replied, “The problem is that your big stage is depriving my teams of opportunities to perform on the stage they created in 1902.”

It was the year the Rose Bowl made its debut with Michigan beating Stanford, 49-0. Benson’s WAC began in 1962.

Oh, the underdogs have been celebrated right now. Boise State with the Statue of Liberty versus Oklahoma. TCU with a Rose Bowl victory in 2011. But the unwashed never got the chance to to play for a national championship in a match or a win-win bracket. Already.

That is about to change if Cincinnati goes about business. If so, group reflection on the 13 humans on the college football playoffs selection committee should almost certainly end up putting the Bearcats in the range.

They would go against decades of opposing group thinking. Labels apparently matter.

“If you’re a blue-blooded, tradition-steeped, recognizable program, you can go wrong and recover,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said this week. “Some of the other schools, when you get to that point, if you get it wrong you’re going to fall. Whether we like it or not, that’s what happens with human nature.”

Oklahoma State is the only team that could potentially eliminate Cincinnati from the playoffs if Georgia, Michigan and Alabama succeed, according to Jerry Palm, CBS Sports bowling expert. The Cowboys, despite losing, would win three wins against the top 15 teams in the CFP standings, against one for the Bearcats.

Applying these “didn’t” labels was a gradual process. When the military ruled the game in the 1940s, it was seen as the equivalent of Alabama today – a major power.

When BYU won the national championship in 1984, the Power Five and Group of Five labels did not exist. BYU was quite simply one of the leading football schools. He beat Michigan, 6-5 at the time, in the Holiday Bowl that year. When there were no other undefeated teams, the Cougars (13-0) were the only option left to declare national champions.

Such a thing would not happen again for a program which is today an independent considered outside the Power Five.

The game loved him back then. The notes reflected that. We gathered around the TV every Thanksgiving for Oklahoma-Nebraska and Texas-Texas A&M. Ohio State-Michigan and Alabama-Auburn are must-sees. But when Division I was subdivided in 1978, that decision created second-class football.

The divisions – both real and perceived – deepened. Cincinnati is already the highest-ranked group of five of the playoff era. But if he doesn’t beat Houston, he’ll almost certainly come out of the four-team squad.

Twelve years later, after that 1984 BYU title where the money was bigger and the stakes higher, the No.5 Cougars in 1996, 13-1 at the time, were kicked out of the prestigious Fiesta Bowl. Bowl instead took No. 20 Texas (8-4) to face No. 7 Penn State.

It was a further sign that a dividing line was drawn between the haves and have-nots. Instead, BYU settled for a spot in the Cotton Bowl. The Cougars beat Kansas State, finished 14-1 and still finished fifth in the AP Top 25. Benson ultimately took this light and converted it into Senate hearings examining the game’s power brokers.

“BYU was sort of the first team to be excluded,” Benson recalls. “… I was around the big table. I never had the same voting power as the others. Give Mike Aresco credit for rocking the boat and asking for more access. I probably took the other way. It was I who punched my fist in front of the Senate. “

When the BCS made its debut two years later, in 1998, the era of championship games began. In the 16 years of the BCS’s existence, what are now considered the Group of Five teams have only finished in the top five of the Top 25 APs four times with Utah in 2008 and TCU in 2010. None of the above. ‘between them only reached the top two of the final BCS standings.

Oh, there were brief spikes in excitement. Boise State may have beaten Oklahoma 15 years ago in the Fiesta Bowl, but it was a BCS bowl, not a championship Game. UCF claimed a national title when they were ignored by the system after an unbeaten season in 2017.

There’s room for the Cinderellas in a 68-team NCAA tournament. Make room for error, if you will. The Underdogs seem to be more or less knocked out by the Sweet 16. The same could happen in an extended playoff, but that’s not the point. Just getting a hit seems fair.

In the seven-year history of the CFP, only 12 teams have played for the championship. This is out of a total of 28 places (four per year). Potential additions from Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State this season would be tied for the biggest infusion of new blood year-over-year.

While no one would call the Wolverines a Cinderella, the Bearcats and Cowboys are more in this category. The Oklahoma State No.5 has been ranked in the top five twice in the program’s history.

“With college basketball, they play,” Gundy said. “These teams coming in that aren’t that recognizable, when they come into the tournament they can play to see if they pass. The way we’re set up with the committee picking four teams, they can’t play to move forward. . “

There’s an account coming up, then. In the penultimate CFP ranking, there were four teams in the top 13 of the future Big 12 (No.4 Cincinnati, No.5 Oklahoma State, No.9 Baylor, No.12 BYU). This is one less than those of the future SEC (No. 1 Georgia, No. 3 Alabama, No. 8 Ole Miss).

As proposed, a 12-team playoff would give automatic spots to the top six conference champions. As mentioned, this would ensure what the Group of Five will look like in a few years.

We’re so close that the Cinderella talk is hushed up if not over.

“A basketball coach once said, ‘With a few guards I can reach the Final Four. But football is a business,'” Aresco recalls. “When you do [break through], it’s even more remarkable. “


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