June 22, 2013
How many people, even college baseball fans, could say without the benefit research who won the Southeastern Conference championship any season beyond the one just ended? I maintain not many.
Same kind of question for basketball: How many people who aren't avid LSU fans know that, in 2006 when Florida won its first national championship, LSU was the regular-season SEC champion? I'd say hardly any.
The regular-season championship in football is much more significant because you have to play for it. But even in football, what does it really mean that LSU's football team won the 2011 SEC championship when it lost 21-0 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game?
The fact is that, especially in sports other than football, the regular season has become more like those in the NFL or NBA. It's nice to win a championship, but the main goal is to put yourself in strong position for postseason play.
Starting Monday, Mississippi State and UCLA will play a three-game series to determine the baseball national champion. Mississippi State finished fifth in the SEC. UCLA finished third in the Pac-12.
Mississippi State, with a 16-14 regular-season league record, finished 11 games behind regular-season champion Vanderbilt and seven games behind West Division champion LSU. Not only that, the Bulldogs were swept in their three-game series at Vanderbilt and lost two of three at LSU. They even lost a series to Central Arkansas in pre-conference play.
Mississippi State did just enough to earn the right to host a regional and barely escaped Central Arkansas in a winner-take-all game for the regional championship before pulling off the biggest shocker of the postseason and winning a super regional at Virginia.
Over the course of an SEC season dominated by Vanderbilt and LSU, Mississippi State was not the best team in the league or even close to being the best team. But LSU went two-and-out in Omaha and Vanderbilt lost at home to Louisville in its upper regional.
Would Mississippi State trade its current position for an SEC championship? Would Florida trade its first national championship for an SEC championship? No chance.
A four-team playoff certainly won't render the regular season meaningless in college football, but it will have an impact.
The moral of the story? The bigger the postseason becomes, the less important the regular season becomes.
Is it worth it? The TV networks certainly think so. Today, UCLA and Mississippi State certainly think so. But it's a fact that postseason tournaments or playoffs really only settle who played the best in a limited window.
If Mississippi State beats UCLA twice, it will be the undisputed national champion. There will be a huge celebration, and there should be. The Bulldogs will have done what they had to do to win the biggest prize in their sport and players will memories for a lifetime.
The fairest thing, in any sport, is to select a champion based on who was best over the course of a season. But that's not where the money is. And if you want to know what path college athletics will take in the future, follow the money.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: